A cellphone might today be considered a person’s most prized and necessary possession, particularly on the road. A two-year-old company called NoCell is rolling out a product that shuts down a lot of its use when it’s in the cab of a truck.
The California-based startup company had a booth at the recently-concluded Truckload Carriers Association annual meeting at which it talked about its product, a round cylinder about an inch thick and a few inches in diameter that has a fearsome power: the ability to tell a driver that he or she can’t use certain apps.
Corey Woinarowicz, the director of business development at NoCell —a company whose name pretty much perfectly describes what its product does — had one of the company’s devices on display at its TCA booth. There’s not much to show at a booth; the device needs to be hooked up to a moving truck to do its thing.
But when it is performing, or as Woinarowicz described it, when it is “in policy,” it performs a function that intuitively should help improve truck safety while at the same time potentially raising the hackles of a driver population that has long expressed concern about in-cab privacy: It shuts down all but necessary apps on a phone.
As Woinarowicz described the functions of the NoCell system, the device is plugged into the phone and a connection in the vehicle. When that happens, the tool allows what he called a “whitelist” of apps to continue operating. The list of apps on that whitelist would be submitted by the fleet to NoCell. Anything not on that whitelist shuts down when NoCell is operating.
So a broker’s app would be allowed to continue operating. Necessary personal apps would also be allowed to continue operating; Woinarowicz gave the example of a diabetic driver who needed the services of an app that monitors insulin levels.
Everything else would be shut off once the vehicle hits three miles per hour, Woinarowicz said. “The unauthorized apps are physically removed from the phone,” he said in an interview at the TCA. He then clarified that to say the forbidden apps remain on the phone, “but there is no access to them while the vehicle is in motion.” If a driver doesn’t launch it and then drives without it, the lack of a record of its use can be compared to the driving record of an ELD to show definitively whether NoCell was not used in violation of policy.
If a phone is disconnected while the truck is in motion, the monitoring system of NoCell will “drop a pin” on a map so the company “knows exactly where they picked up the phone,” Woinarowicz said. When a truck stops anywhere, the system will allow all the apps on the phone to be restored after a period of time that is chosen by each individual company user. Data that would have flown to the phone during the shutdown is allowed to populate the phone again and nothing is lost, Woinarowicz added.
Woinarowicz said NoCell does not have a policy on what can and cannot be on the phone. “We give the customer the opportunity to enforce their policy,” he said. But he said voice calls can only be completed by voice activation and Bluetooth.
The initial impetus for NoCell came from a private individual that Woinarowicz declined to identify, except to say he was the full source of the company’s backing. His motivation for investing his money into NoCell, Woinarowicz said, was a horrific California incident that involved teenagers dying in a car wreck that ultimately could be tied back to distracted driving from cell use.
Getting the NoCell product into private vehicles does not involve the same issues as getting into a truck cab. A parent telling a teen that they must use the NoCell product or there’ll be hell to pay can be easily ignored. So Woinarowicz said the plan would be to have commercial auto insurers offer reduced insurance premiums for recorded use of NoCell, since a digital record of its application is generated by its use.
A fleet has the advantage of being able to mandate use of NoCell, in the same way it can now mandate use of in-cab and external cameras for safety monitoring and training. Even though it can be mandated, that doesn’t mean drivers need to like it. But Woinarowicz said he has been pleasantly surprised by the reaction to those drivers who have used it so far.
“We interviewed a lot of drivers and what they say is initially ‘I thought of this as an invasion of my privacy,’” he said. “But then after five to seven days of not having all the buzzes and beeps and dings of all the social media, it removes the stress.”
Woinarowicz identified two commercial users of the NoCell product. One is an elevator company in southern California, McKinley Elevator, which was one the company’s first beta testers. Woinarowicz said the company has about 70 vehicles using NoCell.
The other is truckload carrier Stevens Transport. Cole Stevens, vice president of sales at his namesake company, said NoCell is currently not in full deployment at the company.
At present, he said in a phone interview with FreightWaves, it is used as a “reprimand” when Steven’s in-cab camera technology detected improper cellphone use while driving. “We used it as a coaching tool and we put it on the truck if they had an incident,” he said. “So it’s been a slow rollout.”
Even though Stevens Transport’s use of NoCell has been limited, Stevens described it as “super successful.” But a full rollout has been cautious, he added, because “drivers are tight and we don’t want to rock the boat in full.”
For the ones who have had NoCell installed, they are “very receptive and understand where we are coming from from a safety, behavior and insurance perspective.”
Stevens also Praised another aspect of NoCell: It can pick up the presence of a second phone in the cab. So a driver that plugs in a primary phone but then keeps a second phone at hand with all the normal apps won’t be able to activate that phone, Stevens said. The NoCell technology shuts that one down as well.
While the total number of commercial users with NoCell wasn’t disclosed by Woinarowicz, he said the company’s goal is to have 200,000 commercial drivers using it by the end of 2023.
Installation of the first unit of NoCell is $148 per vehicle per year, Woinarowicz said. Fees beyond that are $108 per year, with the first year fee being higher because it involves hardware installation.
Woinowicz described NoCell as “the cheapest policy they can ever have,” producing a data set that can prove to an insurance company that a carrier’s cellphone policy is actually working and is in place.