The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Tips to Expedite Roadside Assistance and Towing Calls

June 2017, by Mike Antich and Eric Gandarilla

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com.

There have been a number of technological innovations across all sectors of the roadside assistance business.

One of the most notable of these innovations is the Digital Dispatch System (DDS) introduced by Road America.

"Phase 1 consisted of integrating with our service providers' dispatch software to automatically send assignments without the need of human interaction. The high success rate of dispatches accepted through DDS incentivized our developers to continue innovating," said Louis Correchet, fleet account manager for Road America in Miami, Fla.

In 2016, Road America introduced Roadside Trax. This system, in conjunction with Digital Dispatch, provides real-time tracking capabilities directly to customers via a link that can be opened on any smartphone.

This link also allows a customer to confirm once a provider is on the scene, resulting in a more accurate measurement of Actual Time of Arrival (ATA).

Once services have been confirmed as completed, the user can then rate the quality of the service with a simple five question survey.

Road America also has a client interface portal in the pipeline. This portal will allow fleet managers to monitor their events from their computer, smartphone, or tablet. Integration will allow fleet management companies access to proprietary applications that will seamlessly show real-time information on all live cases.

Top 5 Roadside Incidents

Road America's network is composed of more than 25,000 independent service providers (ISP).

On any given day, ISPs respond to various types of roadside assistance calls, the type five roadside incidents, however, are:

  1. Jump starts
  2. Flat tires
  3. Winch outs
  4. Lockouts
  5. Fuel outs

In 2016, these top five roadside incidents serviced by Road America, comprised roughly 94% of all services dispatched by its call center.

It might not come as a surprise, but the majority of these incidents were towing related.

The top five tow issues in 2016 were related to:

  1. Engine shutdown issues related to emission and computer malfunctions. On the commercial fleet side, derate and regen issues are the cause for 26% of tow service requests.
  2. Fuel supply issues related to pump, turbo, sensor, or computer issues.
  3. Drivetrain malfunctions.
  4. Impact incidents involving single vehicle, multiple vehicles and roadway debris strikes causing damage.
  5. No spare tire in vehicles when a flat occurs.

In order to minimize downtime and ensure drivers are off the road as quickly as possible, most FMCs require only tow-capable providers to be sent out to assist a disabled vehicle. This way, if a jumpstart, tire change or lock out is unsuccessful, the vehicle can be towed to a qualified facility for repairs.

Ways to Minimize Roadside Incidents

There are recommendations for fleet drivers to minimize roadside incidents.

Studies have shown 25% to 30% of all roadway collisions are related to drivers being distracted. That is more than 4,000 crashes daily. The desire to be as productive as possible and maximize the time spent in transit is the leading cause of accidents.

Drivers should refrain from using their mobile devices to text, search for addresses or respond/read emails while driving their vehicles. Many vehicles now have navigation systems built in and Bluetooth technology to reduce the need to use a handheld device while in the vehicle.

Another recommendation is weather awareness, which is essential to minimize roadside events. Drivers who travel long distances as a part of their daily commute need not only be aware of the weather conditions in their town, but along the entirety of their route.

"Many of the disabled drivers that we service in these winter months require roadside assistances due to preventable occurrences. Checking local news and weather advisories for roadway conditions would greatly minimize the number of disablements and cost associated with an accident," said Correchet.

Minimizing roadside incidents can also be as simple as monitoring on board diagnostics to eliminate breakdowns. Something as simple as low coolant can trigger an engine shutdown. In the same vein, staying current with on routine maintenance for items such as wiper blades, washer fluid and tires will also help minimize roadside incidents.

Drivers should also practice good driving habits, like paying attention to the road and avoiding "shadow driving," the practice of vehicles running close together. In situations where the lead driver is involved in an incident, many times the "shadows" become involved as well. Additionally, drivers should drive to the condition of the road surface. The majority of winch outs occur when a driver enters an unstable section of road. For example, snow can mask underlying road conditions, so snow-paved roads should be approached with caution.

Even taking smaller precautions, like confirming you have the necessary tools for spare installs, putting a spare key in a magnetic box outside the vehicle, or keeping an owner's manual or ERS contact info close at hand can help minimize roadside incidents.

Expediting Roadside Assistance

When calling for roadside assistance, there are ways to expedite assistance by fleet drivers providing the necessary information to a dispatcher.

In order to expedite a service request it is imperative that drivers have their service card number and a general understanding of their location.

"We employ the use of an automated locator service that will pin point a driver's basic location (city, state and zip code)," said Correchet. "While we can locate a radial location of a driver based on their cellphone, knowing which highway or street they are located on, direction traveling on said highway and any recognizable landmark or cross street will expedite the arrival of our service provider."

In addition to a service card number and general understanding of their surrounding location, drivers should also be ready to provide the following information to a dispatcher in order to expedite roadside assistance:

  1. Complete vehicle info. This includes year, make, model, VIN and body style. And to advise if you have special body modifications or a trailer involved.
  2. Information regarding whether you have specialized or Haz Mat cargo on board.
  3. Detailed description of the problem with the vehicle.
  4. The number of passengers in vehicle if applicable. Also, any special needs such as a wheelchair transport provision.  
  5. A good contact number and monitor for return calls from the ERS provider or their service tech.

It is important to make drivers aware of safety recommendations when their company vehicle is disabled on the side of the highway.

Driver's should always attempt, when possible, to pull over to the right side of the road to avoid blocking traffic.

Turn on hazard lights and if traffic permits, exit their vehicle on the right (passenger) side to place warning triangles (or flares in the evening or night). If drivers feel unsafe, they should remain in the vehicle at all times with their seat belt on and call local authorities.

Other Towing Considerations

INA Towing Network is one such company towing company that performs all asset types of road-service/towing, but focus is on medium- and heavy-duty assets.

INA Towing employs interactive technology linking drivers, roadside assistance providers, and dispatch. This involves locating vehicle/driver through technology, ETA for dispatch, and ETA to arrival on scene, etc.

INA is a network comprised of elite tow providers that offer a full complement of equipment, trained personnel, professional operating standards and compliance. Network towers service a specific regional grid and are responsible for all service requests in that grid. Providers are held to INA's performance metric and a scorecard record including complete service data is logged and monitored.

"We view these providers as strategic partners in delivering our customer service commitment," said Gaynell Rochester, president & CEO of INA Towing Network, LLC in Florence, Ky. Consistent between INA and Road America are the top reasons for roadside assistance (besides tows): jump starts and changing flat tires. This speaks to the importance of adhering to PM schedules and conducting regular tire rotations and inspections.

"In 2016, INA diversified our business divisions with INA Towing and ERS emerging as the primary service offering," said Rochester.

A current focus of INA is on its technology platforms to advance customer service efficiency and provide transparency into its key performance metrics. INA moved into a state-of-the-art operations center equipped with redundant communication systems designed to handle service request seamlessly, assuring uninterrupted delivery.

"Our expanded team of highly trained specialists employs a detailed, analytic approach to provide the best options for customers during breakdown events. The ultimate goal is 'Simplified Solutions, Superior Service' — the motto for the company," said Rochester.

In 2017, the company plans to develop interactive technology to include its specialists, customers, drivers and vendors in a communications loop throughout a service event.

"We are evaluating several app and integrated options that enable real time information flow — as keeping parties informed, rapidly resolving the breakdown and reducing downtime, impact driver satisfaction and retention," said Rochester. "In a time where driver hire and retention has become critical to our customers' business operations, improving driver experience is as important as providing a cost-effective service."

Keeping Drivers Safe

Uncontrollable factors sometimes delay the arrival of a roadside provider. According to Road America, its providers are driven with a sense of urgency to assist customers in a timely and efficient manner. But, due to this urgency, police calls and accidents take priority over a customer disabled at a residence or a truck stop.

However, the same situations that have led to drivers becoming disabled can also be problematic for Road America's providers.

"Weather-related delays are common in winter months as our providers' trucks can become inoperable due to snow, ice and sleet," said Correchet. However, Road America's providers have a set window of time to get past any obstacles preventing them from arriving to their destination. If that window of time is exceeded, they will contact Road America's dispatch center to locate an alternate provider.

"This KPI, along with ETA adherence, is strictly measured and one of the main factors that impacts a provider's priority within our network," the company stated.

And, just as there are sometimes uncontrollable factors that delay the arrival of a roadside provider, there are also controllable factors that sometimes prevent the timely arrival of roadside providers.

These include:

  1. Incorrect location given to service provider.
  2. Driver relocating the disabled vehicle and not advising the service provider. Sometimes a vehicle may start after being disabled and the driver moves to a different location.
  3. Failure of driver to answer calls or texts from service provider or ERS company. Sometimes additional information may be required. If the driver does not answer communications, service response can be delayed.
  4. Traffic congestion in the travel route to the disabled vehicle. This, is again, where the driver monitoring their phone is important so they can be advised of any delays.

During this time that drivers are stranded, whether it's due to controllable or uncontrollable factors, it's essential that they take steps to stay safe.

One thing that drivers can do to stay safe is to avoid blocking lanes of travel and get their vehicle to a safe resting location if possible. They should also engage their emergency flasher and deploy triangles or cones if available. Additionally, it's essential that the driver put on his or her safety vest before exiting the vehicle. If possible, always re-enter a vehicle on the passenger side.

When calling in for service, alert the agent of any safety concerns or special needs. And, immediately contact your service provider if law enforcement or another agency responds and request arrival time of your ERS company.

Lastly, make sure the ERS company that arrives is the same as identified by your service provider. If not, you should call your service provider to confirm.

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