With the U.S. economy mired in a prolonged slump, the road to profitability is becoming anever steeper climb for many trucking companies.

As a result, the trucking industry increasingly is turning onto the path of computers and computer software in an effort to achieve greater productivity.Today computer software is available to handle everything from drug testing and maintenance scheduling, to dispatching and fuel tax reporting.

But for a theoretically unregulated industry, motor freight carriers still have a plethora of regulations with which they must comply.

One of the most cumbersome is the U.S. Department of Transportation regulation (FMCSR, Section 391.5) that requires truck drivers to keep a log of their activities, including the number of miles and hours they drive every day and how much time they spend resting.

Burden Rests With Truckers

Bradley S. Thompson, manager, technology services, with Cleveland-based Leaseway Transportation Corp., said the burden for notifying the DOT of driver violations is on the carrier, which must submit reports to the agency based upon the logs.

The DOT periodically conducts random audits of drivers' logs to determine their accuracy, he added.

"Checking the logs is very labor intensive. A clerk can only check about 150 logs per day by hand," Mr. Thompson said.

Several companies, including Leaseway's Leaseway Technology Corp., market log analysis programs.

Leaseway's program, LogAssist, eliminates the need for keying the log data into the computer by hand, utilizing special log forms that can be read by the computer's scanner.

LogAssist produces reports on the number of hours each driver has worked and when the driver has additional driving time available.

Originally developed for its own trucking operations, Leaseway now markets the package commercially.

Another company producing driver-log software is J.J. Keller & Associates Inc., Neenah, Ill.

Like Leaseway's product, Keller's Log Checker II analyzes the drivers' logs and identifies violations of DOT regulations. It is also designed to run on IBM and IBM clones.

Log Checker II automatically generates documents, including driver summary reports, driver compliance notification and a summary of DOT violations. The product can audit the logs of up to 500 drivers.

Tracking Productivity

Donald R. Groves, safety director with Greeneville, Tenn.-based Land-Air Transport Inc., said the new generation of computer software that analyzes logs of the company's 700 drivers makes life a lot easier.

Although trucking is a business where many drivers still consider themselves knights of the road, several companies are producing software that attempts to quantify a truck driver's productivity.

For example, Analysis Inc., Worth, Ill., is producing a program it calls Driver Rater.

Also written for IBM microcomputers and compatibles, Driver Rater measures a driver's performance by analyzing a series of variables, including trip miles, hours worked and the quantity of cargo handled.

Robert P. Burkey, president of Analysis Inc., said that the product originated in a program written for a slide rule in the days before computers were commonly available.

"The data is converted into a rating which can be compared with those of other employees within the same work unit," Mr. Burkey said.

Industrial Computer Systems, based in Evergreen, Colo., publishes a comparable program it calls Driver Productivity.

But be forewarned. Increasing the efficiency of trucking operations doesn't come cheap. Some software packages can cost as much as $25,000 each.