Innovation

UL: The Trucking Industry, Aided By Digital Tech, Is About To Get Smarter

Less than a year from now, more data — and the “smart” gear that collects and transmits it — will come to European roadways, part of an effort to increase the safety of truck driving.

Specifically, the technology that will start deploying in June 2019 is called the “smart tachograph,” and the general idea behind it is to encourage better enforcement of highway and driving rules, make it harder for drivers to bypass those rules, and potentially use data to otherwise bring more efficiency and safety to the road transport industry.

UL, a company that provides security services to other firms and organizations, took part in the development and approval of the European Union’s (EU’s) new smart tachograph standards. Paul Provenzano, director of Strategic Development at UL, recently spoke with PYMNTS about those standards, and how they could help bring trucking further into the digital economy.

Smart Tachograph Aims

What is the smart tachograph and its associated standards, which have won approval from European authorities? As UL described it, the smart tachograph is a pan-European system for the recording of driving, working and rest times in commercial vehicles. It aims to safeguard minimum working conditions for professional drivers, increase road safety, enhance fair competition in transport, and replace older technology and standards called the digital tachograph.

Drivers work according to a thick rulebook that governs everything, from how long they are allowed to drive — sleepy drivers can cause accidents — to speed and weight limits. All industries have their cheaters, and trucking is no different, with some drivers determined to keep their trucks in operation more than laws and regulations allow, among other infractions. (It was much easier to cheat in the days of paper logs, but some drivers, and their employers, still find ways to do so even with digital safeguards.)

The smart tachograph technology aims to “eliminate driver fraud,” Provenzano said. “What we are hoping to achieve here is ensuring the safety of the driver, and the other people on the road.”

A level of oversight comes from the smart tachograph’s connection to global navigation satellites. Provenzano said the smart tachograph technology, approved in Europe, connects every three hours with a satellite, providing a constant update of a driver’s behavior based on collected data.

Toll Booth Checks

The technology can also communicate with tolling systems and the agencies that operate them, and do more than simply facilitate or record the payment of tolls. Provenzano provided an example: A truck might provide some reason for enforcement authorities to be concerned — a trailer that is overweight, for instance, or something more serious — and the communication offered by the smart tachograph technology could give a digital heads-up to workers manning a toll station, which could then result in the truck in question being pulled over and inspected.

The point is “proactive communication with third parties,” he said, which in turn promotes safety for everyone else on the road, not just the driver (not all drivers who break the rules are deliberately cheating, after all).

The importance of the smart tachograph technology and standards go beyond trucking operations in Europe. Like other digital efforts (ePassports, for instance, Provenzano said), it seems all but certain that this EU way to digital trucking operations will influence similar efforts in other areas of the world.

GDPR Role

It’s already happened, of course, with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has sparked privacy protection legislative efforts in other regions. In fact, the rules of the GDPR influenced smart tachograph technology and standards, Provenzano said.

“It played a key role in the design and application of this,” he said, adding that the technology had to include protections for certain data involving driver behavior.

So, what’s next? Well, according to Provenzano, it’s too early to say how smart tachograph technology might encourage or play a role in the quickly developing areas of self-driving vehicles — an automotive future that will include the trucking industry. However, fuel payments and invoicing could be tied into smart tachograph technology, and it could better-analyze fuel use and help find new efficiencies and cost savings.

For now, though, European truckers, and the firms and other people involved in that industry, must still embrace the smart tachograph future and see how it works.

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