As the trucking industry enters a new era of innovation and sustainability, carriers are utilizing progressive technology and equipment to revolutionize their operating systems, increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
Fleets have access to more data than ever, applying automated and machine learning (ML) processes to gain unprecedented insight into transportation logistics. New telematics systems provide advanced metrics that allow carriers to optimize load planning, route guidance and maintenance upkeep, all while providing customers with real-time status updates on pickup and delivery times.
With these operational improvements, the general belief is that the trucking industry will continue to become safer as a whole, but fatal crashes involving large trucks are on the rise, with estimates pointing to the highest levels in over a decade.
The American Trucking Associations estimates that the industry spends at least $10 billion annually on safety initiatives, including efforts focused on driver training, incentive pay and regulatory compliance.
Driver safety has always been a top priority, and the industry has made considerable safety improvements since the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. From 1980 to 2016, the fatal crash rate involving large trucks per 100 million miles declined 69%. (A new methodology was introduced in 2017 and is not comparable to earlier years.)
To continue the historical improvement in driver safety and reverse the recent trend, fleets need to adapt their safety programs to take advantage of the opportunities that technology presents.
One carrier has taken a unique approach to fleet safety, combining innovative technology with human connections to successfully reduce its incident rate over the past four years. PGT Trucking Inc., a multiservice transportation provider specializing in flatbed shipping solutions, has developed an enhanced safety program to strategically focus personal coaching efforts using statistics generated from drivers’ dashcams. Through this data-driven approach, PGT proactively corrects unsafe driving behavior before an accident occurs, leading to improvements in driver safety, retention and efficiency.
PGT uses a dashcam system powered by AI, monitoring the known leading indicators of accidents, like following too closely, speeding or abrupt maneuvering. The dashcam records footage from the front and side windows and then analyzes the situation through ML processes, noting posted speed limits, actual truck speeds, the distance between the truck and other vehicles, and more.
This technology gives carriers an incredible amount of data on driver behavior, consolidating the information into a convenient driver safety score, with risky behaviors negating points and positive corrections rewarding points.
However, PGT takes this AI-powered system one step further, fusing technology and human capabilities into an efficient safety management process.
“PGT can effectively target areas for improvement by analyzing the data generated from our dash cameras,” said Joseph Newton, PGT Trucking director, safety. “This methodology allows us to focus our personal efforts on specific objectives that will achieve the greatest results within our fleet.”
According to Newton, PGT has made notable improvements in safety through its driver coaching program, all backed by data from the dashcam system. Every driver at PGT works with two dedicated safety personnel: a safe operations manager to assist with cargo securement, driving performance and general safety needs; and a driver coach to mentor the driver through both positive and negative driving situations. These supporting staff members encourage safer driving habits by building close, personal relationships with PGT drivers.
Safe operations managers use an application that analyzes the dashcam statistics to select drivers at the highest risk level based on known leading indicators of accidents and historical company data. The safe operations manager then supports an at-risk driver through a specific performance improvement plan aimed at reducing the driver’s risk of an incident. Outside of the performance improvement plans, safe operations managers are a vital resource for drivers, communicating with them daily on questions of proper load securement, operating procedures and more.
In addition, driver coaches monitor the camera footage throughout the day, reviewing instances flagged by the system in which an incident or risky situation may have occurred, and then advise drivers on how to safely handle similar scenarios in the future. Driver coaches are mentors, committed to helping drivers carefully navigate the roads before more structured intervention is needed.
“PGT’s driver coaches are veteran CDL holders, and they can relate to our current drivers through their shared experience,” said Newton. “With the recorded camera footage, our driver coaches can review the exact scenario with a driver and suggest safer alternatives based on the real situation. The evidence-based coaching helps build trust with our drivers, removing any conjecture from the process.”
The company’s driver coaching program is not focused solely on corrective action — PGT believes it is equally important to highlight positive driving behaviors. Safe operations managers and driver coaches often call to thank a driver for safely handling an intense situation, and these drivers are recognized on multiple company platforms, including social media and staff meetings with PGT senior leadership. The positive reinforcement helps PGT develop strong relationships with its drivers, creating a conducive environment for constructive feedback.
PGT also utilizes its recorded camera footage by producing a bimonthly training video series called “What Would You Do.” These educational videos are designed to share safety messages with the PGT fleet, focusing the monthly theme on recent trends noted by safety personnel.
All PGT drivers and employees watch selected episodes from the PGT video library, including any new monthly videos or special editions. Each learning session shares real PGT dashcam footage, effectively showing the viewer how the incident should be handled and offering tips to avoid similar instances in the future. The video series is a unique application of the data pulled from the camera system, something the company believes sets it apart from other carriers.
“PGT is willing to show our drivers what we see, both the good and the bad, in order to improve our fleet’s overall safety,” said Newton. “We are committed to being a safe and reliable carrier, and we will use every resource available to us to help achieve that goal.”
The AI-powered camera system is just one application in which PGT has blended technology and personal relationships to create meaningful results, and the company believes this approach offers unlimited possibilities to transform the industry.
“With the successful utilization of technology within PGT’s safety program, we are actively pursuing other areas of our operation to apply this same strategy,” said Andrew Erin, PGT Trucking vice president, technology advancement. “Innovative technologies will be the driving force behind PGT’s progressive yet personal approach to industry advancement.”
Erin oversees PGT’s Applied Technology department, which is tasked with analyzing company data and designing and deploying new software and applications, seamlessly integrating technology into PGT’s daily operations.
One program currently in development is aimed at improving the company’s recruiting efforts, utilizing an ML model to understand PGT’s historical data, including dashcam footage, incident history, training records and candidate work history to provide a better understanding of the company’s ideal driver candidate profile. The company anticipates that this application will give its driver recruiters the ability to focus their efforts on candidates who are most likely to become safe, long-tenured professional drivers at PGT.
These initiatives are part of PGT’s Future of Flatbed program, which encompasses all company procedures that focus on developing innovative shipping solutions, meeting environmental sustainability goals and enhancing the driver lifestyle. PGT attributes the success of its revolutionary methods to its unique blend of technology and people.
“PGT has always believed that we are in the people business,” said Erin. “Our applications of technology through the Future of Flatbed are centered around this tenet. The tools we have now are different from what we had 40 years ago, but the goals are the same — safety, service and relationships.”
To learn more about PGT Trucking and the Future of Flatbed, click here.