Commercial Driving GPS: One Size Cannot Fit All

by Hank Barton
(Northwestern USA)

This article was written by Hank Barton. Hank is a second generation trucker-philosopher with a penchant for the written word. He enjoys blogging about long haul trucking, safe driving practices and life on the open road. He writes for E-Gears, an online CDL Test authority that specializes in a variety of study guides.

The rapid surge of smartphones in recent years has led to unprecedented commercialization of technology across daily life and all types of industries. The trucking industry is apparently not emerging unscathed from the disruption. GPS navigation systems have largely branched off on their own for drivers commercial and non-commercial alike, but whether by smartphone or on-the-dash units, problems with indiscriminate GPS use among commercial drivers has gotten federal attention.

Spreading Like Wildfire

In November last year, uShip released a survey which indicated that most truckers are using their mobile device more for business purposes than they were in 2011. This is alongside the fact that mobile device sales are still on a steep rise in 2013, capturing a wide market across all industries for both personal and business use. Truckers are certainly adopting their use more frequently and some even say they would give up their CB before they gave up their cell phone. The survey also highlights a growing trend among truckers of using their smartphone’s GPS navigation over other sources.

The recent ban on truckers using handheld cells while driving (and proliferating distracted driving laws in general) seems to indicate that the spread and evolving utility of cell phones has been growing much quicker than awareness of the potential problems. However, the ban also hasn’t shifted the majority of truckers off cell phones, according to uShip’s survey. Safety will always be a paramount issue in the trucking industry, but it seems that mobile devices are here to stay. Given concerns, we can expect safe implementation to come into better focus over the next few years.

Federal Government on GPS in Commercial Motor Vehicles

In September 2012, US Sen. Charles Schumer initiated an investigation into the relatively
frequent occurrence of commercial vehicles striking bridges and underpasses in New York. The investigation identified misuse of GPS routing that is not specifically designed for commercial vehicles to be a major culprit. March 12, 2013, Sen. Schumer addressed the public on these issues from a New York overpass that has been hit over 27 times by trucks.

In the commercial driving industry, proper GPS accounts for the vehicle’s dimensions, weight, and load contents in order to map the right route. The basic type of GPS people generally use in their cars can easily put a commercial vehicle on a dangerous road.

Unfortunately, this kind of misuse has been costly in terms of structural damage, delays, fuel consumption, and personal safety. Mistakes happen and no driver is perfect, but even good drivers are a liability with the wrong tools. GPS navigation that is cheap or easy but not designed for commercial driving is a poor place to try to cut corners in the industry. At the same time, the blame does not lie in one place. Professional GPS systems for commercial driving rely on accurate data about roads that are constantly changing and some attention should also be paid to delivering the most accurate and up-to-date information through GPS across the industry.

With many truckers frequently crossing state lines, the issue had to be addressed on a federal level. The early action on this will see guidelines for GPS use and recommendations for professional GPS navigation systems distributed across the US commercial driving industry. Safety visor cards are also to be implemented by the campaign along with training programs.

In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has agreed to incorporate GPS training into certification for commercial drivers. GPS training is expected to be proposed later this year as a component in getting an entry-level commercial driver’s license. Last year’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act put change in the wind for the future of the CDL test. We are getting a clearer picture of the direction that wind is going.

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