With the latest spate of freight looting and fleet attacks bringing the South African commercial vehicle industry under the spotlight, fleet owners are increasingly needing efficient solutions to address new and existing safety challenges.

Government and local industry associations have tried to institute various measures to help ensure driver and fleet safety, such as sharing alerts on crime and hijacking hotspots around the country and making armed security response services available. Some businesses have also taken to removing company branding in attempt to disguise and protect the contents of their vehicles, including drivers and passengers.

“In the short-term, solutions like these certainly can help alleviate the problems that the industry is facing. However, having the right tech tools at their disposal will not only help fleet managers take preventative measures to avoid landing up in dangerous situations in the future, but also improve the operational efficiency of their businesses going forward,” says Justin Manson, Sales Director at Webfleet Solutions.

Fuel optimisation

Fleet owners bear the brunt of rising fuel costs in South Africa, where even the slightest hike in price can shift overhead and operational costs drastically, inevitably taking a toll on profitability. Businesses therefore need to proactively address the issue of fuel efficiency and how to achieve this.

Using route optimisation technology will shave off a considerable amount of time spent on the road. This will not only ensure drivers take the best and most direct routes to their destinations but will also calculate the best route schedule that drivers need to make in the day. Real-time maps can also prove useful when it comes to cutting down on travel time and, by extension, help drivers avoid delays as a result of heavy traffic.

In addition, technology can provide drivers with valuable insights that can help promote safer and more efficient driving behaviours. On-board software can alert drivers when speed limits are being exceeded, when vehicles are left to idle for too long, harsh steering and even when breaking too hard or suddenly, all of which can contribute to fuel waste. Certain platforms also notify drivers when they reach a ‘coasting zone’, letting them know to release the accelerator in order to save fuel, as well as offer advice on appropriate gear-shifting and how this can optimise vehicle efficiency.

Driver and fleet safety

Security has become a major concern for the commercial vehicle industry as looting and violence continues to escalate on South African roads. Freight goods are often insured and can be replaced or compensated for, but the safety of drivers and fleet vehicles needs to be prioritised.

Real-time vehicle tracking is a useful tool that allows managers to monitor their drivers’ whereabouts at any point, making it easier to respond to security breaches quickly. These tools also allow users to plan safer routes that avoid high risk zones.

Drivers should be able to communicate with managers to report safety issues and concerns before situations escalate to the point of serious danger while on the road. The latest fleet management technology makes this possible, allowing managers to keep track of all drivers and other important aspects like idling time and driver behaviour. For instance, in cases where drivers have come to a stop in areas they weren’t scheduled to stop in, or have been idling for a suspiciously long time, a fleet manager will be able to pick up these discrepancies, contact the driver using the platform and alert authorities to send help if necessary.

Driver productivity

Another common challenge is finding ways to improve productivity among drivers. This can be as simple as route optimisation, but also comes down to overall driving behaviours. As mentioned, on-board software can help improve fuel efficiency, but it also has a significant impact on productivity levels. 

“Programmes like OptiDrive 360 monitor all vehicles in a fleet as well as the respective drivers, and sends alerts and predictive driving advice to drivers while on the road,” says Manson. “This helps drivers improve by becoming more mindful of their driving styles and any adjustments they may need to make, which also ensures less wear and tear on vehicles in the longer run.”

The commercial vehicle industry may face its fair share of challenges – from temporary disturbances to issues affecting business operations – but the right technology can address these challenges and help streamline efficiency in businesses.