In the battle to win over the hearts and minds of truck drivers across the country, cab designers and manufacturers increasingly have truck drivers on the mind. With all the technological disruption happening in trucking today, one of the least-talked-about areas is that of truck driver comfort in the cab. Yet, it is also one of the most important factors where truck driver job satisfaction and retention is concerned.
High-volume manufacturers aim to create a quiet, comfortable space for their truck drivers; one that feels less like a commercial motor vehicle and more like home. With OEMs increasingly paying attention to what those operating their vehicles care about, what should fleets expect from this changed landscape?
Cab Interior Design Evolves
While a lot of the active industry chatter has surrounded smart roads and highways, the fact is truck drivers will be occupying a necessary space in the cab for a long time to come. So, why not try to make them as comfortable as possible? Does the success of a motor carrier not rest on hard-working men and women who keep the wheels turning day-in and day-out?
To operate a fleet focused on safety and efficiency, motor carriers need to make sure their operators are feeling rested, safe, and prepared for anything work on the road can throw at them. And with the trucking employment shortage not easing any time soon, it is every bit harder to find and retain qualified trucking professionals. As a result, a focus on their comfort and job satisfaction is firmly in most motor carrier’s crosshairs.
That’s why – although you hear mostly about advanced safety tech and telematics – technological solutions to truck driver comfort have taken center stage. If you take a big-picture look at some of the advancements, many of the most talked-about developments are in the area of truck driver comfort and productivity.
Obviously, a focus on truck driver comfort is not a brave new idea. Trucking companies tuned into the needs of their fleet will have had operator contentment in the cab on their mind since day one. What has changed is the way trucking companies can now address those needs. New methods of approaching the subject – whether created in an OEM lab or on a university campus – seem to appear by the day. And while not every potential cab comfort breakthrough is a game-changer, it is fascinating to watch as a mix of technologies combine to create interesting new variations in cab design and truck layout. As a result, amenities are available to modern truck drivers that would have been pure flights of fancy even five or ten years ago.
If fleets want to eliminate truck driver turnover concerns, fleets must put their money where their marketing mouth is. If you go through most of truck driver exit interviews at any one trucking company, whether large or small, you will most often find they leave a motor carrier to move on to greener pastures (SEE: better treatment). With truck driver recruitment, training, and background checks not getting any cheaper, losing just one truck driver, let alone many, can be crippling to a motor carrier’s operations.
Therefore, real benefits come from addressing operator comfort. Considering how much time truckers spend in the cab, utilizing it as the retention device be should be a no-brainer.
What Are Fleets Doing?
Another compounding factor facing modern fleet HR professionals is the looming retirement avalanche just on the horizon. Each passing year, as more and more long-time, professional truck drivers retire, fleets are faced with a tough choice. Average truck driver turnover costs can run over $8,000 when you combine one employee’s exit with the costs associated with attracting and hiring another. Even worse, when a motor carrier doesn’t have enough operators for their vehicles, they lose business. What motor carrier would be okay with those kinds of unmitigated expenses? Not many.
Therefore, the driver-centric tractor cab is getting so much renewed attention. Motor carriers worth their salt simply cannot afford to turn away business just because they aren’t providing an appealing level of comfort for their truck drivers. This is where innovative OEMs enter the picture.
Take Kenworth as one example. One of their recent designs proudly wears its driver-centric design on its sleeve. As Kenworth marketing manager Kurt Swihart recently stated in an interview, Kenworth’s aim was “to create the most driver-friendly truck in the industry.”
He went on to share that Kenworth’s design and development process actively included truck drivers, maintenance managers, safety advisors, and more. All told, Kenworth polled 75 fleets to figure out the best way to create the ultimate combination of safety, performance, and operator comfort.
In referencing what their customers are looking for, Swihart goes on to explain that they are purchasing specific models “to enhance both their productivity and driver retention rates” and how truck drivers have decided to put off retirement because they have no problems continuing to work thanks to the comforts provided to them in the cab.
Another OEM with a focus on the trucker is Freightliner, who specifically touted this focus in their recent unveiling of the Cascadia design. Their stated goal was to provide professional truck drivers with a safe, comfortable and productive “workspace.” So, how did they do it?
First, they came to the critical realization that truck driver comfort isn’t only about what’s going on in the cab. Of course, the design of the cab is very important, but it is also necessary to consider what is going on under the hood. Features like automated manual transmissions go a long way in improving truck driver satisfaction. They also make it much easier for newer truck drivers to safely operate the vehicle.
Other key considerations included things like storage space and environmental functionality. Truck drivers need food, entertainment, and comfortable rest. Putting those at the top of their truck design wishlist, Freightliner came up with innovations like their optional “Driver’s Loft” feature, which has opposing seats and a foldaway dinette. For times when a good, quality rest is needed, nothing says “we care about your comfort” more than a full-size Murphy bed.
Both trucking companies and OEMs have come to the realization that a surefire way to make truck driving an appealing career choice is to offer appealing features. When truck drivers have equipment at their disposal that sets them apart from the competition and provides a high level of comfort, they are generally far more willing to stick around and give the success of their motor carrier their all.
A Less Stressful Cab is a Safer Cab
While truck driver creature comforts are important, having a truly driver-centric cab means more than just a comfortable bed. As we mentioned before, the cab is a workspace; a hybrid combination of office, home, and vehicle.
When a truck driver is operating an 80,000-pound piece of equipment at highway speeds, safety always takes top priority. OEMs that truly have truck driver comfort in mind also design for safety. They understand that a motor carrier’s trucks should be effective selling points. Offering a safe ride is most definitely one.
As roads become more congested and roadside distractions multiply by the mile, truck drivers need effective ways to help them drown out the noise and focus on the job at hand. Does the cab’s layout put essential truck driver buttons, knobs, and functions within easy reach? Are they ergonomically designed for increased safety?
Controls are an oft-overlooked, but no less critical, to effective truck driver comfort and safety. Providing controls that are designed intuitively and, in a fashion that improves alertness and response time, provides an excellent selling point to potential new recruits. It also goes far to making your current truck drivers even more happy and motivated.
Gone are the days where physical controls are large, cumbersome, and require complicated connections or masses of wires. Today’s hi-tech digital instrumentation offers a new level of convenience, simplicity, and ease of use. Intuitive designs incorporate elements that put controls in easy reach. Driver-friendly gauge and switch layouts shouldn’t be overlooked for other, more obvious amenities.
For enhanced truck driver comfort combined with added safety, OEMs must design with these factors in mind. Both active and passive safety additions not only show your fleet’s attention to detail and commitment to truck driver comfort and wellbeing, but they go a long way in helping you stand out from the crowd. In a competitive marketplace, motor carriers need all the tools they can get to make themselves more appealing to potential customers and employees alike.
This is such a broad and potential-packed topic we could fill another page or two. Whether it be sound dampening technologies, advanced lighting features, or state-of-the-art ergonomic design, manufacturing cabs that put truck driver comfort and safety above all else has become the next big thing in trucking technology and innovation.
So, good news truckers, not only are robots a long way off from taking over your job, but the trucks you spend so much of your time in are getting a lot better at making you comfortable. What’s not to like about that?