Iowa Researchers Say Big Data May Be Answer to Improve Trucking Safety

March 6, 2017

Helping drivers avoid congestion would increase productivity and improve safety, according to a team of Iowa State University and industry researchers, who believe a solution is using big data technology.

The challenge is finding the most effective way to share data collected by state traffic centers across the country with carriers and drivers, according to the researchers.

Dave Cantor, an associate professor of supply chain management at Iowa State, part of the research team working with the Iowa Department of Transportation on the project, says Iowa is leading the way to improve freight transportation moving through the state.

“The DOT has a lot of real-time data on the operating conditions of state highways and secondary roads, and it wants to make sure the data is of value to carriers,” Cantor said. “With this data and information, we can improve on-time delivery performance, safe delivery of the freight and minimize idle time.”

Researchers surveyed roughly two dozen logistics and technology providers, large and small motor carriers, as well as various types of haulers, including van, temperature controlled, flatbed and intermodal. Carriers consistently said they would benefit from real-time data related to road conditions, speed of traffic, points of congestion, accidents and construction projects – situations that could impede the flow of commerce.

Researchers explained that the industry is increasingly driven by technology. However, several carriers expressed concern about an uneven playing field. Of the more than 500,000 carriers in the industry, the majority are small operators with fewer than 100 trucks. Many of the smaller carriers do not have the technology or work force needed to receive and process data from the DOT, researchers said. They recommend working with a third-party vendor to create a central location that streamlines the collection and dissemination of DOT data.

Neal “Skip” Foster, a former trucking company owner who is part of the research team, says a government mandate may help make the data more accessible. By the end of the year, all carriers must comply with an electronic logging device (ELD) mandate to record driving times. Foster says the industry should work to integrate navigation data into the ELD system.

Drivers can spend only 11 hours on the road in a 24-hour period. Foster says previous studies have found drivers spend only 7.5 to 8 hours driving; the rest is spent sitting at a dock or in traffic. Providing information related to traffic congestion through the ELD could significantly improve productivity, he said.

“There’s no sense in sending a truck into Des Moines at 4 o’clock in the afternoon if we know the driver is just going to sit in traffic,” Foster said. “Every truck line that I know wants to reduce accidents and increase safety, and congestion does nothing but enhance accidents. The industry wants to stay away from congestion and slowdowns to improve safety.”

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