Cover Story

| July 02, 2009

The buzzword in communications technology these days is location. As details are unveiled of the new GPS-aware applications available for the iPhone, T-Mobile’s G1 phone and Windows-based smartphones, their use is spreading quickly in personal and business circles, including the world of owner-operators. Not only is the traditional use of GPS for routing and trip planning becoming more refined, but truckers are finding that location data can be put to good social and recreational uses, too.

Enhanced navigation
It’s an old complaint – that heavy reliance on a GPS navigation unit can route you into a lake. Search on the Internet for “GPS truck crash,” says FWCC driver Mark Pritchard, and “you’ll find stories of truck drivers getting themselves killed because they went somewhere with the GPS navigation exclusively.”

One such story concerns car hauler Marcos Costa, who was using a GPS system and whose brakes failed on a downhill run in the Crescenta Valley via Angel Crest Highway in Southern California. Costa ran straight into a bookstore and survived. At the time, it was legal to run on that route, but after the crash (one of several off the hill), Caltrans temporarily banned five-axle vehicles on the route.

That restriction wouldn’t register on older GPS systems, but today’s navigational tools are becoming more tailored to trucking. Werner driver Cal Buell uses the new premium WorldNav 7200 from Teletype, which was built with truck drivers in mind. As a field tester, he helps update map data.

“I was on Minnesota Highway 60 recently,” he says, “in a section that went from two-lane to four-lane and they’d just been doing work on it. My GPS was telling me I was running in a farmer’s field.” He reported the change to Teletype. They told him they already had it and it would come in the next update.

Dan Titus, a vice president for ALK Technologies’ PC Miler and CoPilot navigator businesses, says the company is continuously updating its North American maps, with much of the news coming from drivers who use either their PC Miler standalone navigators or the CoPilot laptop and smartphone software. “Many drivers actually send ALK their GPS Track log files that allow for anonymous submission of vehicle locations,” he says.

Pritchard runs with Microsoft Streets and Trips in his laptop, but his iPhone is also quickly becoming a prime navigational tool. Its GPS functionality and its integration with Google Maps gives a reasonable view of any location, particularly useful on unfamiliar delivery and pickup sites.

Often, he says, “you’ll find that the address is on one street but the truck entrance is in the back. I used to use Google on my laptop, but that requires a clean connection – you can use Google Maps on the iPhone anytime you have a cellular connection, and you can see the truck gate before you get there on your satellite view.”

Trip planning
With both the new GPS devices and GPS-functional mobile smartphones, you can access data about your route, plan stops and know with assurance the unit will get you to your stops without resetting your origin and destination with each stop. For instance, Werner driver Buell has programmed 40 to 50 Werner drop yards into his Teletype WorldNav model 7200.

Storage for user-added points of interest is particularly helpful, he says, to irregular-route long-haulers, who might deliver to some destinations only occasionally. “You can program that location” and, next time you go, avoid repeated map work.

Garmin claims its new Nuvi 465T truck-specific navigator is the first to include the entire National Truck & Trailer Services breakdown services directory in its nationwide points of interest, which can be displayed on the map of your current location.

This data extends to indentifying weigh stations, fuel and rest stops, and other attractions ahead. When you’re entering a more urban area with many points of interest, most navigators allow you to automatically zoom in and identify restaurants and other attractions you’re passing.

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