Here at Eleos, when we launch a new mobile app for a trucking fleet, one of the first questions we must address is whether to lock the app while the truck is in motion. The answer to this question is not always immediately obvious and involves balancing the risk of driver distraction with efficiency, privacy concerns, and ease of use. There is no single correct answer to the question, so you won’t find that answer in this article. Instead, I’ll try to lay out some principles that will help you determine the best approach for your fleet.
The Problem: Latency in Communication
Traditional, hard-mounted EOBR units have a locking feature that fully or partially locks the unit interface while the truck is moving. This works well because the status of the truck is constantly monitored in real time by the EOBR unit. Unfortunately, it’s usually not practical to maintain a similar real time connection between the driver’s smartphone and the truck. Instead, most fleets choose to have their app retrieve the truck status from the fleet management servers in the home office.
It’s tempting to use the GPS on the smartphone to determine whether the driver is in motion. While this approach would certainly satisfy the need to retrieve the movement status of the driver in real time, drivers tend to resist using apps that track their movements – especially when the app is running on their personal smart phone. Retrieving status information from the fleet management system allows you to obtain the driver’s movement status without making your app too intrusive.
Most fleet management systems receive status information from their trucks in 5-15 minute intervals, which brings us to the heart of the problem. Having up to 15 minutes of communication latency between each status update means that we run the risk of locking the app for 15 minutes after the truck is actually parked. This can be extremely frustrating for the driver, who may have parked his rig for the express purpose of unlocking and using the fleet mobile app.
The Goal: Immediate Accessibility with No Distraction
While all fleet executives agree that safety is the top priority, it’s also clear that in order to be useful the fleet’s mobile app must be immediately accessible when the drivers need it. There’s no question that drivers will embrace a fleet mobile app as long as they find it convenient – but make it cumbersome, and drivers will avoid the app and fall back to costly phone calls and faxes.
The Key to a Balanced Approach
The key to striking a balance is to consider the features that will be offered in the app and their relative likelihood to cause distraction. Mobile document scanning and freight damage reporting (with photos and scanned labels) are activities that are less likely to be attempted while driving. For these features, it may make sense to apply no locking scheme at all. On the other hand, sending and receiving Qualcomm/Omnitracs messages on the smartphone may have more distraction potential and merit the investment in locking.
Multiple Locking Schemes
We’ve implemented several locking schemes for our clients, the most advanced being socket-based realtime locking. Other options include polling, per-feature, and global locking. In other cases, we’ve chosen not to lock the app at all, but to limit the use of push notifications when the truck is moving. In every case, the locking scheme was chosen after careful consideration of the fleet’s existing systems, desired app features, and risk tolerance.
Identifying the correct locking scheme for your fleet’s mobile app is a process that must take into consideration communication latency, system capabilities, privacy concerns, features being deployed, and your tolerance for risk. My grandmother used to say, “There are many ways to skin a cat,” and if you have the right people on your team you’ll find the scheme that makes sense for your fleet. Hopefully, this article will help you know what questions to ask and how to approach the problem.