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Here’s a truth every honest police officer will tell you. He can be hiding in a cave, in the middle of a vast desert, for decades, and Johnny Citizen will spot that cruiser from afar and ask for directions. If you think events like have decreased with the onset of online mapping systems, think again. What online mapping has increased is the inability of common folk to use old fashioned map skills they learned in grade school. It’s no secret the ITEA has a heart for trucking industry, but sorry to say truckers…you are just as guilty as the car drivers. Unfortunately, poor route planning by carriers has an unparalleled price tag.

The instantaneous information which can be disseminated via the internet today is staggering. It is a tool which has streamlined many industries and continues to mold future business. Online mapping is a promising application of this.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) was a space-age creation which began in the early 1970‘s and went live in 1994. Driving life has not been the same since. Since that time, an increasing number of government, from federal on down to local, have begun to employ people whose sole job is to harness GPS information.

At the local level, these technicians are typically referred to as the Global Information Systems (GIS) department. They use GPS data to prepare maps for many different government disciplines such as police beats, snow plow routes, fire districts, storm sewer locations, and much more. This is not just street data, but precise location information manipulated to provide enhanced customer service. Property transfers, plats of annexation and utility easements are just a few of the many layers of information inputted to provide quality and authoritative location info.

In turn, entrepreneurial business has harnessed this technology as well. Their goal is to develop products in the open market which filter the data for a particular subset of industry. Predictably, highway data is paramount to trucking, and many competitors are at war to create the bestselling products for truckers.

Like many things, the information provided to the customer is only as good as the information received by the provider. With that comes the expectation that humans will not err when inputting the information. The truck GPS market is so dependent on data that in 2011 they successfully lobbied the Illinois General Assembly (PA 97-0291) to pass a new statute (625 ILCS 5/11-214) regarding preferred truck routes.

While noble in its cause, the statute does not make a whole lot of sense. The law requires local governments to do two things. First, report all local roads designated as Class II or Class III highways…easy enough. But the law gets vague when it asks for the local government to report its “preferred” truck routes.

Preferred where? Trucks could be serving an endless number of businesses or residences. Depending on the size and weight of the vehicles, some trucks may be preferred on one route to a destination, but not other trucks. It’s a subjective command that for the most part has left everyone scratching their heads. Needless to say, the local information is not making it into GIS systems to be relayed to the GPS manufacturers. Therefore, GPS units are doing little to help truckers navigate local roadways.

What makes a route a truck route anyhow? Theoretically, all roads are truck routes…even those posted as “no truck routes”. The difference is there are fluctuating limitations and restrictions to some roads and not to others. One has to first define what is meant by “truck” before identifying whether or not the road in question is lawful for that truck to operate upon. Both semi-tractor trailers and pick-ups are equally “trucks”, but they are obviously not equal by size and weight statutes.

Recently, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has taken on the task to try and collate all local road data. Guess what? They’re lost (pun intended). There are over 1400 municipalities in Illinois and just as many townships. Plus 102 counties. Within each sect of local government are aberrations by neighborhood and the roads which service them. And that’s just Illinois. On a national level, to compile this information perfectly is impossible. Cities and roadways are constantly changing boundaries, infrastructure and traffic volume.

Much like a paper atlas, truck GPS systems show roads which connect. It’s a starting point only. To rely on a mapping system which does not, and cannot, account for all the variations in weight, size and highway authority is foolishness. Any truck cop worth his salt can name dozens of instances where truckers have placed their trust in a 3rd party GPS system or  paper atlas which has resulted in the vehicle being hung up on corners, driving into dead ends or overweight on the wrong roads. It can be an expensive lesson to learn.

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