By Gorm Tuxen
In trying and uncertain times like these, America is seeing what those in the transportation industries have always known: how important the trucking and supply chain is to our security as a nation. As stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders have been issued across the country, critical and essential industries have been working harder than ever to support us all. Out on the interstates and highways of America, truckers are moving vital freight and bringing food, clothing, medical supplies, and much more to us 24 hours a day. But while as a group their efforts maybe tireless, each individual has limits and must obey federal rest mandates. Plus, while safety is always a primary concern, now more than ever it is essential that drivers remain safe and cargo arrives safely.
One of the most common safety threats facing truck drivers—and those with whom they share the road—is fatigue, which causes nearly a third of all fatal crashes and a quarter of all insurance losses. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, just over one in every five fatal motor vehicle crashes involves driver fatigue, and a third of crashes involving a drowsy driver also result in injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tired drivers are responsible for over 70,000 crashes a year, causing nearly 45,000 injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are up to 6,000 fatal crashes caused by drowsy drivers each year.
State and federal transportation administrators and policymakers have long sought strategies for reducing tired driving. The most important policy in that regard has been limiting the length of time that drivers can legally drive before taking a rest. The problem is, it’s not always easy for drivers to find someplace to pull over and rest. Rest areas and truck stops are often full, and it’s not unusual for drivers to have to drive dozens—even hundreds—of miles, passing rest areas that are already full, before finding someplace with an open space where they can rest.
Several states, starting with Florida, have turned to transportation management technology to reduce driver fatigue among truck drivers. The programs are designed to help drivers find a place to safely pull over and rest when they get tired or approach their mandated time for resting. These programs use parking guidance sensors installed in truck stops and rest area parking spaces to monitor individual space availability and communicate that information to truck drivers via roadside signage and hand-held smart phone apps. When it’s time for a rest, drivers can access the system via a special app on their phones and locate the closest available parking space. States across the U.S. are duplicating the Florida program and several mid-western states have banded together to form the nation’s first Regional Truck Parking Information Management System (TPIMS).
Technology to The Rescue
These programs revolve around a pioneering new approach that combines parking guidance sensors with a specialized software platform to help drivers find the closest available truck stop or rest area parking space.
The programs, which are managed separately by each state’s Department of Transportation, use parking sensors installed in truck stop and rest area parking spaces to monitor individual space availability and communicate that information to truck drivers via roadside signage and a specialized smart phone app.
Both programs begin with the sensors. The parking guidance sensors resemble a hockey puck when installed in the ground (each truck lane is monitored by several sensors), individual sensors are installed in each parking space, monitoring whether that parking space is occupied or available.
The wireless sensors are entirely self-contained. They use a combination of magnetic and infrared technology to detect whether a vehicle has parked in an individual space. Each sensor is powered by a battery, so there is no wired infrastructure required to operate the system.
The brain of both systems is Truck Parking Manager, an Open IP software platform that is designed to address the unique challenges and requirements of drivers in each state. Because it’s an open IP system, each DOT is able to integrate to other software and devices to improve capabilities, or provide different capabilities, as its needs evolve. Open IP is a communications protocol that allows for the open sharing of data between software from disparate developers and manufacturers.
The data sharing is facilitated through a secure API that allows two or more different software packages to share data from their databases through the Internet. The API follows certain standard protocols and contains the data that one system is designed to share with another. It doesn’t permit the introduction of unknown code or code changes, so there’s no risk of the platform being undermined by programmers sharing data. It’s designed to significantly enhance the platform’s utility.
The Truck Parking Manager software is capable of acting as an enterprise-wide, central control solution for all data being communicated through the system; this includes Variable Message Signage along the roadway advising drivers of the status of available parking ahead of their current position. The LED matrix signs are highly visible and easily read, which is no small thing considering that the typical reader is speeding past at 55 miles an hour or more.
With sensors installed as a part in an IoT (Internet of Things) architecture, constant monitoring and remote accessibility for up time monitoring and maintenance is key to continued maximum operability, this feature is another functional module Truck Parking Manager software, giving system service providers and operators complete automated transparency to the heartbeat and performance of the system at all times.
The system also features an Application Programming Interface (API) that connects the system with the apps drivers use to find available parking. It’s essentially the technology that permits drivers to connect with the system, no matter where they are. Through this API, the app is able to provide real-time data about where parking is available for tired drivers. All they must do is access app, and the technology does the rest.
A Lifesaving Solution
As our dependence on the trucking industry is brought into sharp relief by the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes all the more clear that we need to invest in infrastructure and technology that supports the safe and steady transport of goods along our roadways.
The sensor programs initiated by the Florida Department of Transportation and the members of the Midwest Regional Truck Parking Information Management System are important steps towards making our highways safer for truckers—and the other drivers with whom they share the roads. And to make sure that while we are leaning on them in times of need, that we are giving them the support to do their jobs, smoothly and safely.
Gorm Tuxen is President/CEO of IPsens, LLC, a leading provider of cloud-based parking, data exchange, and information management solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.