Fleet Telematics Explained

Last Updated: January 12th, 2023
Researched and Written by: Lexi Wood

Fleet telematics consolidates vehicle tracking information into one location, like a dispatch office or garage, to gain up-to-date or real-time information about vehicles or driver behavior. A vital part of fleet management, telematics provides a comprehensive overview of fleet performance using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) tracking, dash cam recorders, and other specialty hardware.

Further reading: Our guide to The Best Fleet Management Software

How Does Telematics Work?

Vehicle telematics combine onboard sensors (GPS, cameras, etc) with telecommunication systems (cellular, satellite). Today, fleet tracking is via wireless or GPS technology, sending real-time information taken from sensors like GPS, video recorders, and vehicle sensors. An entire fleet of vehicles can connect across satellite or cellular networks for faster uploads. Data is updated on secure fleet communication system (FCS) servers which can be accessed from anywhere. Fleet managers utilize real-time communication apps to stay informed about route changes, fuel consumption, or vehicle conditions.

Vehicle telematics combines telecommunications and informatics which uses wireless technology to communicate. Initially, vehicle sensors would record data which was then offloaded at real-world points, such as a truck stop. The information was then relayed to a central office, depot, or garage. Owners and operators could then send messages back with instructions to drivers to improve driving behavior. Unfortunately, there were delays between these communications. Now, vehicle telematics combine onboard sensors (GPS, cameras, etc) with telecommunication systems (cellular or satellite networks) to overcome those delays.

Fleet Telematics Diagram
Vehicles telematics sends information from trucks on the road to fleet management software back at a dispatch or office.

Types of telematics devices and vehicle sensors include:

  • Electronic logging device (ELD)
  • Fuel gage
  • GPS receiver
  • Odometer
  • Smartphone
  • Trailer or container tracking

There are many more options available depending on the exact vehicle. Information gathered by the vehicle’s computer is shared through the on-board diagnostics II (OBD-II) port or CAN-BUS port with a SIM card. Telematics software, usually part of a fleet management system, analyzes the data to find ways to improve performance.

How Can Telematics Be Used in Fleets?

Often part of fleet management and maintenance systems, telematics are primarily used to track vehicle conditions and driver behavior.

First and foremost, telematics like GPS trackers note vehicle locations at any given time. Knowing where a vehicle is and where it is supposed to be is critical for keeping the supply chain moving. And if any unexpected road closures impact a route, owners and drivers can work together to reroute as efficiently as possible.

Other mobile devices record vehicle conditions like fuel usage, mileage, and average speed. These regular engine diagnostics lead to timely maintenance schedules which prevent breakdowns. With a well-maintained fleet, owners can save money which would have been spent on replacing vehicles.

Next, telematics data allows overall fleet improvement, such as reducing idling and fuel consumption rates through route optimization. Owners can review which routes are best for drivers, put the least amount of wear and tear on vehicles, or are simply the fastest for deliveries.

Telematics helps fleet owners know how drivers behave on the road. Monitoring can be as simple as whether or not a driver regularly wears a seat belt or if there are multiple instances of harsh braking along a route. Good driver habits can lead to lower insurance premiums for the entire fleet. And in an accident, emergency transponders can automatically send distress messages if a driver cannot get help for themselves. Telematics also provides an accurate way to record hours of service so drivers get the time off they deserve.

In addition to optimizing fleet operations, there are other commercial usages for telematics. For instance, automotive insurance companies use “black box” devices to record customer behavior behind the wheel and offer discounts for good driving habits. Rideshare services utilize telematics as well for vehicle and passenger tracking. And automated warning systems increase driver safety.

How is Telematics Used in Fleet Management Software?

The benefits of telematics are best recognized when included in a fleet management system. Telematics uses GPS or similar devices to track vehicle data; fleet management uses that data to schedule maintenance, plan routes, or correct driver behavior.

For instance, temperature sensors in a container or trailer can preserve the cold chain when transporting temperature-sensitive cargo. If any fluctuations are detected, the driver or central office can be alerted by real-time notifications to address the problem.

Improving telematics technology allows owners to stay on top of vehicle maintenance for an entire fleet without getting under the hood of every vehicle. Owners and managers rely on telematics for updates on vehicle conditions to arrange preventive maintenance and avoid breakdowns on the road.

The Future of Telematics

In the past, telematics solutions were limited by when and where data was uploaded. Today, they can show where vehicles are, where they are heading, and if the operator is following. These real-time results allow faster responses to travel condition changes, such as severe weather or road closures.

Other upcoming changes in telematics include:

Autonomous Driving

One major change in fleet operations will be the use of automated or driverless vehicles in the coming years. While still far away from reality, vehicle telematics systems are already preparing for this change by collecting data now. How real drivers respond to situations on the road can help train AI in the future.

Video Telematics

Video telematics is rising due to smaller, high-quality cameras being easier to install into all sorts of vehicles. For instance, cab cams record the vehicle’s interior while dash cams record the outside. While they can provide useful footage to prove who is at fault after an accident, some drivers are wary of being recorded for hours at a time. Fortunately, there are now dash cams available which continuously record but only save and upload footage after sensors indicate an accident has happened.

Other video telematics can record container and trailer conditions. As a result, drivers and managers can know about changing conditions in the back without opening up the cargo on the road.

Electric Vehicles

Finally, many fleet owners are going green with electric vehicles. Telematics devices have adjusted how fuel consumption is measured in electric vehicles compared to gas-powered ones. There are also different maintenance standards to address.

Telematics FAQ

How is telematics different from fleet management?

Fleet management is more encompassing than just telematics. For example, in addition to vehicle tracking, fleet management systems might include tools for acquiring new vehicles, ordering and storing replacement parts for maintenance, and using a geographic information system (GIS) to map out optimized routes.

Telematics uses GPS or similar recording devices to track vehicle data; fleet management systems then use that data to schedule maintenance, plan routes, or correct driver behavior.

What’s the difference between telematics and GPS?

Telematics tracks vehicle data in various ways, such as using cab or dash cams to record driver behavior while working. However, GPS can track more than just vehicles, and are often used for land surveys, construction, and emergency services. Of course, GPS-enabled devices can be used to track vehicles as well. In short, telematics may use GPS, but GPS is not always used for telematics.

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