Telematics help prevent trailer theft

Tracking and monitoring devices are being used to help deter cargo thieves as well as manage the reefers’ operating costs.

May 9, 2011
by Kara Kuryllowicz

Fleet Management Web Exclusive

Tracking and monitoring devices are being used to help deter cargo thieves as well as manage the operating costs of refrigerated containers.

“Cargo theft is consistently increasing in Canada with an estimated $3 to $5 billion of goods stolen annually – if you’re a trucking company, you have a targeted fleet,” says Greg St. Croix, senior vice-president at Marsh Canada in Toronto, which insures between 15,000 and 20,000 fleet vehicles Canada-wide.  “As a federal crime, it is being treated more seriously by law enforcement, but unfortunately, it remains a low-risk, high-reward crime from the criminal’s perspective because they’re rarely caught and not prosecuted nearly often enough. At most, they get a little jail time and a small fine, but generally, it’s a slap on the wrist.”

Remote asset tracking and information management solutions from firms like SkyBitz and Asset Intelligence help transportation firms locate their reefers and loads in real-time.  Operators can check the trailer’s location and route every few minutes or every couple of hours.  Such systems may also include air-line and brake locks as well as cargo and door sensors.

“The US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency financed the development of SkyBitz’s Global Locating System for use on arms, ammunition and explosives shipments – the system knows where your cargo is at all times,” says Doug Elphick, president, ELM Technologies of Mississauga, Ontario, the primary Canadian distributor of SkyBitz, Trimble Mobile Resource Management and Teletrac mobile asset management solutions.

Industry experts point out that sensors and systems can be circumvented, however the thieves need to locate the devices, then know how to disable them.  The more sophisticated criminals invest in jammers, override the system or simply park the trailer near hydro poles or in tunnels and other concrete structures.

“If the criminal wants that load, he’ll get it, but tracking systems give us a fighting chance, because the longer it takes him to steal it the better it is for us,” says St. Croix. “We get 90 percent of the trailers back within 48 hours, but the cargo is offloaded in about 15 minutes.”

While one might assume that high-value goods are the most frequent targets, thieves will steal anything, from food products, toilet paper and diapers to higher-value electronic goods and pharmaceuticals. Goods are sold in dollar shops, mom-and-pop convenience  stores,  flea markets and elsewhere.

Cargo crime tends to spike on long weekends, when drop lots, loading docks and truck stops are less populated with reduced security. And, because thieves tend to take the load worth $250,000 rather than the one valued at $30,000, industry experts believe insider information may guide their choices.

While insurance will cover the cost of the cargo, claims will increase deductibles and premiums, which is why transportation firms submit claims and report the theft just 20 percent of the time according to St. Croix. In the US and Europe, insurance companies tend to give better rates to companies that install tracking and monitoring devices across the board, but their Canadian counterparts tend to assess fleets on a case-by-case basis.

“We look at a proactive organization more favourably than a reactive fleet,” says St. Croix. “If you have a history of theft claims, your deductible and premiums will reflect that reality or you might even be refused insurance.”

To protect the cargo against threats beyond theft and control fuel costs, temperature controls and tire pressure monitors are also available. While the cost-savings can be enormous, transportation firms are just starting to use the technology to heat and cool cargo only as much as required. Likewise, tire pressure technology can improve safety and reduce maintenance and replacement.

“Security is the primary concern so 90 percent of the fleets that have SkyBitz don’t bother with the temperature or tire pressure feature,” says Elphick.

However, those features can offer a massive payback as Marten Transport, a Wisconsin-based firm specializing in food and other temperature-sensitive goods, discovered last year. After installing Asset Intelligence’s VeriWise Reefer technology, the firm reduced fuel costs, emissions and maintenance by more than U$S1.5 million. Marten raised the average shipping temperature to -1°F instead of -10°F while satisfying its quality-conscious customers. VeriWise’s ability to identify and counteract excessive pre-cooling patterns by tracking reefer on and off times saved $400,000 on fuel in the first three months.

“Customers tend to install the basic tracking and as they realize how they can use the information it provides, they more fully leverage its capabilities,” says Darryl Miller, COO, at I.D. Systems, Inc of Hackensack, New Jersey, which owns Asset Intelligence.