Trucking software gets small-business fleet operations up and running

Large distribution companies aren't the only firms that can benefit from logistics software and other forms of advanced technology. Small and medium-sized operations that operate on a more local or regional basis also have the opportunity to boost efficiency by using automated tools to complete complicated tasks associated with managing a fleet of heavy-duty vehicles.

Businesses in the U.S. transportation industry are frequently subject to a long list of regulations from various federal agencies. According to a recent article in Overdrive magazine, a 2008 measure further solidified many of the rules initially established in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) New Entrant Safety Assurance process. The FMCSA website said this procedure is required for any entrepreneur interested in starting his or her own ground shipping company to ensure the safety of both employees, vehicles and other passengers on U.S. roadways. The magazine reported most new applicants have had a relatively easy time complying with the agency's multiple regulations. However, a comprehensive fleet management software program can further reinforce ongoing safety initiatives and get new small businesses up and running as quickly as possible.

A closer look into the major issues facing ground transportation organizations reveals even more potential for advanced technology:

Equipment safety
Among the many possible violations in the FMCSA's New Entrant Safety Assurance process is the operating of a truck that hasn't been subjected to periodic inspections or routine maintenance. While many of the safety issues associated with fleet management have to do with driver behavior, the condition of the vehicle itself can have a profound impact on the overall quality and efficiency of any business operation. For example, if the basic mechanics of a truck are in poor shape, drivers run the risk of missing scheduled delivery deadlines as a result of a roadside breakdown. A poorly managed fleet may also be more prone to accidents. During cold winter weather, batteries often have much less strength, and windows can quickly diminish visibility by becoming frozen or foggy. As a result, fleet managers must make a consistent effort to keep their vehicles performing in solid condition. This entire process is made much easier with equipment maintenance software. These automated tools allow business owners to create an organized schedule for assigning mechanical duties among employees. Improving this area of the company will ultimately make it easier to meet federal regulatory guidelines and comply with periodic audits.

Changing hours-of-service regulations
Small businesses must comply with other rules as well. For instance, the FMCSA recently imposed hours-of-service limits for most commercial motor vehicle operations. However, the details of these regulations can vary on a state-by-state basis. A separate article from Overdrivesaid the appearance of severe winter storms has encouraged many state-level transportation agencies to waive many of the most stringent requirements imposed by the FMCSA. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed an executive order earlier this month allowing fuel and propane carriers to put in as many consecutive hours on the road as they need. As the weather becomes treacherous, the demand for fast shipments of fuel is much greater, meaning hours-of-service rules may temporarily impede productivity. The exemption will only remain in effect until Feb. 7. Various other states throughout the Midwest and the East Coast have implemented similar temporary waivers. No matter where they operate, fleet businesses can take greater control over their hours by investing route optimization software.

Fuel conservation
Another major issue affecting small and medium-sized fleets is complying with increasingly stringent fuel standards aimed at limiting pollution. In December 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced more than $2 million in grants through its Diesel Emission Reduction Act for businesses on the West Coast.

"These grants will help deploy clean technologies and provide immediate emissions reductions in communities where these older diesel engines operate, many of which face environmental justice challenges," Dennis McLerran, regional administrator for EPA's Pacific Northwest Office, stated in a press release.

A recent article from the online publication Fuel Fix said domestic oil production in the U.S. will continue to expand for the next several years and jumpstart the global economy. While these trends may ultimately keep the price of diesel relatively low, companies still have plenty of incentives to control their emissions and conserve fuel. Direct route software can make it easier for drivers to make more efficient use of their time on the road. Doing so may result in major long-term savings.