All hands on tech

| September 01, 2006

New traffic update technologies can make it possible to avoid backups, such as this one that stalled reefer hauler Eddie Myers of Hurlock, Md., for hours this summer on I-20/59 near the Alabama-Mississippi line.

When Jeff Minkoff leased onto Landstar as an expedited hauler this spring, he didn’t want to chance staring at brake lights with few or no options while sitting on a hot load. At the very least, he wanted to make sure he knew why he was stuck in traffic if a jam could not be avoided. could not be avoided.

The North Carolina resident did a bit of Internet research, talked to some salespeople and plunked down $1,150 for the Garmin StreetPilot 7200. The GPS unit features route planning and updated traffic info, all on a screen that pops with easy-to-read colors. When Minkoff can’t take his eyes off the road, a computerized voice tells him where to turn and even how to correct any wrong turns.

“I really could not do this job without it,” Minkoff says. “It’s probably best for me when I’m traveling in traffic around large cities.”

Besides in-cab GPS, other high-tech tools that now help truckers steer around congestion include subscription traffic updates, electronic signage, 511 phone lines and cell-phone alerts.

“Knowing where you are is half the problem solved,” says Chris Driscoll of the American Trucking Associations’ Traffic and Logistics Management unit. “You need to find out what is happening in that location, the road up ahead and the city ahead. That’s the real trick.”

IN-CAB GPS UPDATES. Global positioning systems have been around for more than a decade. The prospect of combining GPS with real-time traffic updates, though, has the trucking industry excited.

“It’s a life-saver,” says Garmin spokeswoman Jessica Myers. “You can route around delays before you get to them.”

A few years ago, routing around traffic jams via computers and voice command was the stuff of science fiction. Now, owner-operators have plenty of spec’ing opportunities. GPS devices and routing software can be found in most parts stores, and the Internet brims with options.

Driscoll says an owner-operator can go into any Radio Shack and buy a system for under $1,000. Some prices are well south of that. Garmin has a basic package, the GPS 18 USB Deluxe, that sells for roughly $120. It doesn’t offer real-time traffic, but a voice module directs you to your destination. Thales Navigation Inc. makes several GPS units under the Magellan brand; products range from $300 on up, and several offer live traffic updates.

Many systems are geared toward truckers or have specific options for big rigs. For example, the Street- Pilot 7200 model’s 7-inch screen, too big for a car’s dashboard, was designed with truckers in mind. Other models have bells and whistles to make even ardent techies drool.

Prophesy Transportation Solutions and GPS stalwart Maptuit recently produced Prophesy EasyStreet. The system provides routing, road closings, low underpasses and toll road warnings. A program made for owner-operators provides fuel tax calculation, log auditing and state-by-state mileage summaries.

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