Long-haul trucking has long been known to be a hazardous occupation. According to an assessment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average long-haul trucker works 60 hours per week, drives more than 107,000 miles per year, and is at risk of drowsy and distracted driving. The year 2018 marked the fourth consecutive year of rising fatalities involving large trucks, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (via Trucks). Of course, all of these statistics are from before the pandemic. Covid-19 has ushered in the added complexities and stressors of shuttered road stops and restaurantsplummeting freight prices and a risk of exposure to the virus.

Suffice it to say that there’s likely never been a tougher time to be a long-haul trucker.

But there is a silver lining amid all of this. The logistics industry (and more broadly, the supply chain overall) is working harder and faster than ever to drive digitization deep into its operations. For long-haul truckers in particular — and the carriers who employ so many of them — the data generated by today’s trucks as they navigate the roadways is already helping to make their lives easier. I believe the latest rigs coming off the assembly line will only take things to the next level.

Here’s how.

In my conversations with drivers, carriers and truck manufacturers, I’ve heard that the newest generation of trucks increasingly boast an array of technologies designed to monitor the health and safety of the rig and its cargo. Similar technologies have been familiar to car owners for years, but have not been prevalent in big rig trucks — for example, engine monitoring that anticipates and warns of a possible failure. Many new rigs are equipped to monitor a spectrum of critical systems — not just engines, but also brakes, hydraulics, electrical systems, tire pressures, the temperature of the refrigerated cargo bay and so on. All of these new sensors have the potential to directly improve drivers’ comfort, health and safety during the long hours on the road.

This is the power of data-driven logistics in action. My own company, FourKites, created a solution to provide real-time visibility of freight in transit after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration mandated that practically every rig in the U.S. had to install an Electronic Logging Device (ELD), which helps ensure that truckers aren’t being forced to drive beyond their maximum hours.

This simple device ushered in a new era in data-driven supply chain logistics. While its primary objective remains to protect drivers and make roadways safer, it can also make possible the live tracking of freight in transit, automated ETAs and appointment scheduling with receivers, the identification of nearby empty trucks to reduce deadhead, and even paperless document processing via mobile devices so truckers can reduce their risk of virus exposure when picking up or dropping off loads. Other companies have followed suit with complementary offerings, including TruckPark, which leverages visibility to provide route guidance and secure parking; KeepTruckin, which tracks vehicles and assets with an aim to enable operational improvements and improve safety; and Samsara, which offers real-time visibility, analytics and AI to transportation and logistics companies, as well as other industries.

Now, with an even wider variety of data generated by these latest state-of-the-art rigs, I expect that the industry will see a slew of new innovations — the ability, for example, to anticipate a potential engine problem and automatically arrange for nearby maintenance and a replacement rig. Or we might see the ability to detect a temperature spike in a refrigerated trailer carrying fresh food or critical medical supplies before it’s too late to save the shipment from spoilage.

The possibilities are only limited by the imaginations of everyone in the supply chain ecosystem — truck manufacturers, shippers, carriers and drivers alike. In my experience, as the supply chain continues to embrace digital technologies and to experience firsthand the many benefits of running data-driven businesses – such as more efficient operations, reduced dwell times and fines, and happier customers – the old objections and reservations could fall away. Understandable concerns about sharing data can be ameliorated by working with partners who adhere to the most stringent security certifications (such as SOC2 or equivalent) and privacy regulations (e.g., Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation), and who keep complete visibility and control over data in the hands of those who generate it.

I believe the benefits of operationalizing data are simply too compelling to ignore, from more efficient and profitable shippers and carriers to a more comfortable — and safer — experience for the drivers who keep our supply chain moving. That said, I always advise manufacturers, shippers and carriers to do their due diligence when choosing visibility partners. As with any enterprise-grade solution, extensive reference checks are a must. The best way to truly evaluate a winning solution is to speak directly with a range of customers who are doing what you’re doing and who have implemented the software successfully and seen tangible returns on their investment.

More data is coming our way — let’s work together to make the most of it for everyone’s benefit.

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