In the transportation and logistics sphere, the evidence of our day and age is acutely manifested inside the cabs of brand-new tractors, which feature gadgets similar to something expected more in a luxury sedan than in a commercial vehicle.
Electronic logs are commonplace, thanks to federal regulation. Intelligent braking and lane-departure systems are increasingly implemented across America’s tractor fleets as our industry embraces change – or at least, as industry leaders do. Global positioning systems ping the locations of thousands of fleet trucks every minute and innovation leaders across the industry are delving into predictive analytics and smart data in order to operate smarter fleets.
In short, transportation is having a technology moment.
But what about America’s professional drivers? The rate of change and adoption of new technology is happening at a breakneck pace across the transportation and logistics landscape, but do we pause often enough to consider the opinions of the men and women impacted directly by these changes?
Recently, we did. In a Sept. 2018 survey to professional drivers at more than 540 companies across the U.S. and hundreds of owner-operators, we asked a few simple questions about where technology and life on the road collide. More than 1,700 professional drivers responded, and their answers give us a glimpse into where we’ve succeeded and failed as an industry in our efforts to modernize, as well as where we can improve.
While America’s professional drivers may have state-of-the-art equipment and luxuries on modern tractors, many still feel they lack basic access to the internet for personal or professional use.
In our survey, approximately half of the respondents reported inadequate access to Wi-Fi outside of truck stops, and even there they often have to pay for internet access. In an open-ended follow-up question, many respondents said they could Wi-Fi on their trucks in a variety of ways, from powering a GPS, to finding loads, to streaming music while driving and video on break or while stopped.
Other uses included: “Check road conditions and roughly 60 percent of drivers surveyed reported never using a video calling service, while 16 percent reported video calling daily, 14 percent reported video calling a few times a week and 5 percent reported video calling once a month.
Other uses included: "Check road conditions and truck stops that have exercise rooms,” as well as “To pay bills and plan trips” and “National news, weather and to help me run my business.”
Many respondents echoed the sentiments of a professional self-identified as “ED,” who said simply, “Wi-Fi is essential.”
The reported lack of internet access, coupled with limited or costly wireless data, unsurprisingly results in many professional drivers saying they infrequently use video calling to talk with family and friends back home.
Roughly 60 percent of drivers surveyed reported never using a video calling service, while 16 percent reported video calling daily, 14 percent reported video calling a few times a week and 5 percent reported video calling once a month.
Many respondents also said better access to the internet or constant access to Wi-Fi would enable them to stream entertainment during breaks or off-duty times via Netflix, Amazon or YouTube.
Currently, nearly 75 percent of respondents said they use streaming services, with 31 percent saying Netflix is their favorite streaming service, followed closest by YouTube, with 17 percent. Amazon Prime was third with 7 percent, with 25 percent of those responding said they don’t stream at all.
These results speak for themselves – America’s professional drivers, despite an increase in the implementation of technology by the carriers many work for, don’t feel like their basic, or personal, technology needs are being met.
And perhaps because of those experiences, many professional drivers also report doubts about whether technology will truly transform the industry and their jobs.
We believe it will benefit carriers, ourselves included, going forward to make more and better efforts to improve the quality of life of America’s professional drivers, beyond equipment-based technologies and job-focused improvements.
We must remember we would not ask office employees to report to a job site with no wireless internet, or worse, make internet available but only in certain areas, and charge for its use. We must tackle the challenge of connecting the millions of people who move America, especially those behind the wheel.
Because when we talk about technology in transportation today, they are where the rubber hits the road.