With the development of new vehicle technologies, driver tracking is becoming easier than ever before. Not only is it less expensive to implement, but it also now provides much more information than just where your vehicles are located.
In this guide for fleet owners, we discuss both basic and advanced driver tracking, as well as some of the benefits that it provides to fleets large and small.
Table Of Contents
Basic Driver Tracking
The most basic driver tracking is little more than having a vehicle operator call in and report their location whenever they stop driving (e.g., for fuel, for a mandatory break, for a customer appointment, etc.).
But that doesn’t tell you anything other than where the vehicle is at the moment. It doesn’t provide insight into driving behavior, route taken, fuel consumption, or any variables besides physical location.
Thankfully, the need to have drivers check in on the phone has been replaced by 21st-century technology that gives fleet managers access to a wealth of vehicle and driver data.
What is this new technology that has now become the basic driver tracking method for fleets of two to 200? Telematics.
Telematics is a set of systems and add-ons that use the Global Positioning System (GPS) and onboard diagnostic (OBD) equipment to plot a vehicle’s movement on a computerized map.
Once you’ve installed the components, the telematics hardware processes and analyzes a vast array of information about the vehicle, including:
- Distance traveled
- Total mileage
- Trip time
- Idling time
- Harsh braking
- Rough driving
- Seat belt use
- Fuel consumption
- Engine data
- System faults
The onboard computer then transmits the data via a cellular network into fleet management software, where you can view and export reports, gather intelligence about your fleet, set performance and safety benchmarks for your drivers, and much more.
Advanced Driver Tracking
In recent years, telematics and driver tracking has evolved beyond the “one-way” activity of just gathering data about vehicle systems and driver behavior to become a full-fledged “two-way” system of communication between fleet manager and equipment operator.
With the addition of optional integrations, such as dash cams, electronic logging, dispatching and route management, remote diagnostics, and weather alerts, fleet managers can provide real-time support for drivers no matter where the vehicle is located.
Such advanced capabilities make it easier for both managers and drivers to:
- Do their jobs correctly the first time
- Avoid delays
- Control costs
- Focus on more important business issues
- Maximize vehicle activity
- Provide quality customer service and support
Both basic and advanced driver tracking translates into a more streamlined, more productive workflow whether your fleet vehicles travel across town or across the country.
Benefits Of Driver Tracking
For most businesses, driver tracking is all about:
- Making the best use of vehicles
- Bringing order to an inherently chaotic process
- Controlling costs
The benefits in this section illustrate how telematics and tracking satisfy one or all of those fundamental purposes.
1) Route Optimization
One of the biggest benefits of driver tracking is that it provides fleet managers with the ability to optimize the route a driver takes to their final destination.
Directing vehicles along the shortest distance between point A and point B or redirecting them to avoid delays has a direct impact on such variables as:
- Total miles driven
- Time en route
- Engine run time (both moving the vehicle and idling)
- Fuel consumption
- Number of deliveries or appointments per day
Controlling these variables ultimately helps you reduce costs, improve vehicle life span, and ensure that your fleet stays productive.
2) Predictive Maintenance
Driver tracking also makes it easier to provide your fleet vehicles with the maintenance that prevents small, inexpensive issues from becoming large, expensive issues.
Data from telematics equipment lets you monitor each system of the vehicle so you can see how everything is running — even in real time.
Such insight makes it possible to implement a predictive maintenance schedule and avoid the more costly emergency maintenance that comes when an engine, transmission, or other integral part of the vehicle breaks down.
Keeping your vehicles in good repair by analyzing data from the various systems allows you to redirect capital into other areas of the business and continue driving toward success.
3) Driving Behavior
As we’ve touched on throughout the article so far, driver tracking provides data that also gives you insight into how the operator handles their vehicle.
Rapid acceleration, heavy braking, rough steering, unsteady cruising, and other harmful behaviors can increase fuel consumption, cause unnecessary wear on your vehicles, and even shorten their useful life.
All of that means your business has to spend more to keep the fleet on the road.
In addition, the mere fact that your business has a driver tracking program — and your drivers are aware of it — typically means that they’ll drive better right from the start.
Coupled with an effective training program and operator awareness, telematics data makes it easier to show your drivers what skills they need to work on and how they can improve.
And, when your drivers operate their machines more efficiently and with greater care, both they and your business will benefit.
Driver tracking also goes a long way toward improving operator safety on the road.
Identifying potentially unsafe behavior behind the wheel — and bringing it to your driver’s attention — can prevent all sorts of issues, including:
- Mechanical damage
- Body damage
- Property damage
- Operator injury
- Pedestrian injury
Take the time to review telematics data and actually show each driver the numbers. When they can see it with their own eyes (rather than you just telling them), your suggestions will make more sense and they’ll be more likely to work on improving.
A safer fleet means less potential for expensive repairs and a longer life for some of your most valuable vehicles.
Geofencing is a unique feature of driver tracking equipment that allows you to create a virtual geographic boundary (a geofence) around a certain area.
If a vehicle crosses that boundary (either entering or exiting), the telematics software will notify the fleet manager and even remind the driver that they’ve taken the vehicle somewhere they shouldn’t.
For example, if you operate a fleet of cross-country semis that primarily travel on the 80/90 interstate, you could set a geofence around those corridors.
If a driver takes a vehicle into the surrounding area, you’ll both receive a message indicating that they’re outside their defined path of travel.
Similarly, you could set up a geofence to keep vehicles out of a certain area rather than in a certain area.
The ability to set boundaries around where your drivers should and shouldn’t go can help you maintain organization in a fleet that is going in all directions at once.
Geofencing can also reduce operating costs by keeping drivers and vehicles on optimal routes that maximize fuel consumption and minimize vehicle wear and tear.
6) Engine Diagnostics
With the data you receive from your driver tracking hardware, you’ll be better able to identify potential problems that can sideline vehicles within your fleet and hamstring your business’s ability to fulfill its obligations.
Monitoring engine diagnostics is a great way to design a predictive maintenance program for each vehicle. The data from onboard telematics can also help you identify potentially catastrophic issues in real time so you can take the vehicle out of service as soon as possible.
For example, one of your delivery vans is on the interstate cruising at 65, when, all of a sudden, engine temperature spikes higher than its normal level. Your driver may be paying attention to the traffic and not notice this change.
On the other end of the system, though, your fleet manager receives a notification that something is off on one of the vehicles. They can contact the driver directly and instruct them to pull over as soon as possible and seek service.
7) Fuel Management
One of the largest expenses that any business will face is purchasing fuel to keep its fleet running.
But monitoring driving behaviors, engine diagnostics, and routes driven reduces the fuel used to get from one destination to another. The less fuel your fleet uses on the job, the lower the cost to your business to keep those vehicles running.
The same technology that makes driver tracking possible also gives you insight into a number of variables that can have a dramatic effect on fuel consumption, including:
- Unnecessary weight
- Load distribution
- Tire pressure
- Vehicle aerodynamics
- Consistent speed
Even correcting just one of these variables — e.g., encouraging drivers to accelerate smoothly and steadily from a full stop or setting the cruise control on long stretches of highway driving — can improve overall MPGs and your fuel management as a whole.
8) Fuel Tax Reporting
If your drivers stay in one state, it may not be difficult to remain compliant with fuel tax reporting. But if business needs dictate that your drivers cross state lines, routing the correct tax to the correct state can get complicated quickly.
The U.S. and Canada enacted the International Fuel Tax Agreement (or IFTA for short) in order to track where commercial vehicle fuel taxes go.
Under this agreement, drivers who operate commercial motor vehicles (regardless of size) must record:
- Miles driven
- Fuel purchased
- Purchase locations
Businesses must submit these records to their local IFTA office every quarter. Then, based on the number and location of miles driven, the IFTA office distributes fuel taxes to each state and province.
Before driver tracking technology, all of this had to be done with information from hard-copy records that were subject to loss, damage, and mistakes.
However, with the introduction of telematics and GPS, the software can record the necessary data automatically, making the subsequent reporting easier and more secure.
9) Compliance, Safety, And Accountability Scores
In addition to improving behavior, safety, and routes taken, driver tracking can also make it easier to maintain Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (or CSA) scores.
At roadside inspection points along major highways in the United States, CSA agents assess vehicles and driving behavior and “grade” them based on the following categories:
- Vehicle maintenance
- Frequency or intensity of collisions (the Crash Indicator)
- Driver fitness
- Compliance with hours-of-service requirements
- Controlled substance or alcohol
- Unsafe driving
- Hazardous material compliance
If the CSA score falls within an acceptable range, the driver and the vehicle will be cleared for continued service.
If, however, the CSA score falls outside the acceptable range, the driver and the vehicle may be taken out of service and your business may be penalized.
With the help of telematics data, your business can control many of the variables that go into calculating the CSA score so that you can keep your vehicles on the road longer.
10) Pre- And Post-Trip Vehicle Inspections
Another benefit of driver tracking is that the vehicle data the telematics provides can also be used by the drivers themselves to simplify and streamline the pre-trip and post-trip vehicle inspection reports.
To help avoid the equipment malfunctions that can lead to accidents, property damage, and personal injury, the federal government requires drivers to fill out a Driver-Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) before and after every trip (or at the beginning and end of the workday).
These pre-trip and post-trip inspections cover all the systems that contribute to the safe and effective operation of the vehicle, including:
- Windshield wipers
- Safety and emergency equipment
- Tires and wheels
- Brake systems
- Steering systems
- Trailer connection points (when applicable)
Daily evaluations like the DVIR also provide your business with a valuable record of the wear-and-tear your vehicles experience on the job and the maintenance and repairs you provide to keep them in good (and safe) working order.
Driver-tracking technology often makes the process much easier because the software can provide data on such variables as fluid levels and wheel alignment (to name just a few) that might be invisible to drivers because they are more difficult to test.
11) True Trip Miles
Recording and reporting vehicle mileage is important for many aspects of fleet management. But errors often abound when this activity is done manually.
Drivers can accidentally:
- Include tenths of miles (which can result in a significant increase in the number of hours reported)
- Report kilometers rather than miles (which can result in tens of thousands of miles more than the actual odometer reading)
- Round off the starting or ending odometer reading
Guess the miles driven just to speed up the reporting process
Driver tracking can eliminate these common errors and reveal true trip miles for more accurate and consistent reporting and record-keeping.
Some tracking software even allows you to set limits and provide warnings if a driver attempts to record a mileage that doesn’t match the previous post-trip inspection value or that exceeds a certain threshold for that vehicle.
12) Cost Analysis
Driver tracking and telematics data can also make it easier to conduct a more complete and accurate cost analysis for your fleet.
The two most influential variables that affect the cost analysis for a specific vehicle are total cost of ownership (TCO) and vehicle cost per mile (VCPM).
Telematics data really shines in these calculations by providing precise numbers for variable vehicle costs, like fuel consumption and miles driven.
Here’s how those variables contribute to each calculation individually.
Total Cost Of Ownership
You can calculate total cost of ownership with the following formula:
Total Cost Of Ownership = Fixed Vehicle Costs + Variable Vehicle Costs
The total comes out to $2,000.
Next, you add up all the variable vehicle costs for Work Van A (e.g., fuel, tolls, and maintenance).
The total comes out to $5,000.
Plug those numbers into the equation, and you get the following TCO for Work Van A:
Total Cost Of Ownership = $2,000 + $5,000
Total Cost Of Ownership = $7,000
Calculating total cost of ownership relies heavily on keeping track of the time period that each set of values covers.
The above example applies to one month — both fixed and variable costs come from that month.
If you’re not careful, you may find yourself calculating the fixed vehicle costs for one month and the variable vehicle costs for two months. That will throw off your cost analysis significantly and give you the wrong impression of your fleet operation.
Be sure your figures all apply to the same time period.
Vehicle Cost Per Mile
Once you’ve calculated the total cost of ownership (TCO), you can figure the vehicle cost per mile with the following formula:
Vehicle Cost Per Mile = Total Cost Of Ownership / Total Miles Driven
Continuing with the example from the previous section, you examine your records to discover that Work Van A covered a total of 2,000 miles last month.
Plug that number into the equation along with the total cost of ownership figured earlier, and you get:
Vehicle Cost Per Mile = $7,000 / 2,000 miles
Vehicle Cost Per Mile = $3.5 per mile
Armed with this data, you can make it a goal to improve both the TCO and the VCPM in order to cut costs in your fleet.
13) New Vehicle Acquisition
Deciding on which new vehicle to buy or lease can be a confusing and stressful process.
Would a pickup-sized work truck serve the needs of drivers and the business better than a larger-class vehicle? Would a vehicle with an alternative fuel source instead of gas or diesel get the job done?
And then there’s the question of when it’s the right time to acquire a new vehicle for your fleet.
Thankfully, these decisions can be made easier with data from driver-tracking technology. This technology gives you an accurate picture of what the vehicle is being used for on a daily basis.
With that information, you’ll be able to establish:
- The type and size of commercial vehicle that will best serve everyone involved (your business, your drivers, and your customers)
- The type and size of vehicle that will help you save on initial costs
- The type and size of vehicle that gets the best mileage but still has the power to get the job done
For example, with a thorough analysis of the tracking data, you may discover that you no longer need to field a fleet of pickup trucks and can do the same job with a fleet of minivans.
Transitioning from larger to smaller vehicles can save your business thousands of dollars — even tens of thousands of dollars — in fuel costs every year.
And when you factor in the savings you can get from reduced registration, insurance, maintenance, and other variables for smaller vehicles, it’s easy to see how driver-tracking data can save your business money right off the top.
14) Old Vehicle Replacement
Similarly, deciding when it’s time to replace an aging fleet vehicle can be just as stressful and difficult as choosing a new vehicle.
But figuring out the right time to retire an old vehicle can benefit your business through savings, such as:
- Reduced maintenance costs
- Lower fuel consumption
- Driver satisfaction and retention
The process of driver tracking and the data that telematics provides can make it easier to see when it’s time to retire an old vehicle and replace it with a new one.
Driver Tracking And Effective Fleet Operations
By providing insight into such variables as driving behavior, vehicle performance, and fuel consumption, effective driver tracking makes it easy to reduce spending throughout your fleet.
But you’ll need to do more than just track your vehicles and gather data. You’ll need to control driver expenses while they’re on the road.
Coast can help with controls and visibility that work for your business through a fleet card and expense management platform that empower you with real-time information related to your fleet.
For more information on how Coast can help you control fleet costs and streamline your fleet management program, visit CoastPay.com today.