Covering your tracks

Covering your tracks

What do cops and robbers, tracking companies and fleet owners have in common? Truck hijackings, vehicle theft and recovery. FOCUS investigates.

It reads like an action movie – a large truck is speeding down a road, behind it are four police cars and a helicopter, ahead a road block. The vehicle grinds to a halt and the suspects jump out and try to make a run for it. Police give chase and apprehend them.

Scenes like this are all too prevalent in South Africa – and with 36 000 kg of valuable cargo on the back of the average extra heavy commercial vehicle, it’s no wonder. Chances are the police in this scenario were able to locate the vehicle using a tracking system

So how exactly does vehicle tracking work? Tracking devices and fleet management systems work off a Global Positioning System (GPS), which is essentially a radio navigation system that uses four GPS satellites to send details of the vehicle’s constantly-changing position down to planet Earth. On the ground, an onboard computer receives these details then triangulates its own position in relation to these satellites.

This results in an accurate geographic position within a few metres. This information can be populated on a map and other information can also be yielded such as speed, altitude and travel times.

Gareth Crocker, communications manager at Tracker Connect, says few businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, truly understand the tangible benefits that vehicle monitoring delivers.

“We can help even a small entrepreneur with a handful of vehicles to save a substantial amount of money, both in terms of being able to correct abusive driving, which saves on fuel and maintenance costs, and by identifying the quickest and most efficient route to a destination,” says Crocker.

Steven Sutherland, MiX Telematics’ national and export sales manager for South Africa and Africa, says: “Our FM3316 onboard computer is our most comprehensive tool and allows fleet managers to monitor their drivers’ performance and vehicle utilisation independently of each other, an ability that is crucial in multi-driver environments where compliance parameters and driving violations need to be assigned to the relevant driver irrespective of which vehicle they were driving at the time of the violation.”

The ability to monitor the vehicle and thus driver compliance will lead to a safer driving environment. Making sure drivers adhere to the rules of the road will ultimately reduce the number of accidents caused by speeding, harsh braking and over-worked drivers.

Fleet management aside, the asset protection aspect of vehicle tracking is as significant. “Not only can truck theft cost a business a great deal in terms of vehicle replacement costs, but the subsequent efficiencies that are lost during the in-limbo period can be just as damaging,” notes Crocker.

Covering your tracksBoth Tracker and MiX Telematics are firm believers that the evolution of advanced fleet management and tracking systems is what has brought the rate of truck theft down.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) reports that 1 412 trucks were hijacked in 2010. This came down to 999 in 2011 – a decrease of almost 30 percent. “We have noticed a reduction in theft as well as hijacking across the MiX Telematics subscriber base,” notes Sutherland.

The same can be seen within the Tracker subscriber base. “There is no question that the vehicle tracking industry has played a major role in helping to bring down truck theft and hijacking, as well as vehicle crime in general. Tracker has recovered close to 60 000 stolen and hijacked vehicles, and we currently monitor 750 000 vehicles in South Africa,” says Crocker.

MiX Telematics’ Sutherland says: “Vehicle owners are often not completely aware or familiar with the movements of their vehicles, and this is where the mitigation of risk effort needs to start. Detailed knowledge of a fleet’s movements, including both scheduled and unscheduled stops, not only greatly contributes to operating efficiency, but serves to reduce those opportunities which are presented to a very capable and opportunistic criminal element.”

“While there are some sophisticated criminals out there, we are always working on new and better ways to thwart their efforts,” says Crocker. “Our recovery rate is quite high and we feel we are winning the war.”

Both MiX Telematics and Tracker are super-vigilant when it comes to employing staff, and the selection process is a rigorous one – there are serious background checks, polygraphs and monitoring of phone calls.

There is a culture within the Tracker organisation that deals with ensuring that the right values and behaviours are in place, and continually present within the company. “It’s known as The Tracker Way, and has been interwoven into the very fabric of the organisation,” says Crocker.

Fleet management and tracking have become not just vital but necessary, and for more than crime prevention alone. As Brian Banks, owner of Milklogic, says: “Vehicle tracking and fleet management is of the utmost importance in the dairy industry. We need to know where a vehicle is at all times as we have only about 24 hours to deliver the milk once it has been pumped into the tankers – should there be a breakdown or incident, we need to locate the vehicle as soon as possible.”

He adds that the systems are constantly evolving and getting better every day. “Soon adjusting the fridge temperature while the vehicle is 400 km away will be the norm. I will be able to monitor oil pressure and water temperature from my desk while my truck is in Zambia. And like everything else, the prices of these systems will come down and you will find tracking devices in every vehicle on the road.”

Ultimately, fleet management, vehicle tracking and recovery is not just about preventable measures – it goes further. As Crocker puts it, vehicle tracking and recovery is also reducing the amount of crime outside of vehicle theft. If you consider the 10 000 or so criminals Tracker, in association with the SAPS, has arrested, you begin to wonder what other crimes these people are associated with. The industry at large is playing a key role in reducing vehicle theft, and hijacking as well as other forms of crime.

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