According to the NTSB, a forward collision warning system combined with automatic emergency braking could prevent up to 1,700 crashes annually. Yet, implementation of these vital safety systems has been far slower than adoption in passenger vehicles. Consider that 32% of new 2018 and 2019 passenger vehicles offer collision warning systems, with another 63% offering that as an option. The problem lies in whether truck drivers know what to do with these systems or not.
Advanced safety systems save lives, yet that does not mean they are infallible. It is important to realize that you can spec all the safety equipment you want, but if you aren’t backing it up with a comprehensive training program, all the safety reinforcement in the world won’t amount to much. Safety systems are not perfect, and proper training is vital to ensuring motor carriers get the full benefit of the technology they invest so much of their hard-earned time and money in.
Safety technologies help truck drivers operate their vehicles more safely, but many don’t understand what the limitations to these systems are. As one example, many truck drivers likely do not know that automatic braking systems rely on cameras and sensors that can be blocked by dirt, ice or snow. And these are the systems that represent the building blocks of an advanced safety program for any fleet.
While the American Trucking Associations calls for a policy that asks for trucking companies to voluntarily adopt these technologies on their vehicles, some say it isn’t enough. Still, the DOT program in question does aim to offer incentive-based programs to get fleets to expedite the adoption of advanced driver assistance systems. Many argue that adoption simply isn’t happening fast enough.
According to a 2018 survey completed by the ATA’s technical advisory group, which surveyed 500,000 power units, 42% stated they used collision voidance and mitigation systems in 2017. By 2019, that number is expected to rise to 62%. When you break down the exact systems in use, the majority were using advanced cruise control and automatic emergency braking systems, with a minority using collision warning and lane departure systems.
Even more advanced systems appear by the day, from dynamic braking support to lane-assist technologies and advanced camera and sensor systems. In the end, it depends on the type of business a fleet is running. It wouldn’t be prudent to adopt a safety technology just for safety’s sake. Even more, as we mentioned before, a motor carrier should not invest in safety technology as an end-all be-all to addressing fleet safety concerns.
It’s About Culture and Training
It is a given that companies who adopt advanced safety technologies see a significant drop in pre-year claim costs as a percentage of revenue. DOT accident frequency per million miles is also likely to see a big drop when technology is added to the mix. It is important to remember, however, that you cannot just spec safety technology and call it a day.
When you are a trucking company running a hazmat operation, you can’t afford to rely on technology alone, and that is just one example. Trucking companies of all stripes and types must ensure they focus on more than sensors and cameras. Fleets must employ advanced learning and a safety culture across the organization. Technology is great, but there are things that must happen in the background to ensure the technology is successful.
Fleets and truck drivers both need to understand what the technology they are using can and cannot do. Once an investment in safety technology is made, the fleet must then implement the policies, procedures, and training to make sure that safety technology is properly understood. Motor carriers that implement a technology with the blind hope that everything will just work out wind up creating friction with their truck drivers, who get frustrated when they don’t understand what they are working with.
A lack of training creates stress and anxiety, which is the last thing you want to create with your driving staff. Truck drivers must not only understand how the technology works, they must understand the benefits and limitations of the technology as well. They must understand the impact it has on driving behaviors. If the truck begins to brake, a truck driver should understand how an automatic braking system is going to assist. Without the proper training their reaction could completely cancel out the benefits of the technology.
The best way to remember the relationship between safety technology and safety in general is that safety technology enhances safety culture, not the other way around. It does not replace culture. Even more, it is hard to measure incidents that have not happened yet. When you have a proper safety culture in place to help employees understand what they are doing, it becomes easier to measure the effectiveness of your investment.
Fleets can start with proactive policies that supplement their technology efforts. One example is a strict no-cell phone policy within the cab. It could also be self-reporting on incidents if there are no forward or inward-facing cameras on the vehicles. It is important for motor carriers to remember that it is their requirement to put safe equipment on the road. This is especially true for small rucking operators, who can be put out of business with a single accident.
Even more, it is important that the maintenance department also understands how these systems work. It takes adjustment on everyone’s part to understand what a particular buzzer or alert means when it goes off. Furthermore, if a piece of road debris knocks a sensor or camera out of alignment, the maintenance staff needs to know what to look for and how to fix it.
Consider that some studies have shown certain safety systems may not recognize different types of road objects or hazards. There simply is no substitute for human eyesight and intuition. Real-time data on what is happening is important, but people still think much faster than technology.
In the end, the best way to quantify whether your efforts are having an impact is to ask yourself: “How many major accidents did I have before I invested in this equipment and proper training, and how many major accidents do I have now?” The answer to that question will help you properly evaluate your return on investment.
The Best Way to Train
Truck drivers and fleet managers have access to a huge variety of technical solutions to prevent road incidents. Yet the flipside to truck driver training is to ensure your truck drivers do not become too reliant on technology that their defensive driving techniques suffer. When truck drivers lean to heavily on safety technology, rather than trusting their tried-and-true human instincts, fleets may actually see their crashes rise.
Fleet managers must train their truck drivers in a way that helps them understand what the system’s limitations are. Not only is training vital, but there must also be methods in place to track how that training is impacting overall truck driver behavior. This helps reinforce the culture of safety that will ultimately decide how safe your operation is.
To start, fleet managers should consider working with their human resources department to develop a handbook, whether physical or web-based that outlines driver safety and safety technology guidelines. Whether it include safety-management policies and procedures or driver agreements and integrated cab technology, or otherwise, truck drivers and fleet managers must have a resource they can fall back on when they need critical safety information.
Clear expectations must be set around the technology truck drivers will be working with. Once a safety playbook has been created, there must be a process in place about when and where that playbook is accessed and available. Truck drivers using advanced safety technology should be introduced to it early in the onboarding or training process. Fleets should also provide truck drivers with plenty of time to adapt to any changes. People need time to explore and ask questions before they should be expected to become experts.
Truck drivers are the lifeblood of the trucking industry. These enterprising professionals bring a unique set of skills and experience and are an asset to the fleet, one that cannot be ignored. Yet, as new technologies are adopted, truck drivers must be constantly kept in mind. They must be trained to remain on high alert no matter what technology is working alongside them or in the cab. Only by reinforcing defensive driving, providing proper training, and helping truckers understand the limits of technology will fleets ensure safety technologies work hand-in-hand with safety culture.