Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
A guide for practitioners!

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Security of freight is increasingly important to the freight and commercial vehicles sector – and ITS has a part to play. Europe’s economy lost approximately €9 billion as a result of road freight thefts in 2007. The equivalent figure for the United States of America was approximately $30 billion. Whilst some of this is due to a lack of secure lorry parking facilities the risk of theft is to some extent mitigated by the improving nature of technology.

Asset tracking enables operators and fleet managers to be far more aware of the location and current circumstances of their fleet and assets. Tracking can either be active geo-locational broadcasting or more passive read-only technology. Once installed, provided that the system is not disabled (many are hard-wired into engines and computers) assets or loads can be traced in the event of a vehicle being stolen.

If a thief cannot be deterred through well-layered, complementary security measures, more active defence is often required. Multi-level security systems and remote disabling arrangements have proved particularly useful here. It is now possible for central controllers or operators to be alerted and to use a “kill switch”, immobilising the vehicle, so preventing the theft from continuing any further.

Together these approaches are helping to boost freight and asset security. The field is one that is constantly evolving as lawbreakers seek new ways to evade security systems.


The widespread roll out of location based ITS technologies has led to improvements in asset tracking. These systems are similar to those that can be found on containers or individual loads (See Terminal Processing and End-to-End Asset Tracking) but the tracking usually involves the vehicle or its components such as trailers and tractor units. The ability to track location means that it is possible to better utilise these assets as well as ensuring that they are much harder to “lose”. The systems can normally be divided into two types – GPS On-board tracking systems and RFID passive tracking.


GPS systems, often powered by batteries or a solar panel, broadcast the location of the tracking unit back to a central location. This enables the location of any given tractor unit or trailer to be constantly monitored.


(See Enabling Technologies) RFID tags are scanned when triggered by the tag reader and transmit their information to the back office systems. They are not constantly broadcasting the data as the majority of RFID is passive. Some systems are able to communicate their location for up to 2,000m in good conditions. Passive systems are mainly used in asset tracking - which are read when they pass through important “gateway” points – for example when being loaded on to a ship, entering a store yard, or leaving a depot. This enables tracking of the asset since its last known location can be stored and accessed when required to determine its status - whether it is “en-route” or awaiting dispatch.

Generally speaking, GPS devices are installed in higher value units (such as tractors) whilst RFID applications are used for containers or low-value assets.


Security systems traditionally have four dimensions - deterrence, delay, detection and response. Technology devices and systems such as CCTV are already making a contribution to improving security but there are also some unique ITS solutions which help to prevent theft in the transport sector through tracking of assets and load monitoring. Systems can be engineered so that if the load is opened or tampered with or if it deviates from a pre-arranged course or route – an alarm can be raised with the relevant authorities and operators. Some systems also include remote disabling devices.

Most security systems include several layers of security which interact to support each other and make the load more secure. For instance vehicles that are locked from the outside and secured in a fenced parking lot monitored by CCTV might also have a tamper seal on the load. Combining such systems is likely to deter thieves, delay them, help detect their identity and also assist in calling for a response from the emergency services should they persist.


Remote vehicle disabling systems allow operators or drivers remotely (outside of the vehicle) to prevent the engine from starting or the vehicle from moving - or to stop a vehicle if required. A trigger for this intervention would be the theft of a vehicle or a situation where the vehicle is no longer in the control of the driver.

Remote vehicle disabling systems typically rely on wireless communication systems, integrated with the on-board computers of the vehicle. Authorised users can, if they need, disable the vehicle to ensure the safety of any personnel on board or the security of any freight, or even the vehicle itself. Remote disabling is often the last line of defence in a multi-layer security system. It is important that the vehicle is stopped in a controlled and safe manner which is normally achieved through turning turning off the engine and allowing it to drift to a halt. Safer systems are generally preferred – these usually involve:

  • automatic downshifting through the gearbox and then turning off the engine once speed has been reduced
  • or bleeding air from the braking system of larger vehicles to gradually bring on the brakes whilst simultaneously disengaging the throttle

Vehicle disabling systems are often linked to door or cargo sensors, trailer connection or disconnection systems or electronic cargo seals. Should any of these register a pred-defined reading, the vehicle disabling system will be instigated and a report sent by wireless or digital media, back to the operator. This is often used on refrigerated vehicles, where the vehicle is not allowed to start all conditions for the load are within acceptable parameters (such as coolant levels in the refrigeration unit).

Geo-fencing is a further development of this concept. Here, a distance-based ring is set (say, with a 5 mile radius of a depot) and the alert system is only activated if the vehicles goes beyond this radius (the geo-fence). This can be extended to enforce a planned route or corridor. It allows trucks to take a minor diversion without activating the immobiliser – for example to be taken for attention at a local garage or moved for loading.


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