Synovia Solutions Blog

What is Commercial Fleet Tracking?

Posted by Bill Westerman on Thu, Aug 25, 2016 @ 09:35 AM


 While fleet managing has been around practically since the invention of the automobile, it’s only been since the invention of modern technologies like the cell phone and global positioning satellite that fleet managers have been able to take fleet tracking to the next level.

Modern Fleet Tracking

Modern fleet tracking is so much more than just managing the time a vehicle is supposed to leave a loading dock or parking lot and knowing what time it’s expected to arrive on the other end of its route. With modern fleet tracking software systems, fleet managers are now able to amass and manage a whole host of information about their fleet vehicles as well as driver behavior.

Beginnings In Space

The history of modern commercial fleet tracking dates back to the birth of GPS (Global Positioning System) when two American physicists, while tracking the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 satellite back in 1957, realized that by monitoring the Doppler effect on the satellite’s radio transmissions they could precisely pinpoint where the satellite was going to be in its orbit.

From that discovery evolved today’s much more sophisticated system (we’ll spare you the technological details). GPS tracking remained the property of the U.S. military until 1996, when the U.S. government realized the potential for civilian applications and President Bill Clinton issued a directive to develop a dual-use system – one for military use and one for civilians.

Historical note: It was actually President Ronald Reagan who announced in 1983 that GPS would be made available for civilian use after it was completed. This was done after the tragedy of civilian airliner KAL 007, which was shot down by a Soviet fighter jet after it had strayed into prohibited airspace because of navigational errors. President Reagan said the reason for his decision was to avoid similar navigational errors in the future.

Skipping ahead to today, you’ll find that current commercial GPS fleet tracking systems are about as similar to tracking systems of the past as current smartphones are to the bulky cellular flip phones of the past.

Modern commercial fleet tracking can use either satellites or cellphone towers to collect information about the location of a vehicle or other asset. That information is then used by fleet managers to reduce costs, improve safety, increase customer satisfaction and more. This information is drawn from a tracking device, which is attached to the company’s asset. These devices can be powered by the battery of the vehicle they are attached to, or if the item has no battery (such as a trailer) the device can be powered with batteries lasting approximately five to seven years.

The Information That Can Be Gathered

Once the tracking device is attached it’s really up to the fleet manger to decide just how much information he or she wants to collect, which makes today’s fleet management software a great asset no matter the size of your fleet. Examples of the kind of information fleet maintenance software provides today’s fleet managers include:

  • Real-time location of the vehicle or asset.
  • Speed of the vehicle vs. speed limit of the road the vehicle is traveling on.
  • Hard accelerating and hard stopping.
  • Whether a particular asset has left a pre-set geo-fenced area.
  • The route a vehicle took to arrive at a particular location.
  • The amount of idling time the vehicle experienced.
  • Whether a vehicle is displaying any maintenance or fault codes.

In addition, many GPS fleet maintenance systems also allow drivers to clock in and out while they’re in their vehicle. The information collected allows fleet managers to review time sheets and time sheet exceptions, compare planned and actual schedules, pay accurate wages, and avoid any unnecessary overtime. 

Recent Government Ruling

Along those same lines, a recent development in GPS tracking for commercial fleets was announced in December 2015, when the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) adopted a Final Rule that they believe will “improve roadway safety by employing technology to strengthen commercial truck and bus drivers’ compliance with hours-of-service regulations that prevent fatigue.”

This new ruling requires ALL commercial vehicles to maintain electronic logging devices (ELDs) instead of paper logs by December 18, 2017. It’s estimated that the Final Rule will result in an annual net benefit of more than $1 billion – largely by reducing the amount of required industry paperwork. It will also increase the efficiency of roadside law enforcement when it comes to reviewing driver records. On a more important note, it’s also estimated that the new rule will save an average of 26 lives per year and prevent an additional 562 annual injuries.

The Future of GPS Tracking

But what about the future of commercial GPS tracking? It’s come so far so fast. So what’s to be expected next? That’s a bit like asking what the future holds for cell phones. Every year there seems to be faster, quicker, more powerful versions hitting the street. Just take one look at the modern smartphone and compare it with the enormous military-like behemoths of the past and it’s clear that the sky’s the limit. Information will only become more detailed and accurate, and systems are likely to become easier to use for both the driver and fleet manager, giving tomorrow’s fleet managers ever greater opportunities to streamline and improve their fleets’ overall performance.

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