Road Check

A new diagnostic/GPS device helps maintain safety in an uncertain world.

IN some industries, employees and equipment stay within the bounds of their company's location and are therefore easier to supervise and maintain. But in others, such as delivery, plumbing, taxi, and limousine services, the very nature of the business requires workers and equipment to leave the premises. This gives employers fewer options toward controlling many important variables that affect safety.

With the emergence of GPS locators, an employer does have the ability to monitor the location of its fleet of vehicles, but not much else. That is changing in ways employers appreciate.

Real-Time Monitoring Limits Downtime
A new PDA-sized device from Networkcar Inc. called the NetworkfleetTM Wireless Vehicle Management System adds to the employers' monitoring capabilities, allowing them to be proactive in maintaining safety and efficiency. It plugs directly into a vehicle's service check connector to monitor critical performance information.

Paul Washicko, president of Networkcar Inc., said the device's patented technology makes it unique among its competitors because it reads diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) directly from a vehicle's computer, including those still pending. This information is immediately transmitted and made accessible through the Internet. "Our competitors are typically location only. We have the remote diagnostics along with that, which do factor into improving the safety of the fleet through better maintenance and keeping the vehicle in better tune," he said. E-mail alerts are sent to fleet managers when certain exceptions occur, such as cylinder misfires.

Other data, such as engine temperature, air intake temperature, idle time, and oil pressure, also are accessible to fleet managers. "For a fleet manager, especially one with a distributed fleet, this is extremely valuable information because they have no idea what's going on with those vehicles that aren't physically in their location," Washicko said.

This real-time monitoring ability allows employers to proactively address wear-and-tear items before they progress into much more expensive problems that can compromise an employee's safety and the safety of others on the road or require extended downtime for vehicle repair. To be even more proactive, the system allows managers to schedule maintenance alerts that follow manufacturers' recommendations, along with any additions the customer wishes to add. To automate this feature, odometer readings are monitored daily directly from the vehicle's computer--eliminating the time-consuming, error-prone practice of physically checking odometer information for each vehicle in a fleet.

Another big safety feature is the system's automated recall tool. A manufacturer's recall can be as minor as a bad radio dial or as serious as faulty brakes. Networkcar monitors the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Web site and posts recall alerts to the appropriate customers.

The Human Factor
The most critical and unpredictable safety element in any vehicle is how its driver behaves. Besides being able to optimize an employee's daily routes, the system allows users to monitor vehicle speed, miles per gallon, and idle time, all of which can be indicative of aggressive or reckless driving. With this information in hand, managers can take proper actions to correct an employee's driving habits. "The risk management departments in these companies are very interested in this type of data so they can reduce accidents," Washicko said. "That's a very expensive proposition for any company, and we're seeing our customers using this for that very reason."

Beyond safety, the service includes many additional features, such as immediate Smart Roadside Assistance for a vehicle breakdown, Stolen Vehicle Recovery in the event of a theft, and a remote smog check program (currently available only in California) that exempts vehicles from physical certification inspections.

Washicko says Networkcar will continue to add to its product and tailor it to better suit customers' needs. Customers are giving input on which criteria should be used to develop a driver's report card generated from the vehicle data. Washicko said the company is taking its time developing the report feature to ensure usefulness and accuracy. "We don't want to unnecessarily penalize drivers or alarm fleet managers. We need to be careful there and come up with something that's effective to achieve what the fleet manager wants, as well as provide value to the driver," he said, adding that the company soon will be able to give customers a side-by-side comparison of a driver's speed against posted speed limits.

The company is working to integrate its service into pre-existing systems, thus letting customers continue to use what they know. "We'll be continuing to innovate the service for them and work with the customer base to develop a tool that is ever more useful and effective for them," he said.

This column appeared in the February 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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