Driving Smarter

Knight Transportation’s technology team ensures that their work keeps the company, its drivers, and the driving public safer

According to a recent study by the Association for Safe International Road Travel, about 2.5 million people are injured in road crashes each year, costing more than $200 billion in damages. As a leading provider of multiple truckload transportation services throughout the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico, Knight Transportation was eager to develop ways to keep its drivers from contributing to those statistics—for the organization’s bottom line, but most importantly for the safety of its drivers and others on the road. As a major step toward improving safety, the Knight technology team has looked to implement best-in-class technologies such as in-cab devices to keep drivers safe and keep the company driving forward to further success.

Knight Transportation is one of the largest, most diversified truckload transportation companies in North America, and as such needs comprehensive tools to work with its large fleet. Keeping the various offices connected and sharing vital information throughout the fleet is a massive undertaking. However, vice president of IT Joe Kauffman worked closely with Cox Business to ensure that offices across the country were outfitted with the highest-quality telecommunications and internet service possible.

Knight’s major scale makes protecting the organization’s data and systems from malefactors another difficult challenge. In fact, a 2017 report from Forbes noted that transportation companies were becoming a far more frequent target of hackers. “Hackers have seemed more preoccupied with penetrating computer systems at banks, retailers, and government agencies . . . [but] recent ransomware attacks demonstrate that the transportation and logistics industry is now on hackers’ radar,” explained author Oliver Wyman. However, Knight has kept cybercriminals at bay since it began working closely with Palo Alto Networks. Throughout Knight’s continued growth and success, Palo Alto’s next-generation security platform has been essential to keeping the organization safe.

Another major project found the Knight team focused as much on physical safety as on digital safety. Kauffman and the technology office worked closely with the safety and risk management office to test in-cab devices aimed at improving the driving habits of Knight employees and help them see highway conditions more objectively. After testing multiple options, the Knight team found that SmartDrive’s video-based devices would fit their needs.

The organization first considered adding  camera-aided devices to its vehicles in years past, but weren’t sure that the idea would gain buy-in across the organization. However, Brett Sant, senior vice president of safety and risk management at Knight, knew that it was time to set up a pilot program. “Collision litigation is on the rise—for us and the industry as a whole. We also saw that our drivers were buying their own cameras,” Sant explained to Heavy Duty Trucking. “It was clear that thinking about cameras in the cab had gradually changed.”

After a successful pilot program at the Kansas City, Kansas, office, Knight will implement a SmartDrive device throughout its fleet of around 4,700 power units and five thousand drivers. The device will have a forward-facing camera only, assuaging any concerns about impinging driver privacy. The small, black, cylindrical device connects to the vehicle’s telematics and measures factors such as speed, braking, and turning. The device will also be fully integrated with collision-mitigation systems. Paired with the video the device captures, this data will give Knight more perspective on driver safety.

The pilot program proved that the device could help recognize risky maneuvers such as following other vehicles too closely on the highway or braking too quickly. These records will further benefit Knight’s driver-performance coaching sessions in order to address patterns of bad driving habits and improve behaviors.

“It helped the drivers become more self-aware,” Sant explained to Heavy Duty Trucking. “An unexpected win during the pilot was the time that our team saved coaching, because SmartDrive focused us on what was actually important versus coaching on everything from our telematics reports.”

According to Knight, the partnership with SmartDrive led to an 84 percent reduction in unsafe driving, with accompanying major reductions in the cost of claims. In fact, the Kansas City office in which the pilot program was tested reported the lowest claims costs in the entire Knight fleet, without a single collision recorded by the Department of Transportation.

As an additional measure to address privacy concerns, the camera doesn’t continuously store what the driver sees. Instead, incidents of dangerous driving, rapid changes in speed, or other unusual behaviors can trigger the camera to record and capture the driver’s view. Additionally, the driver can manually trigger the camera in cases in which they’d want to record something beyond the safety triggers.

But technology can only provide value when used properly, so a big part of the implementation of SmartDrive’s devices came in gaining buy-in throughout Knight’s fleet of drivers. “Our driving associates are embracing SmartDrive because it will help them get better and better at operating the truck as safely, effectively, and productively as they can—protecting their commercial driver’s license and their livelihood,” Kevin Knight, founder and chairman of Knight Transportation, explained in a SmartDrive case study. More than mere innovation, that kind of commitment to the well-being of employees drives all of Knight Transportation’s technology decisions.