Renewable diesel — an advanced fuel option that reduces greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the same specifications as petroleum diesel — can be added to existing fuel truck systems to help lower a fleet’s carbon footprint. As a drop-in fuel that can be used in place of ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD), renewable diesel is helping bridge the gap as the trucking industry moves toward zero-emission vehicles without extra equipment or infrastructure cost related to battery-electric vehicles.

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Snow, ice and freezing temperatures can increase the risk of downtime for all diesel vehicles if the equipment and fuel that power them aren’t properly maintained. Breakdowns can result in delayed drivers, missed deliveries and poor customer service.

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Fleets are using technology to improve truck driver safety and shape driver habits. Onboard safety technology improves safety and can increase efficiency, reduce liability and cut costs – but fleets need to gain driver acceptance of any new solutions.

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The use of advanced driver assistance systems, also called ADAS, in commercial vehicles continues to increase as fleets and regulatory agencies work to improve safety, control costs and limit liability. ADAS applications include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection and forward-collision warning systems. The technology can improve driver performance, reduce fatigue and enable customized coaching.

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Inspectors often focus on wheel ends, which include the wheels, rims, hubs and tires on a commercial motor vehicle. Wheel-end components support the heavy loads carried by commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), maintain stability and control, and are critical for braking.

Violations involving wheel-end components historically account for about one quarter of the vehicle out-of-service violations discovered during inspection blitzes, such as the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s International Roadcheck.

“Wheel ends contain numerous moving parts, whether it is the brake system, the bearings or the hubs, that can leak, wear or seize due to lack of preventive maintenance. Wheel end systems require routine daily pre- and post-trip inspections, and a sound maintenance program is key to reducing breakdowns,” said Chris Hough, vice president of maintenance design and engineering for Penske Truck Leasing.

Wheel-end failures may lead to a catastrophic crash. “When a wheel end component fails and you have a wheel run-off situation, major damage could result,” Hough said, adding that wheel-end fires often result from brake system air leaks that prevent the brakes from completely releasing.

Completing pre- and post-trip inspections is one of the best things drivers can do to help prevent issues. “Check the wheel-end brake system for air leaks, lubricant leaks, proper adjustment, etc., and when defects are discovered, write them up and have them addressed by a qualified technician before you dispatch the unit,” Hough said.

Wheel seals, lube levels, lug nuts and brake components are among items that should be inspected daily, Hough said. Drivers’ observations during the inspection are the first step in detecting a wheel-end problem.

CVSA has said that drivers may also find abnormal or uneven tire wear, see or smell smoking or extremely hot hubcaps (too hot to touch), notice smoke from a wheel end, or feel wheel vibration, wobble or noise. Increased stopping distance or decreased braking power, abnormal side pull when braking, wheel lock-up and skidding are all signs that wheel ends may need maintenance or replacement.

During the inspection of wheel ends on a commercial motor vehicle, inspectors will:

  • Check for cracks or unseated locking rings, studs or clamps
  • Check for bent, cracked or broken rims on the inside and outside wheel rims
  • Check for loose, broken, missing or damaged wheel fasteners and elongated stud holes
  • Check spoke wheels for cracks across spokes and in the web area or slippage in the clamp areas
  • Check the hub for lubricant leaks, missing caps or plugs
  • Check the inner wheel seal for leaks
  • Check the tire and valve stem for leaks
  • Check for improper inflation, cuts and bulges on all tires, including the inside tire on a dual set
  • Check for regrooved tires on steering axle
  • Check tread wear and measure major tread groove depth
  • Inspect the sidewall for improper repairs, such as tire plugs
  • Check for exposed fabric or cord
  • Check for tire contact with any part of the vehicle or another tire
  • Check for markings on the tire that would exclude its use on a steering axle
  • Check for debris between the tires
  • Check for tires touching one another or any part

Hough added that drivers and technicians also need to be careful not to over-torque lug nuts; over-torquing will stretch the studs. “Once a wheel stud is stretched, the stud will never maintain the correct torque,” he said.

The residual damage from over-torquing a lug nut could take months to develop, but eventually will cause problems. “A bolt/stud acts as a tension/clamping device when torqued properly. If over-torqued, it loses the ability to maintain the correct clamping force,” Hough said.

Wheel-end components are essential to safety, and properly maintaining and inspecting wheel ends, which include the wheels, rims, hubs and tires on a commercial motor vehicle, is essential for over-the-road performance.

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Leases and rentals give fleets flexibility to adjust the number of vehicles they need without making long-term, up-front capital commitments, and there are similarities between the two. Both provide capacity without significant capital investments and give fleet operators flexibility in the number of vehicles they keep.

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Under the Department of Transportation's Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program, the Safety Measurement System quantifies the on-road safety performance of carriers and drivers to identify candidates for interventions. The system relies heavily on data from roadside inspections, so every vehicle and driver violation counts. Fortunately, proper maintenance and driver training can prevent nearly all of the most frequent violations private fleets receive.

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The strategic utilization of trailers provides a scalable solution that helps fleets meet shifting transportation capacity or storage needs without the long-term commitment and expenses associated with adding trucks or leasing warehouse space.

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Maintenance of Class 8 vehicles is central to ensuring reliable, safe equipment, but maintaining, diagnosing and repairing equipment is a complex process. Ongoing training is essential for maintenance technicians to stay current on changes in equipment technology, increase their skills and grow their careers.

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Safety and security are top of mind for those within the transportation industry. Penske takes a multipronged approach to address these issues, focusing on cybersecurity and the security of physical assets.

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Driver shortage issues have diminished as capacity has fluctuated. However, the fundamentals behind the driver shortage have not disappeared, and it remains a top industry concern. The right equipment and technology can appeal to drivers and give fleets a competitive advantage when building and retaining their pool of drivers.

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Thorough pre- and post-trip inspections help drivers and carriers meet federal safety standards and improve safety — and the results of roadside inspections can hurt or help carriers' safety scores depending on what law enforcement finds.

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The spotted lanternfly is in the United States, and populations of this pest can currently be found in 14 states up and down the East Coast. Affected states have varying rules and protocols to help stop the spread of this invasive species, which often occurs on trucks traveling across state lines. Many states have begun roadside inspections for the pest as they try to prevent its movement and the destruction of crops. Dana Rhodes, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's chief plant regulatory official, said the insect isn't a strong flier, so it relies on people to move it where it is going to go, which is why state officials are targeting trucking.

The pest was first spotted in Pennsylvania's Berks County in 2014, and now many states require employees at trucking companies and warehouses operating in quarantined areas to undergo training. Drivers display decals showing they have been trained, and trucks could be placed out of service if they have the pests on them. Enforcement continues to ramp up as more states combine forces to stop the invasive species.

Drivers in areas where the spotted lanternfly is present will be asked to add one more line item to their pre- and post-trip inspections — looking for the pests, Rhodes said. She added that drivers should be particularly aware of the insects during fuel and rest stops. "The longer you sit in an area, the more chances you have of picking up a hitchhiker," she said. "They will fly into the cab with you. If you have the cargo doors open on your truck, they’re going to fly in the back. Make sure you aren’t carrying something with you when you move out."

The spotted lanternflies aren’t active in winter and spring, but their egg masses are still living, and they will begin hatching in mid-May. They won't die off until late November. "If you find a bug, just kill it," Rhodes said.

Egg masses look like a smear of mud and contain 30-50 eggs, and one egg mass is enough to start a new colony, Rhodes explained. If drivers see an egg mass, they should scrape it off in a downward motion and squish it as they do it.

Rhodes advises drivers to make a note in their records if they find a lanternfly or egg mass and destroy it. She also recommended that drivers avoid parking under trees. "Parking in open areas is the best idea," she said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture worked with Penn State University to develop an online training and permitting course. "It is mastery-based, so you're quizzed as you go," Rhodes said, adding that company managers can take part in the course. There is also a course created specifically for drivers and warehouse workers. "If you take the Pennsylvania training, you're good to go in all states."

Enforcement of training requirements can vary by state. Pennsylvania has a team solely in charge of compliance and enforcement, Rhodes said. Fines can range from $300 to $20,000. However, the goal isn't to punish drivers for noncompliance.

"We want you in compliance, and we want to help you get there," Rhodes said. "We want to assist people in being compliant before we issue fines and penalties, but there are times when they are necessary."

Rhodes said states recognize that the best way to prevent the movement of the spotted lanternfly is to increase education and awareness of the pest, which feeds on 50-60 different species of plant material. "This is not a pleasant insect," she said.

Find out if your state has a federal quarantine for the Spotted Lanternfly or any of the other 19 pests currently being monitored by visiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pest Tracker.

Operational costs within trucking can vary significantly from year to year and even region to region. The American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) 2023 Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking found that costs climbed to a new high in 2022 for the second year in a row, increasing by 21.3% over 2021 to $2.251 per mile. Costs surpassed $2 per mile for the first time since ATRI launched the report.

According to the report, “2022 broke the 2021 record for the costliest year to operate in the trucking industry – whether calculated with or without fuel.” The analysis is based on financial data from motor carriers of all sectors and fleet sizes. Carriers can use ATRI’s report as a benchmarking tool and glean insight into how to manage expenses.

The leading contributor to this increase again this year was fuel, which was 53.7% higher than in 2021. However, other line items also rose by double digits. Driver wages increased by 15.5% to $0.724 per mile, reflecting the ongoing industry effort to attract and retain drivers. Parts shortages and rising technician labor rates pushed repair and maintenance costs up 12% to $0.196 per mile. ATRI said atypical market conditions posed unique challenges for acquiring and maintaining equipment in 2022, so truck and trailer payments increased by 18.6%.

Even when fuel costs are removed, the marginal costs of trucking increased by 12%.

Costs per mile varied dramatically from region to region, with the highest coming out of the Southeast, where the marginal cost per mile was $2.303. It led all other regions in driver wages and benefits costs. In the Southwest, costs averaged $2.238, followed by the Northeast at $2.207. The cost per mile in the Midwest averaged $2.195, and the West’s average was $2.157.

Insurance costs were highest in the Southeast, where they were almost one cent per mile higher than the national average. Several of the most litigious states in the country are in the Southeast. The West had the highest fuel costs, and carriers in the Midwest spent the most per mile on truck and trailer payments as well as repair and maintenance. ATRI reported that insurance costs were highest in the Northeast, which contains both high crash rates and litigious states.

Driver wages and benefits costs both increased in 2022. Combined driver wages and benefits reached 93 cents per mile in 2022 for large carriers, up from 81 cents. For small carriers, driver wages and benefits costs averaged 81 cents per mile in 2022, up from 74 cents.

Also, many carriers offered bonuses to drivers in 2022. The average amount for safety bonuses decreased to $1,698 from $1,943 in 2021. However, starting bonuses averaged $2,373, up from $1,974, and retention bonuses increased to $1,272 from $1,055 in the last report.

ATRI also found that fleets continue to work to fill backhaul or deadhead miles to increase operational efficiency. In 2022, 15.4% of non-tanker carriers’ mileage was deadhead, on average, which is a slight increase from 2021’s 14.7% but better than 2020’s 17.2%.

Leases are one way for fleets to help control and manage expenses. Leases provide fixed, predictable monthly costs that fleets can use to plan in advance. Penske’s experts can work with potential customers on a cost-benefit analysis to identify the real ROI of a lease based on the fleet’s specific needs.

The use of in-cab safety technologies is becoming increasingly common among fleets, driving significant safety improvements.

The National Private Truck Council’s (NPTC) 2023 Benchmarking Report found that all respondents have deployed some type of onboard technology, including 97% that deploy onboard technology related to driver performance. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of the survey respondents reported adopting speed-monitoring devices, in-cab cameras, collision warnings, lane departure technology and automatic transmissions.

“Across the board, fleets report increasing the penetration of these active safety technologies, providing them with more tools to aggressively manage the safety side of the business,” the report stated.

The latest figures from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that large truck crashes declined by 2.5% in 2022 compared to 2021.

Similarly, the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) 2022 report, The Impact of Rising Insurance Costs on the Trucking Industry, found that 92% of all fleets participating in the survey have adopted new safety technology in the last three years. ATRI also found that 56% of carriers implemented three or more new safety technologies. Road-facing cameras were reported with the highest frequency (83%), followed by speed governors (46%), forward collision warnings (43%), adaptive cruise control (42%) and lane departure warnings (42%).

Within the NPTC report, most respondents (83%) reported using speed-monitoring technology, followed by automatic transmissions (79%), collision warning (76%), in-cab cameras (74%) and lane departure (73%).

Fleet Camera Usage

Cameras have been shown to improve driver coaching and reduce liability. ATRI’s report, Issues and Opportunities with Driver-Facing Cameras, found that the use of in-cab camera technologies in the trucking industry is dramatically increasing. Growth is especially high with road-facing cameras, which can capture safety event data that often exonerates drivers or allows parties to settle cases faster and at a lower cost.

However, driver-facing cameras (DFCs) are poorly utilized across the trucking industry. ATRI said that is often due to driver privacy concerns, confusion over video use, personal access and recording models, and concern that truck driver negligence, however subtle, will be highlighted.

ATRI found that drivers using driver-facing cameras rated the technology’s ability to improve safety at 2.6 out of 10, more than two times higher than drivers who have never used the technology. “Current experience with DFCs is one of the biggest factors leading to higher driver approval,” according to the report.

ATRI outlined 10 steps to greater acceptance of DFCs among drivers based on driver feedback as part of its report. The top suggestion was for fleets to view footage only after a crash for legal purposes and not for coaching or internal evaluations.

Other suggestions included keeping cameras off when the vehicle is not moving, only activating cameras with significant safety events, using recordings for coaching but not punitive means, and increasing communication around why they use cameras and who has access. ATRI noted that carriers could develop formal policies and agreements regarding who views the footage and under what circumstances to alleviate driver concerns.

Safety Technology Choices

Chuck Pagesy, director of safety for Penske Truck Leasing, said adding cameras and other on-board safety technology is a customer decision, but Penske’s leasing team can offer input and help customers find the right safety solutions for their fleets and drivers. In addition to cameras, Penske can offer guidance on lane departure warning systems, adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control, automatic braking, air disc brakes and more.

Active Safety Technologies Private Fleets are Using*

Speed Monitoring – 83%
Automatic Transmission – 79%
Collision Warning – 76%
In-cab Cameras – 74%
Lane Departure – 73%
Disc Brakes – 71%
Adaptive Cruise Control – 65%
Electronic Stability Control – 51%
Tire Inflation – 46%
Back-up Cameras – 18%

*Source: NPTC 2023 Benchmarking Survey

When you press the brake pedal on your truck, you expect an instant response. Yet any number of issues can cause your vehicle’s braking systems to fail, increasing your risk of a serious accident while putting you and your cargo in danger. That’s why maintaining your truck’s braking system is so important and a major part of your Pre-Trip Inspection.

To ensure brake safety every day of the year, here are 10 tips to help ensure your brake linings and pads are ready for the road:

1. Inspect all the parts of the brake linings and pads that you can see during pre- and post-trip inspections.

2. Check for signs of missing or damaged brake lining, such as grooves in the drum from rivet contact.

3. Look at the shoe-to-drum clearance and ensure that there is adequate lining on the shoe.

4. Try to find any signs of leaks from the hub or other components that may contaminate the lining or pad surface.

5. Look for any missing lining blocks.

6. Scan for visible cracks or voids in the lining block.

7. Check for any exposed rivets or lining blocks that look loose on the shoe.

8. On disc brakes, pay close attention to the condition of the rotor. Look for either metal-to-metal contact or heavily rusted rotors across the entire friction surface on either side.

9. Make any repairs in accordance with the brake manufacturer’s requirements and guidelines.

10. Note any brake lining or pad-related issues in your driver vehicle inspection reports and report them to the motor carrier.

In addition, always check for these brake-related items during pre- and post-trip inspections:

  • Any missing, non-functioning, loose or cracked parts
  • Audible air leaks coming from around the brake components and lines
  • Slack adjusters that are different lengths
  • Air pressure below 90-100 psi
  • Rust holes or broken springs in the brake housing section of the parking brake
  • Malfunctioning ABS warning lamps

Remember, a properly conducted pre-trip inspection will go a long way toward passing a brake inspection — and keeping you and those around you safe.

Battery electric vehicle (BEV) technology has continued to develop and is a growing alternative to traditional diesel and other alternative powertrains in certain applications. The 2023 State of Sustainable Fleets report found that interest in BEVs has spread across medium- and heavy-duty fleets and has attracted more attention than other clean drivetrains.

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