Truck drivers have had to adapt to more new onboard technology than ever in recent years, updates that originally saw a lot of hesitancy from the truckers themselves. Now, as drivers are more often seeing the benefits of technology like safety alert systems, they have embraced these changes.
Driver assistance systems (ADAS) tech has been able to help drivers avoid many kinds of crashes–whether they occur as a result of a driver’s own behavior or outside circumstances. Thousands of commercial vehicles are now equipped with such technology, which involves aspects like blind-spot detection and warning, rollover prevention, active braking, radar-enabled lane-keeping assist, variable-power-assisted steering, active radar-enabled forward collision mitigation, and side-of-truck displays made by video as opposed to having to use side mirrors.
Keeping up with these constant changes and upgrades has been tricky, explained executive vice president of TFI International, Greg Orr.
“Our drivers continue to adapt to new technology, which we support with training and education,” he explained. “It’s a process. You always have a break-in period and familiarity time, but once [drivers] get used to the technology, understand and incorporate it into their skill set, they realize it helps make them better. The majority would tell you that.”
Still, many drivers have maintained skepticism as more and more driver-assist tech comes into play, which Orr notes is really “rooted in experience.”
“For the driver,” he said, “any new system has to prove, without a doubt, two things: It does not diminish or get in the way of my ability to control and operate the truck, and it never fails or gives me false information.”
Because companies are doing more to educate drivers and are making an effort to keep this conversation ongoing, driver acceptance has become much easier, added Werner Enterprises‘ vice president of operations, Angelo Gibson.
“Adoption is quicker today than in years past,” he said, although “it still comes down to culture. Are we educating and talking about it the right way? That matters when you are trying to get driver buy-in.”
Because many drivers tend to be set in their ways, though, continuous feedback and testing is vital, Gibson explained.
“Again, there is a process you have to go through to get people comfortable with change,” he noted. “We do a really good job promoting [the advantages] and keeping things positive, educating on the benefits of the technology. That encourages buy-in.”
Additionally, ensuring that proper training is underway in regards to these new kinds of systems before they’re implemented is really the key in the success of their usage.
“We make sure, before we roll out any technology–whether retrofit or new–[that] we have a good training program to bring drivers up to speed on what it does and how it affects operating a truck, [as well as] what the signals mean.” said Old Dominion Freight Line’s president of safety and compliance, Sam Faucette. “Then, they learn what they can do in their driving to keep those [alerts] from happening.”
All trucks operated by ODFL have implemented active mitigation systems, Faucette said. For the company to secure its lowest accident rate to date in 2020, collision mitigation tech was the main contributing factor.
Interestingly, when younger truckers enter the industry, they are likely much more accepting of ADAS. For example, because they have spent a majority of their lives utilizing a variety of applications on their smartphones, they are much less concerned with additional applications utilized in a truck’s operating system. Additionally, the independence that truckers obtained in the business decades ago–that isn’t as prevalent now–isn’t as much of a concern for these younger drivers.
“Most of today’s young drivers have never experienced the freedom of truly driving a truck like it was 20 years ago,” Orr added. “They don’t have that frame of reference. They’re comfortable with technology, so having tech in the cab isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s expected and almost universally embraced.”
Now, more drivers are understanding the overarching benefits of new technology implementation, especially when safety tech ends up helping to prevent an accident–or even exonerating a trucker from being at fault.
“We know that at least 80% of crashes involving [commercial trucks] are the other driver’s fault,” Werner’s vice president of safety and compliance, Jaime Maus, explained.