McKenzie Tank Line tank trailer

McKenzie Tank Lines relishes role as early-adopter of vehicle safety technologies

Dec. 5, 2015
AMONG tank truck carriers, McKenzie Tank Lines Inc stands out as an early-adopter of safety-related truck technology. It is a practice that has been paying dividends for years.

AMONG tank truck carriers, McKenzie Tank Lines Inc stands out as an early-adopter of safety-related truck technology. It is a practice that has been paying dividends for years.

Top McKenzie Tank Lines executives clearly believe that the focus on identifying and incorporating the best in new safety technology has positioned the Tallahassee, Florida-based company as an elite tank truck carrier. It is a distinction that the carrier promotes to customers, truck drivers, and others.

“During the past 10 years, we have been a leader in the implementation of new ‘accidence avoidance technology’ and have seen dramatic improvements,” says Jim Shaeffer, McKenzie Tank Lines president and chief executive officer. “Some of the technologies we run include Bendix electronic stability control systems, collision warning and avoidance, and collision mitigation braking. Our tractors have Omnitracs satellite communication systems that send real-time notifications to company management in the event of hard braking or stability control events.

“However, we don’t adopt a technology just because it is new, and it isn’t our goal simply to be an early adopter. We look for technologies that will help make us safer and better at what we do. State-of-the-art technology and constant training give our driver associates the tools they need to transport each shipment with the utmost safety and professionalism.”

Critical factor

Safe transportation is critical for a tank truck carrier that specializes in transporting a wide range of liquid and dry bulk cargoes that include chemicals, propane, foodgrade, and petroleum products. Founded in 1944 as a fuel transporter with two tank trailers, McKenzie Tank Lines has grown into a major tank truck carrier serving customers throughout the United States and portions of Canada and Mexico.

Currently, the company’s 275 tractors and more than 680 trailers operate from 20 terminals in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and South Carolina. McKenzie Tank Lines employs 234 drivers, more than 43% of whom have been with the carriers for at least 10 years.

“Many of the products we haul are classified as hazardous materials, and we want to ensure they are transported in the safest possible manner,” says Frederick M Dyson, McKenzie Tank Lines chief operating officer. “We want to make sure every shipment reaches its destination without incident.

New tractor purchases include Mack Pinnacle daycabs.

“We believe the only way to do business is to operate safely, and our management team operates as a single unit to achieve that goal. Safety is profitable because it is a group effort at this company.

“In many cases, we let the maintenance department take the lead on the technology side to determine what is best for our company. They have the freedom to test and study virtually any technology that shows the potential for improving vehicle safety.”

DOT program

That willingness to experiment with emerging commercial truck technologies earned McKenzie Tank Lines an opportunity to participate in the Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Vehicle Initiative that was authorized in 1998 as a public/private partnership. The program focused on accelerating the development and commercialization of vehicle-based and infrastructure-cooperative driver assistance products that warn drivers of dangerous situations, recommend actions, and even assume partial control of vehicles to avoid collisions.

To the right of the Pre-Pass transponder is a video camera that is part of the Bendix Safety Direct System.

McKenzie Tank Lines participated in the commercial vehicle portion, a 36-vehicle/$2.4 million program set up as a cost-share co-operative arrangement. The program roughly ran from 2000-2002, and program participants included:

• Mack Partnership

• Federal Highway Administration

• Battelle as an independent evaluator

• Multiple state departments of transportation

The Mack Partnership consisted of:

• Mack Trucks Inc

• McKenzie Tank Lines

• VES—Vehicle Enhancement Systems

• XATA Corporation

• RBC—Richard Bishop Consulting

• Assistware Technologies

Selected areas of investigation for the Partnership were:

In-cab technology includes Base Engineering’s tractor security system and the Omnitracs on-board computer.

• Lane departure warning systems that notify the driver when a single-vehicle road departure is imminent. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that one in five crashes is reported as a single-vehicle roadway departure.

• The Trucker Advisory System operating with data provided by 13 states to identify high-risk hazards that could be encountered by drivers (construction zones, high rollover risk, tight merge and weave areas, congested traffic areas, and more). The system was to provide advance notification to drivers based upon GPS locations of the vehicle and the hazard.

• Automatic collision notification technology intended to identify sudden deceleration/acceleration events followed by 0 miles per hour velocity or triggering rollover sensors to activate event notification. The notifications were sent via email to McKenzie Tank Lines’ central dispatch, safety department, and emergency response team.

Other technologies on the participating vehicles included the Eaton Vorad forward collision warning system with side sensors and on-board satellite communications. Other research teams were testing roll stability control and rear-end collision warning systems.

System observations

Jim Kennedy, McKenzie Tank lines vice-president of maintenance, oversaw the carrier’s involvement in the IVI program. He offers the following observations highlighting the success of the effort.

“This program review paints a clear picture of how long ago these types of technology existed and were proven as operational and viable technologies to avoid accidents and save lives,” he says. “Fast forward to today (15 years later) and none of these technologies are standard equipment on today’s vehicles. All are customer options.

“There are fleets that have been early adopters of these and other technologies and managers of these fleets who have the strong belief that these safety technologies have a payback associated with them that is spread out over time, even if that payback is difficult to quantify up front. In some cases it is just the ‘right thing to do.’ We do that even though this strong belief of what is right places those of us on the “bleeding edge” at a short-term competitive disadvantage with the additional cost of said technologies. Adding insult to injury, making matters worse, is if those technologies are OEM (original equipment manufacturer) installed as opposed to retrofitted there is the additional FET (Federal Excise Tax) tacked on.

“In August 2002 there was an FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) Expert Panel Workshop for Onboard Safety Technologies in Commercial Motor Vehicles held in Washington DC. The primary technology being focused on back then was the RA&C (roll advisor & control), today’s version of RSC (roll stability control)/ESC (electronic stability control). Participants represented original equipment manufacturers, vendors, drivers, universities, law enforcement, insurance, accident investigators, and DOT. The vocal opinion of most every stakeholder at this meeting was that of mandating the technology.”

Bleeding edge

For McKenzie Tank Lines, this was no abstract experiment. As one of those “bleeding edge” early adopters, the carrier has incorporated many emerging technologies into its standard fleet specification, and that includes many of the systems from the IVI test program.

The tank truck carrier was an early-adopter of air-disc brakes in 1979, the first time they were offered to the trucking industry. Automatic slack adjusters were adopted by the fleet in 1984, followed by satellite tracking and communications in 1996, LED lighting in 1997, anti-lock braking in 1998, and automatic traction control and theft deterrence in 2000.

Prompted by a multiple-tractor theft, the carrier made the theft deterrence system from Base Engineering standard equipment on the tractor fleet. The system is tied to the tractor brake system and requires a coded keypad entry to enable the driver to start the vehicle.

The need for better vehicle security, also prompted McKenzie Tank Lines to specify Omnitracs T210 TrailerTraks units on certain tank trailers. The battery-powered/solar system makes it possible to constantly monitor trailer location, verify the tractor connected to the trailer, and provide geofencing capabilities.

Electronic logs

Omnitracs electronic driver logs became standard for the fleet in 2004, and critical event reports were added to the system in 2009. “Electronic logging has become a great tool for us,” Dyson says. “Our drivers are responsible for less recordkeeping, and their logs are much more accurate. Local and shorthaul drivers have gained two to three hours per week with the electronic logs. ELDs also give us more data to use in rate discussions with our customers.”

Iteris Autovue lane departure technology was added to the fleet spec in 2005. The system has since been acquired by Bendix and is part of a full Bendix package on new tractors that includes Bendix Wingman Advanced and Bendix Safety Direct Portal.

The newest Mack daycabs and Volvo sleeper tractors in the fleet were specified with the Bendix ABS8 platform, the Bendix SmartTire system for monitoring tractor tire pressure and temperature, and Truck-Lite LED headlights. Truck-Lite improved the LED headlights by flattening and widening the beam.

“Drivers report that these headlights provide better visibility,” Kennedy says. “We’re seeing longer life and fewer headlight citations stemming from roadside inspections.”

Tractors and trailers

The carrier is buying roughly 44 new tractors annually, and the latest drivetrain spec calls for Volvo sleeper tractors with 425-horsepower D13 engines, I-Shift automated transmissions, and Meritor axle carriers with dual-track axles. Mack Pinnacle daycabs have MP8 engines, mDrive automated transmissions, and the Meritor drive tandem.

“The Meritor axle system fits our operation,” Kennedy says. “It offers lower weight and it very reliable with a strong warranty. These axles are delivering in excess of 650,000 to 700,000 miles of trouble-free performance.”

McKenzie Tank Lines runs a stainless steel insulated and uninsulated chemical tankers from a variety of builders. Many of the older chemical tankers were built by Terminal Service Co, a sister company to McKenzie Tank Lines. Newer chemical tankers have been supplied by Brenner, Comptank, Polar, and Tremcar.

The typical stainless steel general chemical tanker is the fleet has a 7,200-gallon capacity. The carrier also runs 9,200-gallon, five-compartment Polar and Heil petroleum trailers and 4,200-gallon acid trailers.

Chemical tanker hardware includes Betts and Dixon Bayco valves, Betts domelids, Girard pressure/vacuum relief vents, and Roper and Ranger product pumps. The petroleum trailers have bottom loading systems from Civacon and Dixon Bayco/Betts. Many of the petroleum trailers also have Blackmer product pumps.

Meritor axles and suspensions are standard equipment for the trailers. It wasn’t long after Pressure Systems International developed its tire inflation management system that McKenzie Tank Lines made it standard equipment on the tank trailer fleet.

“Over the years, we have developed equipment specifications that we believe give us on of the safest tank fleets on the road today,” Shaeffer says. “Our leading edge accident-prevention technologies are paying dividends. We reduced rollovers by 85% since 2003, with just one in the past five years and none last year. We had just 10 rear-end collision in the past five years and none last year. We are absolutely convinced that these technologies really make a difference.”    ♦

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.