Author: Sandy Smith


Using Telematics to Drive Fleet Safety Improvements

As director of product strategy and telematics at Element Fleet Management (, Kimberly Clark knows exactly how her utility fleet clients are using telematics to improve safety.

In a recent interview with UFP, Clark described a couple of scenarios that have benefited those clients. One – a 4,000-unit energy utility fleet – uses “in-cab feedback and beeping alerts to notify its drivers when they have exceeded a client’s defined threshold for risky driving and provides the driver with immediate and tangible feedback on unsafe driving,” she said. Those same drivers are rated on several risky behaviors, such as hard acceleration, braking, cornering and speeding, as well as seat-belt use.

Another fleet opts to get information in real time. That client’s 1,400-unit utility infrastructure fleet uses telematics to notify managers when a driver violates the company’s predetermined threshold.

Clark said she believes most fleets today use some type of telematics and that safety is a top priority, especially for utility fleets, followed by reducing operating costs, assuring compliance and improving productivity.

The technology also can provide some clarity and a clear advantage over those signs mounted on vehicles that ask how drivers are doing. “With telematics, you’ve got concrete information,” said Steve Berube, senior business development manager for fleet tracking solutions provider Geotab ( “If someone calls up and says, ‘I saw your driver driving poorly,’ you can tell, were they in that place and what were they doing?”

Positive Reinforcement
Safety-focused telematics can be deployed in various ways. Many fleets use an operator scorecard, on which the fleet manager identifies key topics like seat-belt usage, harsh braking and dangerous maneuvers. Drivers then receive a score based on their driving performance. Savvy fleets might use this as a contest, a method of “positive reinforcement for great driving behavior,” Berube said. Incentives like a day off, a gift card or an end-of-year bonus can drive interest in the program.

Clark agreed. “A key component for an effective safety program is accountability. If your data indicates poor driving behaviors, yet there are no repercussions for this behavior, drivers will be unlikely to change. Likewise, if drivers are exhibiting good behavior behind the wheel, and there is no recognition of their efforts, drivers will lose motivation to continue these good behaviors,” she said.

Other fleets may opt for driver coaching, and many telematics solutions offer an audible option within the vehicle cab, such as a beep while the driver is backing up. With Geotab, it includes spoken words such as, “You’re not wearing your seat belt.”

Some telematics systems incorporate a camera to identify if seat belts are being worn correctly, instead of just merely being buckled. Other systems provide a warning when a driver is backing up or will monitor if backing is occurring.

Accident reconstruction is a growing area that uses footage from the camera or video device. “This provides the ability to use telematics to put together a really clear picture of what happened in an accident, or in those little fender benders that drivers don’t always report,” Berube said.   

Cost Savings
With safety specifically, the goal of telematics is to reduce accident rates as well as to reduce mileage by improving dispatch. While much of the safety focus is on driver behavior, Clark pointed out that it can go hand in hand with maintenance “through required vehicle condition reporting and subsequent maintenance.” Safer drivers operating with reduced mileage in safer, well-maintained vehicles can add up to reduced workers’ compensation and liability claims because of fewer accidents.

That is especially important, Berube noted, because fleets operating heavy-duty trucks and larger commercial fleets are seeing “a heavy increase in insurance costs.”

While insurers haven’t necessarily asked fleets to deploy telematics, Berube believes the requests may not be that far off. He points to plug-and-play devices in personal vehicles, something that consumer insurance companies are incentivizing. “The next iteration of this is going to be insurance companies wanting to have insights into your driver behavior while looking at your insurance costs,” Berube said. “Legally, everyone is a little cautious in saying that it can or will lower your rates. It certainly is a progression toward that scenario.”

And utilities may have a leg up on some other types of fleets, according to Berube. “Utilities already have a deep culture of safety, so when it comes to their fleets, there is more of an emphasis on safety itself,” he said.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


What’s Next in Safety Telematics?
Kimberly Clark, director of product strategy and telematics for Element Fleet Management, and Steve Berube, senior business development manager for Geotab, see plenty of safety-related improvements for telematics on the horizon, including the following:

  • Integrating telematics data with motor vehicle records and collision data will “provide more encompassing views of driver safety performance and high-risk driver identification,” Clark said. “Blending all of the vehicle, device or mobile application driver behavior data with other safety-related data, especially collision data, can be critical to build predictive models that identify drivers more likely to be involved in a crash, and prescriptive actions that can reduce that risk.”
  • Smart cameras combined with telematics can “provide additional insight and context into behind-the-wheel driving behaviors such as distracted driving, fatigue and any other driving policies,” Clark said.
  • Video integrated with telematics can offer “additional context in a driver coaching scenario,” Berube said. “With traditional telematics alone, a harsh brake is going to show up as a negative on a scorecard, but video may show that the driver was cut off or a dog ran out in the road. It shows a positive: Your driver was paying attention.”
This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series December 2021

Top Trends to Watch in Commercial Truck Tires

As director of strategic alliances for Element Fleet Management (, Kerry Wenthin often hears concerns about tire performance.

Ask him what he’s hoping to see in terms of innovation, and it comes down to value. “Longer-lasting and cost-conscious products for the high mileage and demanding usage patterns in the light-truck service and delivery segment will always be welcome,” Wenthin said.

He gives credit to tire manufacturers, who he says have “done a great job launching new products and product line extensions to fill gaps and provide additional offerings in high-demand sizes and at various price points.”

But there is always room for improvement, and manufacturers like Bridgestone Americas ( and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. ( continue to innovate. UFP recently spoke with representatives from both companies, who shared emerging trends that they suggest fleet professionals keep an eye on.

Smarter Tires
Tires are getting smarter with new sensing technologies. Bridgestone’s IntelliTire is “a great example of a smart-sensing tool that provides live tire pressure and heat information at every wheel position,” said Brian Goldstine, the company’s president of mobility solutions and fleet management. “We can use that data in combination with advanced and predictive analytics … to provide insights in the form of alerts and customized reports to the driver and/or fleet operator on the condition of their tires, recommendations for maintenance, and the ability to predict and prevent downtime, which might occur with something like an otherwise undetected slow leak.”

The IntelliTire data pairs with Bridgestone’s REACH platform, a cloud-based solution that speeds up roadside assistance requests for commercial fleets.

Goodyear’s products, under the SightLine technology brand, identify critical issues like air leaks and high temperatures while also providing predictive maintenance.

“The first product from Goodyear SightLine’s suite of technologies will be a tire health monitoring solution targeted to cargo van fleets serving the field service, construction and last-mile-delivery industries,” said Steve Rohweder, Goodyear’s vice president of technology development.

Additional products are in development with OEMs and Tier 1 automotive suppliers, he continued. “Goodyear’s goal is to have some form of tire intelligence in all new products by 2027.”

Mobility Solutions
Both major tire manufacturers are also investing in mobility solutions. At Goodyear, that means a non-pneumatic tire for use in autonomous shuttles. The product is currently being used in Jacksonville, Florida, and should deliver information “from autonomous shuttle passengers, including opinions on ride comfort, noise and other experiential data,” Rohweder said.

Bridgestone is looking at data from autonomous vehicles as well, investing in Kodiak Robotics, a long-haul trucking company that upfits long-haul diesel trucks with Level 4 autonomous technologies. “There is a lot to learn from how autonomous vehicles gather and process information and how that relates to both tire design and the role of the tire in a highly automated fleet system,” Goldstine said. “We see opportunities in terms of how data coming from more advanced smart-sensing tires can help optimize automated vehicle performance, including steering and braking, based on the condition of the tire and the road.”

In addition, Bridgestone is exploring air-free commercial truck tires, primarily in long-haul trailer applications “where we see the greatest opportunity in the near term,” according to Goldstine. 

New Tire Life and New Alliances
Bridgestone currently offers the Bandag MaxTread line, which “is designed to deliver reliability comparable to new tires,” Goldstine said. The Bandag retread is a standalone, single-unit tire solution rather than the traditional cap and casing. The latest innovation, the MaxTread FuelTech Drive, is engineered to improve fuel efficiency.

Lastly, both Bridgestone and Goodyear have been in heavy growth mode, with Goodyear completing its acquisition of Cooper Tires and Bridgestone picking up Azuga, a fleet management platform. The two companies said these acquisitions will allow for greater investments, particularly those of interest to fleets.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Aligning with Environmental Goals
New tire-related developments continue to be rolled out, and product manufacturers are working in key areas that align with broader environmental goals.

At The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., much of the development is focused on the use of soybean oil to enhance tire performance. Steve Rohweder, Goodyear’s vice president of technology development, said scientists and engineers – with support from the United Soybean Board – have “developed a tread compound in which soybean oil replaces 100% of petroleum-derived oil. Soybean oil helps keep a tire’s rubber compound pliable in changing temperatures, a key performance achievement to maintaining and enhancing vehicle grip on roadways.” This innovation, he explained, helps the company work toward its goal of fully replacing petroleum-derived oils by 2040.

At Bridgestone Americas, the work is focused on tires for electrified trucks, according to Brian Goldstine, the company’s president of mobility solutions and fleet management. While he did not go into great detail, he did point to this as “an important area of learning.”

In general, Bridgestone’s sustainability goals are “a huge area of focus for every aspect of our business,” Goldstine noted.

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series October 2021

Will Your Fleet Need to Rightsize in a Post-Pandemic World?

When the pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, the impact on utility fleets was swift. Even though utility work continued as an essential service, fleets had to adapt. Social distancing meant crews could no longer pile into one vehicle safely. Many light-duty vehicles were parked as some employees switched to home bases.

Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) was not immune to these changes. “As much as we could, we took the vehicles that were not being utilized as much because their owner or assignee had started to telecommute, and we assigned them to crews so they didn’t have to have multiples in the vehicle often,” said Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for the publicly owned utility that covers at least part of 86 Nebraska counties. This shift was in addition to regular vehicle cleanings, deep cleaning whenever a vehicle was serviced and sending cleaning equipment stockpiles throughout the state for use.

Now that the pandemic has begun to recede, Gilliland faces the task of getting vehicles back to their rightful owners – if they still need them. “We’re undoing that now,” he said. “It doesn’t go nearly as fast.”

Easing Back to Normal
NPPD did not rent or buy additional vehicles to allow for social distancing. The utility also did not forbid workers from sharing a vehicle but encouraged masking when sharing a ride. When extra vehicles were available, “We were adamant at communicating, ‘this won’t last forever,’” Gilliland said.  

Now that some telecommuters are back in the office – and looking to get their assigned fleet vehicles back – Gilliland is largely responsible for making those connections. “We put the original owner with the person who was loaned the vehicle and let them have the conversation about the handoff back to the owner,” he said. “The original owner knows their schedule the best and their travel plans the best. Rather than saying, ‘You shall return your vehicle,’ we got out of the way and acted like a facilitator. That’s worked well.”

Some vehicles were returned right away, Gilliland said. For others, mutually agreed-upon dates were set for the future. “A few said, ‘I’m not sure I need a vehicle anymore.’ In those rare circumstances, we are engaged to determine whether it becomes a permanent assignment or gets moved somewhere else.”

Gilliland said the pandemic didn’t change any policies related to rightsizing and the fleet doesn’t have a lot of vehicles to reassign or shed at this point.

But that’s not necessarily the case for every fleet.

Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates (, said the pandemic may have only caused a blip for some, but “fleets are struggling with several rightsizing challenges that predated the pandemic and did not go away.”

In other industries outside of utilities, he believes many fleets will “never return to pre-pandemic levels since the world has learned to meet virtually.”

And as utilities move to using drones and robotics for line inspections, he anticipates that may reduce the number of bucket trucks required at some point in the future.  

An Added Headache
The pandemic and its extended fallout have also caused significant disruptions in both the used and new car markets – a key consideration for selling off unnecessary assets. Initially, Lauria said, the used car market was depressed as rental car companies unloaded unused vehicles when the travel industry ground to a halt.

In Gilliland’s experience, however, prices increased for used trucks. “We could almost spend more money to acquire a used truck than bulk pricing on a new vehicle.”

The extended supply chain disruption and related chip shortage have made new trucks harder to come by.

Lauria said that he anticipates fleets will have more interest in modernization moving forward, noting that he currently sees excitement about electric vehicles and that fleets have gained historical insights from the Great Recession. “There was a significant amount spent on fleet modernization in the five years before the pandemic hit,” Lauria said. “A lot of utilities curtailed expenditures a year ago, but they may have generated an additional backlog.”

Looking again to the past recession, Lauria believes that “furiously playing catchup” without considering what was actually needed set off the spending spree. He’s hopeful fleets have learned from that. “In our minds, fleet modernization, whether a company requires a little bit of it or a lot, should go hand in hand with rightsizing.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Key Questions to Ask
Are you considering rightsizing your fleet for a post-pandemic world? Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates, suggested starting the process by asking these three questions:

  • How do we help our customers determine their asset needs?
  • How well do we consider renting versus owning assets?
  • How well do we monitor, measure and report on utilization of assets once in the fleet?

“When a client asks for a proposal on rightsizing the fleet and asks what kind of payback to expect, the short answer is that a 5% to 8% reduction is a good range,” said Lauria, who has more than 25 years of performing rightsizing assessments under his belt. “The real answer will depend on how proactively it has managed the acquisition and utilization of those assets. Organizations that don’t have robust processes will find a bigger bang for the buck in rightsizing and right-typing than an organization that is very structured in vetting requests every year and putting together a capital budget.”


The State of UTV Electrification

There is at least one obvious reason for an electric utility to move toward adopting electric-powered vehicles into its fleet.

“We’re using our own product,” said Paul Jefferson, senior fleet manager for Oklahoma Gas and Electric, which serves more than 858,000 customers across 30,000 square miles in Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

Another reason for the move? “[The vehicles] are lower maintenance,” Jefferson said. “You don’t have to change the oil and do other types of maintenance as with gas engines.”

His fleet includes 101 UTVs, 58 of which are powered by electricity; the remainder are due to be replaced by electric UTVs in the coming years.

OG&E had long wanted to move to electric UTVs, Jefferson said, but it took a while for the industry to catch up. “Four years ago, we started adding electric UTV carts. Prior to that, you could buy a golf cart, but there weren’t really robust UTV options out there.”

Alternative-fuel vehicle innovations are driven in part by sustainability mandates, “but most of the time, they still need to make sense financially and do the same job as the vehicle they were replacing: delivering on the payload and range,” said Nick Snidarich, product manager for Polaris Commercial ( Polaris offers an electric passenger vehicle, the GEM, and a recently introduced electric powersport vehicle, the RANGER. The company’s PRO XD, a heavy-duty work UTV, is not yet electrified; Polaris currently offers a gas-powered version.

Because of consumer interest as well as the continued introduction of alternative-fuel vehicle innovations to the marketplace, even those manufacturers not yet offering electric-powered UTVs are exploring the idea. Patrick Hébert, product manager for PRINOTH (, said he sees diesel as the best solution for the short term, but he also noted that, “Nevertheless, it is important to mention that electric propulsion and battery technology are already a reality for smaller machines due to the lower power demands. PRINOTH is actively monitoring the technology available, and in order to make it a reality, it is mandatory for us to find a solution that allows the vehicle to be recharged in extreme off-road remote locations and that can last safely through a whole workday.”

Use Cases
There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to electric utility vehicles, including UTVs. Snidarich points to applications that require “people, equipment or other cargo to be moved around campuses, cities and job sites. Their near-silent operation is critical when any added noise contributes to a reduction in safety, or when hearing is needed to identify issues. For example, rail workers use electric UTVs so they can still listen for a whistling sound or hissing from the train’s hydraulic brakes that signals repair is needed.”

There are times, though, when an electric UTV may fall short of its gas-powered counterpart, Jefferson said. “If you try to share one cart among three shifts and continuously use it, sometimes there’s not enough time to charge it up, even though it has a 45-mile range.” Rather than switch to gas, however, he’s found it just as efficient to add another electric UTV.

Most of OG&E’s UTVs are in use at power plants as transportation on the property. They are spec’d to include a bed, where tools and small equipment can be stored. 

Looking Ahead
When asked if he had a wish list of future improvements to electric UTVs, Jefferson said he would like to see manufacturers replace AGM batteries with lithium-ion. It’s something he knows manufacturers are working on, but he hopes to see the change happen soon.

PRINOTH currently offers a hybrid snow groomer as well as a new, fully electric snow groomer. Hébert believes that the technology could eventually make its way to the company’s PANTHER product line, which “shares a very similar powertrain architecture with snow groomers.” But first, the demand must mature, he said.

Hébert also said he believes hybrid innovations will be the way to go in the short term, first with implements, then the hybrid drive. Eventually, he envisions a fully electric crawler. “The challenge right now with this concept is the important amount of energy that needs to be stored inside batteries for some applications – digger derrick and dump-box applications as examples. The battery technology is not mature enough yet for such applications; therefore, usage of fuel cell systems may still be required to be able to last a full working shift for such applications.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Considerations Before You Buy
Are you thinking about adding all-electric UTVs to your fleet? If so, there are some things to consider before you buy, including:

  • Availability of charging infrastructure. This is an important consideration but not necessarily a deal-breaker. Nick Snidarich, product manager for Polaris Commercial, referenced Sandia National Laboratories, which adapted the Polaris GEM vehicle by adding solar panels to its top. “Anytime the vehicles were left outside in the sun, they recharged themselves without needing to be plugged in.”
  • The terrain the UTVs will be used on, which may require four-wheel-drive, according to Paul Jefferson, senior fleet manager for Oklahoma Gas and Electric. The utility’s electric UTVs are mostly used on power plant grounds and do not include four-wheel-drive.
  • What the vehicles will be used for. Jefferson said electric UTVs have a distinct advantage over gas combustion engines for indoor use.

Integrating OEM Telematics into Your Fleet

Jessica Lauer, fleet analyst for Detroit-based DTE Energy, is responsible for overseeing metrics for the company’s 3,700 Class 1-8 vehicles. That’s not always easy to do, particularly with some of DTE’s Class 5-8 vehicles. Problems have occurred after telematics devices were installed on the assets but before they were driven by the business units.

“It may be weeks before I can see [a vehicle],” Lauer said. “I may have missed an ignition event, so I have to wait until the business unit drives the vehicle to see if the device is reporting correctly. It just causes issues.”

She doesn’t have the same challenge, however, with Class 1-4 vehicles these days. Lauer said that’s because she uses the Ford Telematics system, which comes built into a Ford vehicle when it’s delivered.

“It makes everything so much simpler,” she said. “All I need to do is upload the VIN to the Ford Fleet account to add my consent for Verizon Connect, then upload the VIN to Verizon Connect to start getting real-time data.”

Of course, Ford is not the only OEM that’s been getting into telematics these days, but the technology is not – at least yet – a be-all and end-all solution.

“In reality, the technology doesn’t necessarily meet all the requirements,” said Frank Daccardi, solutions architect, CIS telematics, for fleet management services company ARI ( “There always will be some level of a mixed fleet and auxiliary equipment that fleet might want to manage.”

Integrating and Managing Data
While the ease of installation may put OEM telematics at an advantage, few fleets will be able to convert all of their vehicles immediately. That brings about some data integration challenges.

Help is available, however: “There is a history established by folks like Donlen laying a foundation that utilizes different types of integration,” said Eli Rossiter, director of telematics and safety products at Donlen (, a provider of financing and fleet management solutions. “We’re prepared to integrate from OEMs.”

OEM telematics data is like any other telematics-generated information: There’s a lot of it and it’s not always easy to digest.

“Ensuring a seamless normalization of telematics data presents a significant challenge for most organizations,” said Lou Vella, manager of CIS telematics for ARI. “This is where strategic partners like ARI can play a big role in helping organizations effectively integrate the data and develop goals that will utilize the data for meaningful business improvements.”

That requires access to the events collected, Rossiter said – and an ability to define the metrics that are important. “For a fleet with 10,000 vehicles, it may generate 3 million data points a day. You have to be able to aggregate it in a way that is meaningful for the customer.”

So, it may be helpful for fleets to home in on a few key metrics.

“If they are not clear as to what they’re trying to monitor or measure, they’re likely going to feel overwhelmed,” Daccardi said. “Do they want to know where their assets are? Manage utilization? Focus on safety? Most fleet operators are best served identifying the goals they’re trying to achieve or the challenges they’d like to overcome and then familiarizing themselves with the various telematics solutions – OEM devices and third-party alternatives – that can best help them meet those objectives.”

Assessing OEM Benefits
The benefits of OEM telematics make it at least worth exploring.

“Certain pockets of a fleet will be well-positioned to make use of this technology rather quickly,” Daccardi said. “It may be best to start with a particular challenge or opportunity, solve for that purpose and apply that success to other areas of your fleet. Then look to the spillover benefits that can be applied and roll out the functionality to other groups as needed. You don’t have to bite the whole apple at one time.”

A key question to ask is whether the OEM can tap into vehicle data for older vehicles, which may help with standardization. “If an OEM has an option to look back, that might open new opportunities for fleets,” Rossiter said.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Pros and Cons of OEM Telematics
OEM telematics provide plenty of benefits – but there are shortcomings, too. Here, Eli Rossiter, Donlen director of telematics and safety products; Frank Daccardi, solutions architect, CIS telematics, for ARI; and Lou Vella, manager of CIS telematics for ARI, share their thoughts.

Because the OEM telematics device is installed at the factory, there is no need to take a vehicle out of the field to install equipment. Rossiter noted that this may mean less troubleshooting is required.

Another positive, Daccardi said, is that the cost of the telematics unit typically is included in the vehicle cost.

Vella pointed out that any problems with the equipment may be covered under the OEM warranty.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of OEM telematics is that third-party equipment may still be needed.

“Being able to measure all of the ancillary equipment that you’d typically find in a utility truck – compressors, generators, booms, etc. – plays an important role in the management of the fleet, and OEM units typically cannot deliver this level of visibility,” Vella said.


Do Tire Chains Make Sense for Your Utility Fleet Vehicles?

It wasn’t so long ago that, when the calendar began its march toward winter, fleets dug out tire chains and issued them to each vehicle. When inclement weather eventually arrived, it was up to the operator to install the chains.

In recent years, however, things have changed, both in terms of options for traction devices and improvements in tires themselves. That has Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Virginia-based Fairfax Water, rethinking his approach to the utility’s on-road fleet of 320 assets.

“Let’s say we experience a blizzard,” Collins said during a recent interview with UFP. “[Tire chains] work well for what they’re doing. But around here, like a lot of the mid-Atlantic, heavy snowfall lasts around 24 to 36 hours. You want to use your chains. But then, you’re using a chain on the semi-clear road, which causes damage to the roadway, wears out the chain itself and is an uncomfortable ride.”

Essentially, there are times when tire chains make sense and other times when a different option may work better. So, here are six items to consider before you decide what to use.

1. Are chains actually needed? “A lot of drivers want chains as a security blanket,” Collins said. “But a lot of the tire compounds that we use are very good in snowy and icy conditions.”

Collins explained that newer tread patterns often prevent the need for tire chains. Even heavier vehicles, like dump trucks with tandem axles, often don’t need them, he said.

2. Your state regulations. Most states allow the use of chains, but they often specify that chains must not damage road surfaces.

3. Ease of installation. If the challenge of installation is greater than navigating the driving conditions, tire chains should not be installed.

“Even in the most optimal circumstances, it can take 10 minutes per tire to install [the chains],” said Eric Jones, global sales director for automatic tire chain system Onspot ( “And it can take up to 30 minutes. That is times four every time they go on and come off. Beyond that, you don’t always know when you need a traction device. It may be obvious when you’re leaving a facility, or it may not be until you’re driving down the road and realize that safe operation could require a traction aid.”

4. A positive locking or tensioning system to keep chains taut as they perform. If you do opt for tire chains, this type of system is a critical consideration. “[It’s] as important as the ease of installation,” Collins said. “There is nothing worse when you’re out there with a chain and it decides to come off. It can do all kinds of damage to all kinds of things.”

5. Quality. Regardless of what you choose to go with, “You definitely get what you pay for,” Collins said.

6. Use conditions. In areas like Fairfax, Virginia, there might be a lighter option that works better than tire chains. For example, Collins is a big fan of cable traction devices. “They’re much lighter and kinder to the suspension of the vehicles and the roadways. And they have a much more comfortable ride,” he said.

The cables, he explained, often have a zigzag pattern, covering more of the tire. “I think they’re probably a little bit better on ice.” On the downside, cables are not as durable as chains, Collins said.

Alternatively, an automatic tire chain system like Onspot could be worth the investment, particularly in harsher climates where chains are needed more often. “The drivers never really have to worry about having to get out of the cab and put on tire chains,” Jones said. “When they approach a condition where they need traction, they flip a switch and our system activates. When they are through the conditions, they can disengage the automatic tire chains – all while driving.”

The automatic tire chains typically are installed at the upfitter or by the OEM before the vehicle is put into use. The system can be taken off in summer months or left on permanently. Each tire chain system is specific to the vehicle it’s installed on, Jones said. Onspot is not recommended for off-road situations or on rutty, gravel roads.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


More Alternative Options
Not all traction devices are chains or cables. There are two other options, more widely used in Europe, that are making an entry into the U.S. market.

Snow socks. These are just what they sound like: textile materials that encapsulate tires. A snow sock must be installed during use conditions and removed when conditions improve. Makers such as AutoSock ( manufacture the product for the U.S. market. A Consumer Reports test of such devices found they worked well at providing temporary traction and would be a good fit for a safety kit.

Traction sanders. These sanders are mounted near the drive wheels and dispense a small amount of sand in front of the tires when activated. “You see it a bit in the logging industry in the United States,” according to Eric Jones, Onspot’s global sales director. “Its use is most prevalent in northern Europe.”


New Developments in All-Terrain Vehicles for Utility Fleets

Utility work occurs rain or shine, day or night, and whether we’re in the midst of a pandemic or not. Often, that work takes place on rugged terrain and in other challenging environments. All-terrain vehicles provide solutions to safely move utility crews, tools and equipment in and out of these environments, and ATV manufacturers continue to introduce new and improved products to meet the needs of utility fleets. Here’s a roundup of six products that have been introduced so far in 2020.

What’s New: Smaller CM66 model

Hydratrek has been experimenting with going smaller for the last five years, according to Craig B. Simonton, vice president of sales and marketing for the amphibious ATV manufacturer. “We’ve built at least three prototype versions to find the right combination of power, torque, comfort, stability and reliability in this model. This has resulted in the new CM66 model that features a gasoline engine, seating for four persons and a smaller chassis.”

The CM66 is made in the USA and features many of the same characteristics that customers expect from Hydratrek, Simonton said, including aluminum construction, a hydrostatic drive, a rubber track option and an available water propulsion system.

What’s New: PRO XD gas model with occupant dividers

Polaris PRO XD’s new gas model includes a new occupant divider kit available for the two- and four-seat PRO XD vehicles. The kits “were designed to help minimize direct contact between occupants,” said Trevor Thill, PRO XD product specialist for Polaris Commercial. “Polaris engineered the kits with clear, marine-grade vinyl to be durable for the job site and minimize impact on visibility. Installation and removal are straightforward with no special tools required for the sturdy straps and snaps that secure the occupant divider to the vehicle frame.”

The four-seat kit contains a front and rear divider as well as side-by-side dividers for both the front and rear seats.

What’s New: Telematics option for track carriers

PowerBully track carriers have picked up the telematics/SNOWsat package from the PistenBully product line. The system provides “a real-time view into all aspects of the track carrier and attachments, as well as all other rolling stock monitored by the fleet department,” according to Josh Nelson, PowerBully SNOWsat product manager. It is equipped with an operator login so that the fleet manager can view who was operating the machine and where and when it was used. The feature also provides PowerBully’s technical department the ability to log in and troubleshoot any issues that arise.

“The goal is to maximize uptime,” said Scott Merrill, vice president of PowerBully. When repairs are needed, the fleet can gain greater understanding of the situation and ensure that the technician has the necessary parts, tools and supplies.

What’s New: Vegetation management enhancements

PRINOTH’s 74.8-inch-wide M450 mulching head now comes in two additional sizes: 63 inches and 86 inches. The heads are available for a range of carrier vehicles. With a plug-and-mulch feature, the M450 can be set up on a skid-steer loader. The rotor includes two types of cutting tools: steel knives and carbide teeth. One version includes a hydraulic-driven mulcher for remote-controlled carriers. No matter the size or type of carrier, the head is lightweight for safety improvement and produces finely mulched material. The mulching improvements pair with PRINOTH’s PANTHER T7R crawler carrier, the first to include a Stage V engine.

What’s New: Utility carriers in three sizes

Terramac’s new utility carrier line includes extended front and rear frames and various hydraulic pump-drive configurations. The carriers “make it easier than ever for contractors to traverse rugged utility rights-of-way with the support equipment necessary to complete projects safely and efficiently,” said Jesse Whittaker, Terramac’s director of sales and business development.

The carriers minimize the need to build access roads or lay mats while also providing reduced slippage. They exert low ground pressure and can be equipped with digger derricks, aerial devices, concrete mixers, personnel carriers and more.

UTV International
What’s New: Mounted tip winch for easier pole handling

The design of UTV International’s Achiever tracked vehicles now includes a tip winch on the end of the fiberglass. “This means no more winch lines crossing the insulated section,” according to Doug Shand, project manager for the company. The new winch also maintains the same capacity as the older turret winch.

Shand also said that the design improves safety, eliminating potential path to ground. And there’s an added bonus: “We’ve seen a drastic reduction in replacement ropes being sold as there is a far less chance of pulling the rope into the sheave,” he noted.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Mistakes to Avoid When Spec’ing Cable Reel Trailers

With his crew focused on downtown Austin, Texas, and several substations, size was an important consideration for Bobby Dahl, network construction supervisor for community-owned Austin Energy, when selecting a new cable reel trailer.

The new trailer upgraded outdated equipment, making work safer and more efficient. “We used to pull cable out with a one-ton truck and sit there and roll it up,” Dahl said. “During the daytime, that’s inferior. But we have a lot of cable failures at night, and that made it a safety concern.”

He settled on a self-propelled hub drive cable reel puller from Dejana ( and has a second one on order. It has multiple benefits, Dahl said, including strong pulling torque and an ability to navigate tight alleyways.

“We didn’t have to have a bigger footprint to do the job,” Dahl said, which can mean less traffic control needed on the job site because fewer intersections are blocked.

That maneuverability – and all the benefits it has brought – also was among the top considerations for Dahl when spec’ing a new cable reel trailer.

Greg Markert, Dejana’s business development manager for the utility group, said that one of the key factors when spec’ing such a trailer is to determine where it will be used most often and for what type of cable. “It depends on whether they’re working on underground power lines or overhead power lines and the size of the cable that they’re trying to remove or install,” he said.

Potential Errors
Utility fleet managers may know what they’re looking for in a cable reel trailer, but they might not be aware of some of the pitfalls of spec’ing the equipment. So, what are some of the potential errors that fleets should avoid during the spec’ing process?

For many municipalities, hitting a certain budgetary target is the single most important deciding factor – but that can be short-sighted. “‘Big enough for now’ to save money will cost you more in the future,” said Mark Rapp, product manager, utility and telecom products, at Felling Trailers Inc. ( “If you’re within 10% of the payload capacity, opt for the next heavier one.”

Noel C. Smith, president and senior sales engineer at REELSTRONG Utility Fleet (, said that reel trailers may not get the attention needed when it comes time to spec. “Subsequently, the buyer sometimes obtains a spec from a manufacturer they know and have done business with before,” he said. “This can make it difficult to get a response from multiple manufacturers, which would result in a buyer being fully aware of the vast array of options and unique designs on the market.”

Lack of time also may mean that fleets don’t seek input from field operations managers and lineworkers about their needs and workflow. “It’s best to discuss all options with the field before making a decision,” Smith said.

The Primary Error
“Under-spec’ing” is the primary error that utilities make in purchasing a cable reel trailer, according to Markert. “They may think, ‘We don’t need 40,000 pounds of force. We’ll never need that,’” he said. “But then they have to remove some cable from the middle of Main Street and find that they have to pull up to 40,000 pounds of force.”

Rapp said cable reel trailers come in many sizes, with self-loading reel trailers being a fairly easy spec to write. “Multireel trailers require a bit more thought,” he said. “Reel sizes can vary greatly through the different applications.”

Some trailers can handle overhead work and underground cable, which can make the versatility worth the extra cost, Markert said. Other important considerations include the size of both the cable reel and the winch.

Rapp said the dimensions of the largest reel handled will drive a lot of decisions. The diameter “will determine the length the trailer needs to be,” he noted. “The weight will determine the axle capacity and frame material needed to carry the payload. The width will determine what style of trailer can be used.”

Ultimately, though, it is how the trailer is to be used that should winnow down the choices. “There are many applications for each option that can save time and make the job easier,” Rapp said.

REELSTRONG’s Smith said a fleet’s location is an important spec’ing factor, too. “The salt air in Florida expedites rusting and component deterioration exponentially and requires upgraded options, such as stainless-steel hardware, zinc-plated precision parts and galvanized frames,” he explained. “However, if you’re in Arizona, the latter options aren’t necessary.” Swamps may dictate the need for flotation ties as well.

“The No. 1 thing I bought [the cable reel trailer] for was the safety of it,” Dahl said. “If there’s a great piece of equipment, I want my guys to have it. But ultimately, safety is the major consideration. That’s what it’s all about.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


What’s New with Cable Reel Trailers?
Today’s cable reel trailers offer several new innovations. Mark Rapp, product manager, utility and telecom products, at Felling Trailers Inc.; Noel C. Smith, president and senior sales engineer at REELSTRONG Utility Fleet; and Greg Markert, Dejana’s business development manager for the utility group, showcased some of these recent enhancements.

  • Versatility. Dejana has introduced a unit that can be centered over a manhole, with the ability to slide left or right about half the width of the reel. “It operates just like levelers,” Markert said.
  • Hydraulic drive. Rapp said Felling’s new drive assembly helps in paying out heavy reels and winding up unused or spent cable. The company offers a pinion-driven slew ring. “This eliminates the maintenance and increases the durability over the chain and sprocket drive. It also operates more quietly,” he said.
  • Safety. Though “most reel trailers have not changed for decades,” Smith said, he pointed to pinless reel-securing mechanisms, which prevent dislodging on highways.

Spec’ing ATUVs for Optimal Performance and Safety

Cooperative Energy, which generates and transmits energy to 11 member systems in Mississippi, recently doubled its line crews to four. It’s no surprise, then, that they’ve “had to have more equipment,” according to Wayne Owens, the company’s fleet maintenance supervisor.

Serving 55 of Mississippi’s 82 counties, Cooperative Energy crews must deal with hills, hollows and swampland, which means that it’s crucial to have an all-terrain utility vehicle (ATUV) that’s right for the diverse terrain.

“You’ve got to have a machine that will be adequate to get where you need to get,” Owens said. “The specs have to start with the terrain.”

Scott Merrill, vice president at tracked vehicle manufacturer PowerBully (, agreed that the application drives a lot of spec decisions for ATUVs, which can include wheeled, tracked and amphibious vehicles. “Fording depth is important, too,” he said. “If [the user has] to go through 3- or 4-foot streams and rivers, we make sure that the machine is set up for the ground clearance and the fording depth to get in and out of those situations.”

It’s the planned attachment, however, that plays the most important role, according to Merrill. “The biggest question is, what is the job they need to accomplish and what is the attachment they need for that job?”

Purchasing an ATUV is a collaboration of sorts between users and manufacturers, and that can influence overall vehicle design, said Alain Chabot, product manager for PRINOTH (, which manufactures snow groomers and tracked vehicles for the utility and other markets.

With those starting points in mind, decisions can then be made about whether there is a front or rear extension, track options and winches.

Other Factors to Consider
Given the long life of most ATUVs, if you haven’t purchased one in a few years, you’ll notice some changes. Merrill pointed to U.S. EPA Tier 4 standards for engines as well as Stage V standards, which are being adopted in Europe. Then there are the improvements in telematics. “We have a very large amount of data points that we can capture and provide back to the fleet department, as well as the upfitter,” he said. “We provide this in our standard package, and what we would ask from either of them is to tell us the information that they want, and we can provide it.”

Of course, payload and the gross vehicle weight rating must be factored in to ensure that the planned attachment and payload work together. “You don’t want to end up overselling the customer, where he ends up with a bigger machine than he needs,” Merrill said.

At PRINOTH, options include the type of tracks available on the Panther T16 tracked carrier vehicle; customers can choose between metal embedded solid rubber tracks or the more traditional D-dent system. “We listened to the end users, who requested an alternative to allow more versatility when crossing or traveling on roads, as well as being gentler on shop floors when upfitting or maintaining the vehicles,” said Marie-Élaine Dion, PRINOTH’s marketing manager. “We came up with a rugged and proven solution for durability and performance in the construction business on our crawler dumpers.”

Don’t forget service either, which Owens said is extremely important to factor in when making a final ATUV selection. “You have to take into consideration whether there will be someone to work on the machine if you have an issue.”

Given the complexities of the equipment, engineers and technicians from the product manufacturer may need to be brought in to reduce downtime. “When some specific needs are required by customers, our application engineering team is there to propose solutions to overcome the challenge faced by them,” Chabot said.

Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to ATUVs. Rather, conversations must take place between the manufacturer, upfitter and fleet to arrive at the best machine for the job.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Don’t Forget These Specs
It’s important to strike the right balance between an all-terrain utility vehicle’s safety and performance options. Working with an ATUV manufacturer can help ensure something doesn’t get overlooked – like the following three items, which should be considered even if they don’t end up as part of the fleet’s spec. 

Creature comforts. “The folks in the South would like a pretty robust air-conditioning,” said Scott Merrill, vice president at PowerBully. The cabin should minimize dust and perhaps include a radio or Bluetooth option for traveling long distances to a job site. A comfortable seat with suspension and an overall ergonomic design also is important, he said.

Engine horsepower and an open pad on the pump drive. This enables upfitters to utilize the carrier’s engine for hydraulic power to the attachment, according to Merrill. It might take a conversation between the engineers for the OEM and upfitter, as well as the fleet. “They can really start getting into all the nuances that go into the spec,” he said.

Stabilizers and structure. Rollover protection in an ATUV is paramount. Falling-object protection typically is available as an option. It’s important to ensure that implements installed on the machine do not alter the ROPS certification, said Alain Chabot, product manager for PRINOTH.


Spec’ing Service Van Interiors with Safety in Mind

When it comes to spec’ing service vans, utility fleet managers must consider several factors, including budget, vehicle performance, efficiency, and operator safety and comfort.

Take Alabama Power’s vans, for instance. About half of the 80 units that the company – a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Co. – has on the road are outfitted for general maintenance tasks. The other half are “highly specialized” for meter testing, according to Cody Caver, an engineer in the utility’s fleet services group.

For that group of specialized vans in particular, Caver noted that “the cargo area … becomes a mobile workplace, so the interior must be kept at a reasonable working temperature.” In addition, the cargo area includes fixed windows, rather than panels, so the employee can be aware of their surroundings outside of the vehicle while working.

Alabama Power’s specs for meter testing join others for van safety, Caver said, including “visibility for the driver, visibility of the vehicle to the general public, collision mitigation, ingress/egress and load securement.”

That last item – load securement – can play a significant role in overall safety, said Adam Molberger, senior product manager for truck and van outfitter WEATHER GUARD Van ( But determining the right interior van configuration isn’t necessarily easy work. “Finding the best solutions within the van, cargo area and cab side can be a challenge, which is why it is important to understand what tools are needed and how much space each of those items will require,” Molberger said. “Planning spacing needs, from small screws to large ladders, is crucial to having an effective workspace. It is also important that the various utilities develop the most useful van storage system setup based on their specific needs.”

The Right Fit
Molberger noted that customization – based on the make and model of the van as well as user needs – can help build out a van’s interior. He pointed to his company’s custom van configurator as a solution to create a visual build-out.

When spec’ing a van, Molberger said, utilities must consider how to keep cargo in place during “standard driving movements like turns, starts and stops, and in those unforeseen situations like short stops, bumps, sharp turns and even accidents. Van shelving, drawers, bins, and doors – among other storage solutions – can help keep tools and materials in place.”

But that’s just a starting point. “Utility professionals also face the challenge of protecting the driver from shifting tools and equipment in the cargo area,” Molberger said. “This problem can be solved by installing a van bulkhead, which may be the most important part of the van solution, as it is the true protector of the van user and cab area.”

Some bulkheads also provide additional storage space options to the driver that can result in a safer working environment. “Bulkhead storage solves a huge pain point for end users by creating designated space to store items in the cab instead of users having to stack supplies on unsafe surfaces like dashboards or passenger seats,” Molberger said.

Caver said he has found upfitters willing to work with customers like Alabama Power “to tailor van interior packages around many safety concerns found in the utility industry.” But he noted that a vehicle’s bulkhead “creates a blind spot in certain circumstances that current technology has not fully remedied.”

Beyond the Bulkhead
In addition to bulkhead storage innovations, shelving inside a van can hold tools and materials needed to get the job done. Molberger said the key is creating an area “that provides as much productivity as possible.”

Racks can keep ladders – a risk for shifting cargo and potential injury – out of a van. Beyond the standard top-mounted rack, WEATHER GUARD also offers a drop-down ladder rack, which “eliminates the need for the user to lift the weight of the ladder to the top of the vehicle, which allows the user to minimize back strain because the van rack does the heavy lifting and locks it into place,” Molberger said. “It also helps prevent possible damage to the van caused by loading the ladder.”

When it comes to operator and cargo safety, utilities have plenty of options available. It’s just a matter of spec’ing and finding the right upfit for the specific job. 

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


What’s in a Spec Sheet?
Cody Caver, an engineer in Alabama Power’s fleet services group, offered insight into the items he recommends to improve safety in utility vans. The list includes:

  • A bulkhead. In Alabama Power’s meter testing vans – about half of its van fleet – the bulkhead “includes a door to allow the worker to move to the cab from the cargo area in the event of an unsafe situation outside of the vehicle,” Caver said.
  • Load securement options in the cargo area, such as drawers, shelves with dividers and cargo nets to cover open bins.
  • Strobe lights for 360-degree visibility of the vehicle while at a work site.
  • Collision-mitigation technology, including OEM lane keeping and automatic braking, the Mobileye ( driver assistance system or a combination of both.
  • Blind-spot mitigation technology. Caver noted that Alabama Power’s newer vans are equipped with Backeye 360 from Brigade Electronics (, a camera system that assists drivers when changing lanes, merging into traffic or navigating parking lots.
  • Grab handles for ingress/egress assistance.
  • Backup alarms, parking brake alarms and auxiliary climate control vents in the cargo area. Alabama Power’s meter testing vehicles feature all of these items.
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