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How Champion Trucking Got Ahead with Integrated Video

By Mansi AnejaJune 9, 2020
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Russell Miller began working at Champion Trucking nearly 23 years ago, and is now the General Manager. Though, he’ll be the first to tell you that he “has about five different hats he puts on and takes off every day.” From his perspective, not much has changed in trucking since he started in the industry. Except, of course, the invention of technologies that can help companies work smarter and leaner, but not harder.

“Back then, there weren’t electronic mandates and tracking technologies,” Russell explains, “Trucking was a very manual and paper-based profession. It’s really just in the last 15 years that I’ve seen the industry move toward bringing digital technology into the mix.” And, as far as Russell is concerned, it’s changed how he operates his fleet for the better.

Based in Southern Indiana across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, Miller wakes up at 4 a.m. every day to reach his workplace around 5:30 a.m. and this begins what usually ends up being a 12- to 14-hour workday. In his own words, “I’m a proud Baby Boomer who was raised with a strong work ethic, so it’s what I’m used to and, frankly, wouldn’t have it any other way.”

At first, our drivers thought that we were trying to monitor them all of the time. But after seeing first-hand how video can help support both them and the company in the case of a false accusation, they realized it was actually very beneficial.

Typically, before technology was widely adopted, managing fleets was a largely manual process. Russell shares, “Dispatchers would have to confirm schedules based on paper charts, or whether anyone had called in sick or had a last-minute emergency. They would also have to review paper hours of service logs to determine who went over hours and who had hours to spare for the day’s tasks. Any communication with drivers was done via phone, and there was really no way of knowing where a vehicle was at a specific time.”

Over the years, as Champion Trucking has adopted digital technologies and platforms, Miller and Champion Trucking have seen significant positive changes in their fleet operations. Verizon Connect spoke to Miller about Champion Trucking’s recent adoption of in-vehicle dash cameras and how they elevate the capabilities of their existing GPS tracking platform. The following is a snapshot of our interview.

Q: Tell us about Champion Trucking’s company operations.

A: Averaging at 50-60 employees depending on the season, we're at work from about 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., but we do have nighttime mechanics that work on trucks up until 1 or 2 in the morning. Our company is a little different than the average trucking company; we’re not an over-the-road trucking outfit, and we’re geared more toward construction than any other industry. We currently have 65 power units, 40 of those being trucks or dump trucks responsible for local hauling of rock, sand and gravel for large construction projects like highways and private developments. In the winter, these trucks also do snow removal and highway cleaning for a local state agency.

We then have approximately 20 road tractor trailers engaged in heavy construction equipment hauling—large excavators, bulldozers, backhoes, cranes—from job site to job site or from rental houses to job sites. These trailers account for 70% of our local business within a hundred miles of the company. The other 30% of our business is semi-regional, with a travel radius that’s, at the most, five or six states away from the Southern Indiana/Louisville area.

Getting better control of over our trucks, while putting ourselves in a better position to defend against false litigation, was one of the biggest reasons I was interested in using video.

Help mitigate risk, and coach your drivers with HD video, AI and driver data – find out more.

Q: What challenges does your company face?

A: Like most trucking companies, we have issues with driver shortages, driver safety and accident prevention or accident mitigation. The last point is especially problematic, given the trend these days to sue truckers for everything, leading to frivolous and costly lawsuits that are hard to disprove without evidence which impacts insurance premiums. This is likely why trucking has become a market that many insurance companies are exiting, leaving trucking companies with few insurance options.

Getting better control of over our trucks, while putting ourselves in a better position to defend against false litigation, was one of the biggest reasons I was interested in using video.

Q: How has in-cab video helped Champion Trucking?

A: We installed the dash cams as a pilot in five or six of our vehicles. We didn’t want to commit to a larger purchase until we were comfortable that the technology worked. It turned out we didn’t have to wait long for the definitive proof.

A few months after installation, one of our tractor trailer drivers was hauling a load over the Ohio River into Kentucky. He’s in the right lane, and knows his lane will end in a few miles, so merges into the left lane. A car that wants to go faster than our driver is going comes up behind him, angrily swings around him, passes him and cuts in front of him. Then, without warning, slams on his brakes. Well, our driver couldn’t possibly stop in time and the trailer ends up hitting the back of the car.

The driver of the car told police it was our fault. I was able to pull up video of the incident, clearly showing it was the car driver’s fault. We shared that with police, and the car’s driver was cited. More importantly, that driver’s insurance company covered the damages to the front of our truck. Without that video, I’m certain we’d have been found at fault and paid a hefty claim. I’m also certain our insurance rates would have gone up.

A few weeks ago, I received an automated harsh braking alert for one of our dump trucks that didn’t fully stop at a stop sign. We take safety very seriously, and though I did have to take disciplinary action, I was able to use this as a coaching moment and sit down and review the video with the driver to help him understand how to improve his driving.

Q: Did you expand your usage of video after that incident?

A: Two days after that incident, I purchased twenty more dash cams, and I plan to have them in every fleet vehicle by the end of the year. As we’ve utilized it, we’ve begun to appreciate it above and beyond just disproving claims.

For example, a few weeks ago, I received an automated harsh braking alert for one of our dump trucks that didn’t fully stop at a stop sign. We take safety very seriously, and though I did have to take disciplinary action, I was able to use this as a coaching moment and sit down and review the video with the driver to help him understand how to improve his driving. Because we’re a smaller operation, one of the hats I wear is that of safety manager. And, I have to say, integrated video helps me to better fill that role and keep a closer eye on how vehicles are operating while on the road.

Q: What other technologies does Champion Trucking use?

We've had Verizon Connect GPS Tracking for about eight years, and have since added other technology to support ELD and electronic HOS, as well as tracking our assets and optimizing routes for our drivers. Since some of our tractor trailers are by law required to have an ELD, we made sure to have them installed by the December 2019 deadline. They’re integrated with our existing tech, which lets me view everything from one place.

Q: How do these technologies impact your day-to-day business life?

A: My two dispatchers, who are responsible for scheduling, get in about 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. The very first thing they do is log onto our Verizon Connect platform to review every driver’s hours from the previous day. They can quickly inspect the logs to determine which drivers forgot to sign themselves out when their shift ended or if any of them incorrectly recorded their hours. They can then verify how many more hours of service each driver has available to work that week, and create the day’s schedule from there. 

The first thing I check on the platform each morning are the safe driving records. I’ll look at speeding reports from the day before, as well as location reports around where each driver traveled and stopped. Using geofences, I’ve earmarked on the platform any unproductive places I know drivers sometimes stop and waste time—gas stations, hamburger joints—and can see if any have gone there.

When I first put in the GPS tracking platform eight years ago, the drivers had a negative reaction—they were certainly skeptical at first. They thought we were invading their privacy and “watching” them, but over the years as they used the technology and saw that it actually benefits the company and them, they came around.

Q: What’s your use case for the geofence feature?

A: It’s very important for the dump truck side of the business, where we bid as a sub-contractor to heavy highway contractors to win jobs. I develop a rate to charge customers based on my prediction of time from point A to point B and back. I can set up geofences on the platform to see how the dump truck is performing compared to how I bid a particular job. And if a truck is way off, I can quickly see where the wasted time occurred, whether that’s due to being stuck in traffic, taking a longer-than-needed route, slow loading at the quarry, being held up by the site contractor, or another reason.

Q: How do your drivers feel about using GPS tracking technology?

A: When I first put in the GPS tracking platform eight years ago, the drivers had a negative reaction—they were certainly skeptical at first. They thought we were invading their privacy and “watching” them, but over the years as they used the technology and saw that it actually benefits the company and them, they came around.

Here’s an example: on the dump truck side of the business, we get rock claims all the time. Several times I've had people call while driving, saying a truck dropped a rock and hit their windshield. I’ll have them give me the truck number and I’ll look it up on GPS, and many times I’ll find that the truck hasn't even been on the road for weeks or that it’s very far away from their location.

The same reluctance held true for the dash cams. At first, our drivers thought that we were trying to monitor them all of the time. But after seeing first-hand how video can help support both them and the company in the case of a false accusation, they realized it was actually very beneficial.

Q: What advice would you give to new fleet managers to be successful in their roles?

A: Learn how to hire and keep drivers. What I mean by that is treat drivers fairly, pay them fairly and try to create a work-life balance for them whenever possible. Of course, that’s harder in over-the-road trucking than local trucking where drivers get to go home every day. But, in both cases, drivers work long hours and need to feel like their well-being is a priority.

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Mansi Aneja

As Verizon Connect Content Strategist, Mansi's mission is to create content that helps on-the-go business owners and fleet managers realize the benefits of digital transformation to drive their business forward, keep their teams productive and safe, and provide outstanding customer service. Have a story about digital transformation in your business or a tip that could help other fleet managers? Email Mansi at - [email protected]


Tags: Safety