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Fleet Management – How To Master Total Cost Of Ownership Through Accessories

Trying to figure out how to get the most out of your fleet? The fact is you can minimize your total cost of ownership without impacting safety, performance or appearance.

From permits to licensing and truck driver education, managing a fleet of trucks is no easy job. Routine maintenance can be hard enough, let alone everything else an enterprising fleet manager needs to do. Still, with the right truck accessories, it isn’t difficult to fully optimize your operation.

Costs and Value

When you are considering the total cost of ownership for your equipment, the key formula is to keep costs in check while still getting the best value out of whatever equipment you are using. When a fleet makes a purchasing decision, it does so based on the total cost of the vehicle weighed against fuel and maintenance costs.

To further manage cost against value, purchase managers need to spec their equipment properly, and this is about more than just picking the right OEM, it’s also about durable components that add both safety and value.

With the right selection of options a fleet can both save fuel and decrease maintenance costs. With the wrong selection, however, there results can be nothing short of catastrophic. Let’s dig deeper into what you need to keep an eye out for.

Why Appearance Matters

When it comes to outfitting your vehicles, exterior accessories matter. Whether you are talking about mud flaps or truck fenders, motor carriers need to ensure these items are there not just for aesthetic reasons, but to improve safety and performance as well.

Still, that doesn’t mean appearance doesn’t matter. You want to make sure prospective customers see clean, polished and current equipment, otherwise they may look elsewhere for their freight movement needs. The fact is the better a vehicle looks, the better a potential customer’s overall impression will be of your business, and the more likely they will be to sign on.

From the paint job to how shiny the wheels are, the condition of your equipment is a direct reflection of your brand in others’ eyes. Do you want that perception to be one of great service and quality or one of shoddy work and a lack of focus?

Keeping CSA in Mind

Did you know that the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program includes vehicle maintenance as a scoring factor? The Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement (BASICs) scores are intended to provide fleets with a base level evaluation regarding performance, but many fleet managers don’t consider maintenance.

If they knew that as much as 80% of CSA violations are in the truck maintenance category, they would pay more attention to things like accessories. Better mud flaps and tougher fenders do a better job at keeping the truck in tip-top shape and good working order.

By properly accessorizing your fleet vehicles, you may end up with less CSA citations, which means more time and money in your pocket and on your divers’ time clocks. Well maintained trucks also carry a positive image of their owners, thus increasing the cache of your operation.

A Matter of Choice

There are a lot of different truck accessories out there doing a number of different jobs. From vortex generators to aerodynamic flaps, there are a number of different applications being met by new and advanced versions of truck accessories.

In the end, it’s important that your fleet managers take a look at the applications your trucks will be being used in. Only then will you be able to make the right decision on accessories.

Practice careful consideration and shop correctly, and the right truck accessories can both accelerate your reputation, safety and truck driver happiness.

The Latest Update On Trucking Regulations and the FAST Act

It’s been a while since we took a comprehensive look at the various trucking regulations set to affect our industry, so in that spirit we want to update you, our loyal readers, regarding what’s going on in Washington.

It’s no secret that the past few years have been a regulatory roller coaster ride for the trucking industry. From the FAST Act to the 34-hour restart rule, the trucking industry has a lot to prepare for.

The 34-hour Restart Rule

The first item on the table is the 34-hour restart rule. In a prior house bill, the Department of Transportation (DOT) was told that before they could reinstate the 34-hour restart provisions, they had to complete a comprehensive study showing how the rule improved safety and operator fatigue. In the end, the results would have to be certified by the DOT inspector general.

But a subsequent law removed the statement that the 34-hour restart rule would stay in place. It is expected that when the FMCSA reports to Congress in the second quarter of this year, the 34-hour restart will be removed entirely and reverted back to the 2003 hours-of-service rules.

Now it seems a deal has been struck in the Senate to instead put a cap on on-duty time after 73 hours in a week. This would be in exchange for trading out the 34-hour restart rule. Yet in an election year, things could change. We’ll see what happens with hours-of-service after November.

Next up is the latest highway bill, otherwise known as the FAST Act. Did you know the FAST Act made some provisional changes to the CSA program?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

CSA and the FAST Act

The FAST Act changes the CSA program in the following ways:

  • An 18-month study must be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences to analyze the accuracy of CSA, SMS and the BASIC scoring system.
  • The study will review specific methodology related to how BASIC percentiles are calculated. It also aims to determine the ties between crash risk and specific violations.
  • Congress must receive a corrective action plan within 120 days of the report being submitted and it must outline how the FMCSA intends to address deficiencies.

Beyond these provisions, the FMCSA has been directed to not make publicly available information on how the information is analyzed and what the BASIC percentages are. The agency is also not permitted to use CSA data for alerts and safety fitness determinations. The agency can still use the data behind the scenes for enforcement actions, however.

More on the FAST Act

With the FMCSA recently announcing they were seeking input on implementation of the FAST Act requirement regarding installation of safety equipment and driver fitness measures, expect fleets to quickly begin implementing these changes well ahead of any rule implementation.

The FAST Act is also governed by specific impact analysis events and how the FMCSA makes rules. Congress has required that all proposed and final rules use the best available science and data to evaluate the effects of said rules on motor carriers of various types and sizes.

The FMCSA has also been instruction to post a summary of all the rulemaking petitions and regulatory interpretations or clarifications. This information must be posted on the agency’s website within 180 days. Petitions must also be prioritized to reduce crashes, improve specific enforcement actions, or reduce unnecessary hang-ups.

Finally, the FMCSA must exempt allow carriers to conduct their own proprietary pre-employment drug and alcohol tests, and to use hair-testing in place of urine, where available.

As it turns out, there’s still a lot in the pipe where regulations are concerned. Congress has been hard at work both imposing then removing rules on the trucking industry. Join us next time when we dive back into regulatory requirements and take a deeper look at the Safety Fitness Determination rule and the ELD mandate.

Is There An Easy Fix For Trucking Companies Safety Profiles?

Can you believe it has been over five years since the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety-monitoring system was rolled out? You would think everyone would be used to it right now, yet it still it bedevils many a fleet manager. Fortunately, we’re here to dissect it for you.

CSA is a complicated structure. It has a methodology that tries to paint an accurate – and actionable – picture out of various disparate elements and seemingly unrelated factors. It’s a lumbering system that tries to put a pinpoint shot onto a moving target.

Where Are We On CSA?

The fact is, CSA scores and Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICS) are meant to distinguish carriers that operate safely from those who do not. On the flipside, some argue that the scores inaccurately portray some carriers as “unsafe” for the simple reason that the scoring method is heavily weighted to violations, no matter how many clean inspections said carrier may have to their credit.

While a provision in the 2015 highway bill did force the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) to remove the CSA scores from public view, is that just a temporary fix? Indeed, some scores may stay down until a Transportation Research Board (TRB) report is commissioned.

Fortunately, the agency has been mandated to create said report within 18 months of the passing of the highway bill. The agency must submit a report to Congress and, 120 days later, be able to supply a so-called “corrective action plan”. The plan should be designed to address any deficiencies found within the study.

Even so, the inspection data that drives CSA remains publicly visible. Percentile ranks and alerts are still available to fleets and law enforcement can prioritize their actions around CSA scores.

Using Technicians

The best way a fleet can ensure its safety profile accurately reflects the nature of the business is to promote measures that bring down the types of violations that drive up CSA scores, and not just in numbers, but in their severity and frequency as well.

First, focus on what is most in your control: Vehicle maintenance. Always make sure you are completing and documenting any and all annual inspections of trucks and trailers. Additionally, make sure you have as many technicians as you need, and in some cases maybe one or two more.

More technicians mean more inspections. Technicians can also help to train the drivers on how to conduct proper pre- and post-trip inspections. Having shop guys on the ready when pre- and post-trip inspection data is relayed is necessary best practice.

Don’t solely focus on hours of service violations to bring your CSAs down. Remember that improving equipment maintenance also goes a long way to lowering your CSA score.

Using Technology

Have you made the technological migration yet? While the vast majority of truck drivers go above and beyond what is necessary to ensure safety, some still get dinged for not properly tracking hours or missing or incomplete inspections.

It’s a lot harder to keep accurate track of your fleet’s safety performance measures if you are using paper logs. Switch to telematics and take the headache out of tracking safety measures and potential performance issues.

Have you considered in-cab video systems? Safety-conscious drivers enjoy the positive reinforcement when their performance measures up, and video systems help propagate the “safety effect”. They move fleets beyond just monitoring drivers, but assist in addressing behavioral aspects as well.

When used properly, technology can be an incredibly useful tool in the effort to keep your safety profiles and CSA scores in tip-top shape. And with the ELD mandate coming in 2017, fleets will have no more reason to stay sitting on the technological fence.

 

 

The Importance of Vehicle Inspections – Part II

In our last installment of The Importance of Vehicle Inspections, we introduced you to why vehicle inspections are so important. Remember, it’s not just about getting good CSA scores, it really is a matter of safety.

Since we have covered the types of inspections and how to inspect certain aspects of the vehicle, it’s time to dive back in to what we haven’t covered. So without further ado, let’s get right into inspecting your vehicle’s braking system.

The Brake System

The first thing to look at when you are inspecting your vehicle’s brake systems is the air pressure. You should not hear any leaks or notice any observable loss of air pressure on your air pressure gauge.

Additionally, air pressure should not leak more than 3 pounds-per-minute with the engine off. Also check for defective gauges and low air warning devices. Not only is it a matter of safety, but according to the section 393.51 of the FMCSRs, all trucks must be equipped with a fully functional warning device.

Brake drums should be inspected for any signs of visible cracks. Shoes or pads should be inspected for proper thickness, oil, grease, or wear. Also ensure that the brake chambers are securely mounted. Over the course of normal operation, slack adjusters could lose parts or need additional adjustment, so check them as well.

Brake lines also need to be properly secured. If you see signs of hardening, swelling or excessive wear, you may have a problem. If they are bent or folded over, you may wind up with air flow restriction problems.

Make sure you bleed your air reservoir daily to check for excessive moisture. It must also be securely attached to the vehicle.

Finally, air lines to the trailer (if attached) shouldn’t be tangled or restricted in any way. They should always be correctly attached and supported. Always ensure they are not rubbing on either the frame or the catwalk.

The Steering System

Steering system defects can include a number of components, from missing nuts, bolts, or cotter pins, to bent tie rods, drag links or pitman arms. Do a thorough visual inspection of these components to ensure there is no excessive wear or damage.

Steering systems also utilize hoses, pumps and fluid. Keep an eye out for leaks at all times and always ensure your power steering fluid is at the recommended level.

Finally, watch for any excessive looseness or “play” as you steer. If your steering wheel shows any play of 10 degrees or more, not only will you find it hard to steer, but it also could be indicative of other problems.

The Frame

The frame is the foundation for your vehicle. In one way or another, it is directly connected to all the other parts of the vehicle. As such, your vehicle’s frame must always be in good repair.

While the frame is usually the last part of the vehicle to suffer failure – mainly due to its rugged design – like any other mechanical piece, it is subject to potential fault. Make sure your vehicle’s frame isn’t cracked, loose, sagging or broken in any places. Also ensure the bolts securing the body of the vehicle to the frame are not themselves loose or missing.

The Suspension System

The suspension system is vitally important because it supports both the vehicle and its load. It also serves to keep all the axles in place. For truckers transporting fragile cargo, suspension in proper working order can be the sole determinant of whether or not the load gets to the receiver in one piece.

Not only can a faulty suspension system allow sudden shifts in cargo, it can also impact the steering and stability of the vehicle, which can lead to any number of breakdown or accident scenarios.

When you are inspecting your suspension system, check for damage with your spring hangers, torque rods, U-bolts, and leaf springs. If any of these components show signs of damage or excessive wear, you could have a potential problem on your hands.

Also check your air bags, air bag mounts, shock absorbers and frame members. Although these are all complex components, it should be easy to visually spot cracks, looseness or damage.

Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed Part II of our series. Join us next time for Part III, when we dig deeper into exhaust systems, coupling systems, emergency equipment and cargo.

What Is The Compliance, Safety and Accountability Program?

Back in 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released a new truck-safety monitoring effort called the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program. This program was designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency’s efforts in addressing motor carrier safety issues.

This FMCSA compliance program is intended to improve safety monitoring, carrier evaluation and safety intervention, but will it work? Let’s take a closer look at the details.

What Came Before?

The CSA program was born out of a study that’s been ongoing since the 1970s. Back then the government and industry stakeholders got together in an attempt to progressively reduce the number of commercial motor vehicle accidents that resulted in injuries or fatalities.

Before the CSA, FMCSA was using a model called SafeStat. This model was resource heavy and didn’t have the scope required to reach more than just a small fraction of the nation’s 700,000 interstate motor carriers.

The SafeStat system measured safety in a one-size-fits-all way that didn’t place enough focus on the behavioral aspects of crashes. There also was scant attention given to the drivers of commercial motor vehicles, which in turn limited the data’s effectiveness.

How Does CSA Work?

The CSA program was designed to effectively leverage State and Federal resources to provide more targeted solutions to potential safety concerns.  The enforcement and compliance components are streamlined to work hand-in-hand, across multiple agencies.

The CSA operational model uses the following three main components:

  1. Measurement: CSA will gather inspection and crash data to pinpoint carriers who are exhibiting high-risk behaviors.
  2. Evaluation: The FMCSA will combine the CSA with the Safety Fitness Determination methodology to determine when a specific safety problem is present.
  3. Intervention: Enforcement officials will have new tools at their disposal in addressing safety compliance problems. They expect to reach more carriers and be more effective in mitigating safety concerns.

The second arrow in the CSA quiver is the Safety Management System (SMS). The SMS uses roadside inspection data combined with crash information to provide new data sets that enforcement officials use to find targeted solutions to carrier-specific problems.

Getting Back To BASICS

The final factor in the CSA analysis will be in addressing Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). The prior safety model did not address behavioral aspects of truck driver safety, which the BASICs model is intended to do.

These are the seven BASIC categories that CSA will use in creating data sets:

  • Alcohol and drugs: Includes the use of or possession of a controlled substance or alcohol.
  • Cargo security: Dropped cargo, size or weight violations, or unsafe handling of hazardous cargo.
  • Crash indicators: A pattern of crashes, judged by severity and frequency.
  • Driver fitness: Not having a valid commercial driver’s license or being medically unfit.
  • Fatigued driving: Maintaining an inaccurate logbook or driving while fatigued.
  • Unsafe driving: Inattention, speeding, improper lane changes or reckless driving.
  • Vehicle maintenance: Not maintaining vehicle upkeep or having serious mechanical problems.

When a BASIC is violated, an alert is created. Every month the FMCSA uploads the new data into SMS and places a weight on each violation. The violations are weighted on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 the most severe.

Within each of the seven categories, carriers not only receive a numerical score, but they are ranked as well. The carriers with the highest score receive a 100% rating, while the lowest comes in at 0%, with everyone else somewhere in between.

Even though CSA has been in development for a number of years, there’s still a fair amount of questions surrounding its efficacy and whether or not it will have a tangible impact on trucking safety. Next week we’re going to take a look at whether any independent studies have been done to either validate or invalidate the usefulness of CSA, so stay tuned!

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