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The Importance of Digital Technology in Transport Operations

Exploring the benefits and risks of mobile communications devices

This is an extract from Lowe’s Transport Manager’s and Operator’s Handbook.

Never before has there been a more powerful influence on transport operations than the effect of digital technology. The pace of the digital revolution quickens daily and even more so in the sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fleet sector isn’t new to technology though and there are many digital forerunners that are now firmly entrenched in fleet operations. Take the term ‘telematics’, for example, which was first coined in France in 1978. Honda launched the first vehicle navigation system in 1981, the first HGV telematics system was launched in 1982 and I was first introduced to fleet management software sometime in the 1990s. Even government services are moving towards digital. The Government Digital Service was established in 2011, which has led to automated driver licence checking and paperless vehicle text. DVSA Digital, Earned Recognition and remote enforcement.

We have started to recognize how automation can lead to a safer, more efficient and less impacting operation. It can make the world smaller, make it easier to keep an eye on and enable instant communications. The role of the transport manager is developing from a tactical day-to-day doer to a forward-thinking strategic analyst. Digital systems deliver immense value. They enable us to connect, collaborate and communicate. Imagine a day without a computer or smartphone in the office – nice not to have the emails but imagine everything you do digitally done instead on paper and by landline.

Instant communications are a 21st-century expectation. Whether it’s routing, scheduling, tracking, consignment notes, walkaround checks, defect reporting or even the driver’s handbook – the digitized workplace is the new norm for transport operations.

Mobile Communications Devices

The fundamental tool in a digital operation is the mobile communication device. Devices can be smartphones, tablets, personal digital assistants (PDAs) or satnavs, completely mobile or fitted in the vehicle. While they provide the benefits of instant communications and visibility of the operation, they also present risks.

Safety Policy

Operators must ensure that drivers issued with mobile communication devices are not distracted, they exercise proper control of the vehicle and have full view of the road and traffic ahead. Key to this is not causing or permitting a driver to use a hand-held communication device while driving. A company policy should be in place covering the use of mobile communications devices while driving. The policy should cover two main areas:

  • unlawful use of hand-held mobile communication devices whilst driving;
  • the responsibilities of office staff making, receiving and ending calls to and from drivers.

The only exception to these rules is to call 999 or 112 in a genuine emergency when it is unsafe or impractical to stop.

Consideration should also be given to any conditions of use for hands-free mobile communication devices, such as safe stowage, field of view, length of calls and any restrictions on making and receiving personal calls. It is the driver’s responsibility to remain in full control of the vehicle and not get distracted from driving. If hands-free mobile communication devices are permitted in an operation, their use should be fully risk assessed.


PDAs connect a driver and driver functions with the operating centre and often the customer. Driver tasks and schedule can be on the device within seconds. Drivers can accept new jobs, record track and trace, read barcodes and record signatures. They have GPS tracking, allowing operators to geographically view the fleet and its activity. They help operators respond and make business decisions instantly and accurately. PDAs can integrate with most transport and fleet management systems and can be loaded with a range of apps and functions.

Digital Driver Walkaround Checks

Digital driver walkaround check systems store a complete record of a driver’s daily safety check and enable instant defect reporting. They allow photographs of defects to be added to a check, which can be viewed on the device and within its reporting system. Drivers’ safety checks can be completed manually through the app or electronically by scanning QR codes placed around the vehicle. If the driver identifies a defect, they send it electronically to the operator who then schedules the relevant repairs. Any systems used should be checked as to whether they meet DVSA guidelines on walkaround checks.

Digital Driver Handbook

The DVSA advises that drivers should have their responsibilities documented as ‘instructions in writing’; the common method for providing this is through a driver handbook. With printed documents outdating quickly, a digital driver handbook ensures availability of the most up-to-date information, policies, safe operating procedures, toolbox talks and regular communications on current topics and campaigns. Digital driver handbooks range from the more straightforward PDF documents loaded into tablets or smartphones, through to mobile apps which record and monitor drivers’ progress, knowledge and understanding.

Satellite Navigation Systems (Satnavs)

Standard satnavs don’t account for larger vehicles in terms of their height, width, length and weight, particularly in terms of road restrictions. There are also other restrictions not included in standard systems, such as the Safer Lorry Scheme, LLCS and CAZs.

HGV-specific satnavs are available and have a range of features designed for larger vehicles, and provide turn-by-turn navigation instructions to drivers. Many new vehicles come factory fitted with a navigation device, but when selecting a retrofit navigation device for an HGV, operators must ensure the mapping and routing software includes HGV restriction data. Company policies and instructions to drivers should also prohibit the use of standard satnavs in HGVs.


The digitized workplace is the new norm and technology is a basic tool of the trade. Our expectations are high, the expectations of the people who work for us are high and if we are to attract and retain young talent into the profession, we must be progressive. Millennials are now the largest generation in the workplace. They are tech-savvy, open to change and they can’t stand the phrase, ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’. The post-millennial generation, Generation Z, is already coming through, and they don’t even know a world without technology, the internet and social media. Technology won’t solve the driver shortage, but it will make the profession much more attractive to Generation Z.

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