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GPS proven best for hazmat tracking

March 1, 2005 By    

Wireless global positioning systems have thus far shown the highest promise as a new technology to track hazardous material shipments.

 Charles Pekow
Charles Pekow

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) tested a variety of systems to improve security, particularly from potential terrorists. The two-year study involved a six-month field test of 10 shippers and carriers and 100 trucks, four state governments and four technology suppliers. FMCSA tested real-time tracking, biometric (mainly fingerprint) identification, electronic seals, vehicle disabling, geofencing, public sector reporting, satellite and cellular systems, on-board computers and vehicle and trailer tracking.

“The study confirmed what a lot of us already thought. Wireless GPS provided the best benefits,” says Joseph DeLorenzo, FMCSA’s chief officer for the project.

Tracking systems can alert a dispatcher when a vehicle leaves an inclusion zone (such as within a mile of an interstate highway corridor, figuring the driver has to leave the highway for fuel, food, rest, etc.) Or they can sound an alert when the rig enters an exclusion zone, such as close to a military facility. The dispatcher could stop the vehicle.

Biometric identification also works, but with a few problems. Drivers can’t forget their fingerprint as they can an ID or password, but they have to put the fingerprint in the right spot and it takes up to 45 seconds to identify a person. Drivers also expressed some concern about their privacy – wondering what else companies might do with their fingerprints.

ID cards work but can break or get bent out of shape, especially if drivers keep them in a wallet they’re sitting on for extended periods of time. Also, temperatures affect ID technologies – both fingerprint and card systems have shown that they don’t work as well in cold weather. In short, the researchers saw potential but the technology needs improvement.

Drivers also liked panic buttons they could push.

Mark Carter, evaluator for the project, said the chosen technologies should have multiple uses. For example, mobile communications can reduce mileage as well as improve safety.

Briefly Speaking

Notes from Capitol Hill

  • Appliance labeling rule

The Federal Trade Commission has updated its Appliance Labeling Rule, effective April 27. It includes new ranges for washing machines and dishwashers. See the Jan. 27 Federal Register.

  • Energy Efficiency Act

Rep. Lee Terry has introduced the Energy Efficiency Investment Act (H.R. 424) to the Ways & Means Committee. It would provide tax credits for installing Energy Star air control systems and insulation.

  • HOS regulations reconsidered

FMCSA is reconsidering hours of service regulations published in 2003 to conform them to a federal court rule saying they didn’t consider effects of physical condition of drivers and other safety issues. Details: Jan. 24 Federal Register.

  • RSPA incorporates exemptions

RSPA officially incorporated some “widely used exemptions” into its hazmat regulations concerning salvage cylinders and meter provers. Anyone with existing exemptions won’t have to re-apply. The changes also revise rules for packaging, effective March 25. Details: Jan. 24 Federal Register.

  • Security fees set

The Transportation Security Administration has issued final rules regarding fees for security threat assessments for hazmat drivers. The fee for information collection is $38 in states where a TSA agent collects fingerprints. There also is a threat assessment fee of $34 and a $22 FBI fee if a TSA agent collects ($24 if the state collects). See

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