Watching Big Brother

Talking Turkey About Trucking

A recent announcement from the National Transport Commission may be of concern to the smaller trucking operators out there. One of the items in the forward program for the NTC talks about bringing in rules for compulsory telematics for trucking operators.


Firstly, let’s throw out all of the arguments about big brother watching us issues. Yes, they are watching us (they have been for years!) and it is not an invasion of privacy or an infringement of our human rights, it’s a way of getting better data and working towards a safer industry which complies with the rules. This is not a bad thing.


Secondly, let’s look at some long term trends in the trucking industry itself. The average size of a trucking fleet is getting larger and the number of operators is decreasing. The small guys are disappearing and the big guys are getting bigger. One of the factors in this shift is the cost of compliance with many of the new rules and regulations coming in. Compliance costs per truck are less when you have a thousand than they are when you have five, more compliance equals bigger fleets.


Not surprisingly, the big end of town is behind the push for compulsory telematics now. For these operators the systems are already in place which would make them compliant and the added cost of compulsory fitment would only be a small increment. Additionally, buying black boxes for a thousand trucks will be much cheaper per unit than for five.


There is nothing wrong with telematics per se. The problem for the smaller operator is the way the telematics systems have been developed, as a result of the way the regulations have been written. The solutions which have been found involve the black box in the truck, the interface with the driver and then the back room systems needed to process the data to ensure compliance with regulations and record keeping requirements.


All of this makes the barrier to entry in the real world quite high for small operator. The equation will continue to do its work, more telematics means fewer small operators. Is this a bad thing? Perhaps not, but the Australian trucking industry has maintained its innovative drive due to its diversity. We lead the world in some areas and it’s been operators of all sizes who have pushed through change.


Compulsory telematics could be simpler for us all if there was a bit more innovative thinking in the system’s development.The costs don’t need to be so high.


Most truck drivers are walking around with a device with more computing power than NASA’s Apollo program in their pockets. Where are the smart ideas, utilising the smartphone as part of a cleverer and leaner telematics system? Surely, the innovative Aussie can come up with a secure way to monitor everything we need to monitor, which won’t break the bank for the small guys?