Information revolution

| December 15, 2005

Humbles says C.I. Whitten was one of the first companies to install Qualcomm in its trucks back in the early 1990s. “They could track us then,” he says. “If there was ever any problem, they knew where we were, and that kept us in touch with dispatchers, too.”

“Back then we used the CB radio to find out about traffic and weather,” Humbles says. “But now I use XM satellite radio. It has channels for traffic in every major metropolis. I can dial up Miami, Dallas, New York or wherever and find out what I need to know.” Humbles received a guide to the channels from XM, “but I just flip through the channels until I find the city I’m looking for.”

It’s difficult to say which invention made more information easily available to drivers: wireless Internet or cell phones.

“I got the wireless Internet, so if I have any problems I can boot it up anywhere,” says Janco LTD company driver David Nelson of Joliet, Ill. Nelson, on his way from South Florida to Texas, taps into the World Wide Web for information about traffic, among other things. “If I have any problems, I can go to the DOT website.”

He was concerned about getting through Louisiana and Mississippi on I-10 and I-12. “I’ll get online and see what they have in the way of road closures,” he says. “The best place to go is the state DOT. I just do a general search with Yahoo! to find their websites.”

Wireless Internet puts an almost limitless amount of information at a driver’s fingertips.

But some drivers don’t carry computers, and Nelson admits that sometimes for the latest and most accurate information his cell phone is better. “If I need to I can call state police for information about road closures and traffic and stuff,” he says. He gets the phone numbers from his Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Atlas. “They’re the state cops in charge of all the roads, so they would know.”

Nelson recalls a trip from Wheeling, W.Va., to Chattanooga, Tenn. “We wanted to cut across on I-79, but we called the West Virginia DOT and found out they had a low bridge,” he says.

Nelson says he normally doesn’t worry too much about traffic jams. “I know I’m going to run into that somewhere,” he says. “But weather I like to know about, especially during the winter. If I’m going to run through a snowstorm, I might deviate my route a little bit to miss that.”

Nelson gets his weather information from his XM radio, the Weather Channel on televisions in truckstops or from www.weather.com with his laptop computer and wireless Internet access. But he also gets information from the newspaper.

“I like reading USA Today,” he says. “I’ll spend 50 or 75 cents a day to read that. It gets a little pricey, but I’ll pay it, and I get my news and weather information from that.”

Janco LTD specializes in moving entertainers from show to show, and Nelson gets routes, directions to customers and information about parking from his boss.

“The lead driver on tour with us will have all the information I need,” he says. Sometimes he’s the lead driver. “Then I have to make sure everybody has it – directions, parking, where the docks are, routes.” Nelson says he mostly communicates with co-workers via cell phone and CB radio, although they meet in truckstops as well.

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