Trucking is vital to the US economy. Trucks deliver more cargo than trains, ships, and planes. And according to the US Census Bureau, trucking is the most common job in 29 states.
Regrettably an estimated 500,000 accidents involving trucks are recorded in the US each year with around 5,000 resulting in death. These accidents occur more often on roads in rural areas — and, surprisingly, are more likely to happen on dry roads and in fair weather.
Though 81 percent of these accidents are caused by cars, other common causes include driver fatigue and careless operation of the truck. Accidents can also be caused by pre-existing truck defects, such as those affecting the steering wheel, brakes, tires, and even the engine. As a result, nearly 700 truck drivers and 3,700 drivers and passengers from other vehicles, are killed each year.
Fortunately, as modern trucking technology evolves, so do the protocols that improve safety for truckers—and motorists—everywhere. Here are some of today's top technologies that fleet managers should consider investing in.
Driver alert systemsFederal regulations allow truckers to drive for only 11 hours at a time. Despite this, surveys show that many drivers knowingly violate this rule. And due to human error, driver fatigue occurs even among drivers who follow existing protocols.
That's why driver alert systems can play an indispensable role in preventing accidents caused by driver fatigue. As technology becomes "smarter" with the aid of algorithms, these systems can more accurately detect a driver's drowsiness and subsequently warn them to get off the road for a while.
The driver drowsiness detection device offered by Bosch Mobility Solutions, for instance, evaluates drowsiness level by observing factors such as the time of day, frequency of turn signal use, the length of the trip, and the driver's steering behavior over time. For example, long periods of inactivity followed by abrupt wheel turning may indicate that the driver dozed off and had to quickly correct course to stay in the proper lane.
Other devices are equally innovative. Some come in the form of hats or bracelets, while others use front-facing cameras and biodata such as age, weight, and average amount of sleep per night to measure a driver's drowsiness level.
Forward collision warning and mitigation systemsForward collision warning and mitigation systems, on the other hand, aim to target accidents caused by driver inattention by alerting drivers if they are are tailgating or getting too close to the rear end of another vehicle. This is accomplished using cameras, as well as sensors that make use of LiDAR technology.
LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, uses pulsed lasers to measure the distance between objects. The circuit boards on LiDAR sensors are created using a unified platform datasheet, which is, in turn, equipped with several advanced MCAD, ECAD, and electronic simulation tools. This intuitive schematic platform ensures that every piece of LiDAR hardware is produced without any functional constraints, despite the complexity and power levels needed in the product of light-sensing technologies.
LiDAR is also used in a diverse number of industries. Geodetics, for example, is a company that equips drones with LiDAR to create highly accurate maps; while California-based company Knightscope, Inc. creates fully autonomous security robots, which use LiDAR to detect threats.
In addition to utilizing LiDAR technology, some devices that make use of the aforementioned warning system go the extra mile by including functions such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane assist and lane keeping technology for course correction, and adaptive cruise control (ACC).
ACC is an additional safeguard against rear-end collisions. A modern take on a car function that has been around since the 1950s, it helps decrease the speed of a vehicle if it gets too close to the one in front of it. It usually comes as its own device, but some car companies, like Acura, have released models that have the ACC already integrated into their forward collision warning and mitigation systems.
Electronic stability controlOn the other hand, electronic stability control (ESC) is useful for detecting vehicular defects that can increase the risk of road accidents. That's why, in 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required that it be a part of all passenger vehicles.
Similar to driver alert systems, ESC observes tire movement and steering wheel activity over time. However, instead of measuring a driver's drowsiness levels, it looks for signs of slippage or loss of traction. Once a defect is detected, the system can then immediately execute tasks, such as decreasing the speed or lowering the engine power of the vehicle.
ESC suppliers such as ZF Friedrichshafen AG ensure that immediate response is possible by using the latest microprocessors available in the industry. Consequently, thanks to its swift reaction time and high accuracy, ESC is most useful during unexpected road events or under bad road conditions.
Rear-view camerasVisual limitations are an area of concern, particularly among the drivers of large trucks. Fortunately, cameras offer a simple solution. By providing the driver with a clear view of the back of the truck, cameras help assess blind spots on the move.
For example, Rosco Vision, which specializes in providing fleets with innovative and high-quality safety products, mounts three cameras on the back and sides of the truck. The feedback from these cameras, along with live audio feeds, is then synchronized and relayed onto a single, high-resolution LCD screen.
Other products, such as those offered by the company Rearview Systems, offer the additional benefit of being both weather-proof and shock-resistant, and allow drivers to view images at 120, 130, or 150 degrees. Either way, these specialized cameras go above and beyond to help alert drivers to blind spots and other traffic hazards.
AI applications in truck safetyWhen it comes to truck safety, it's better to be proactive than reactive. For that reason, artificial intelligence (AI) is a fleet manager's best friend.
Foremost in the tasks that AI can execute is fleet and staff management. By analyzing large pools of data taken from the trips of all the trucks in a fleet, AI can help derive key insights that can be acted upon in a number of ways. For example, after analyzing the behavior of all the drivers in a fleet, AI can pinpoint which drivers are struggling to meet safety protocols and recommend that those drivers get remedial coaching.
Self-driving trucks are another application of AI that's currently on the rise. And since startup company TuSimple's successful trial run in 2019, the concept has come even closer to reality.
The trip, which was made in collaboration with the US Postal Service, spanned from Phoenix to Dallas and was accomplished in 22 hours, or in less than half the time it takes for a regular truck driver. Proponents of self-driving trucks argue that the technology could make roads safer in the future, especially on the less crowded country roads where accidents are more likely to occur.
Adopting trucking tech to boost safety
Tackling the skepticsDespite all the initiatives described above, driver acceptance of new technology is one issue you may encounter, especially with truckers who aren't used to integrating modern technological tools into their trips. The solution to this problem involves communication and familiarization.
First, demonstrate that the system or device has previously been proven to deliver superior results. Afterwards, listen to your drivers' concerns. Then do your best to counter with information on why that particular piece of technology is being brought into play or adjust your plan to accommodate their concerns.
The next step you can take is to integrate the new technology into the fleet's daily routine as soon as you can. You can make this process easier by encouraging the fleet's "influencers" — or truckers who tend to embrace change more easily and get along well with their peers — to convince their fellow drivers of the benefits of the technology. Another thing you can do is "gamify" the process by offering incentives to those who are able to utilize the technology quickly.
Training your driversUltimately, however, there's no true replacement for a highly trained driver who knows how to make the most out of their time on the road — without becoming a hazard to themselves or the people around them. That's why it's more important than ever to invest in a well-rounded training program that involves comprehensive lessons on truck safety and the technological solutions your fleet is implementing.
Taking the time to properly educate the drivers in your fleet makes them more capable of recognizing hazardous situations and can help you determine which drivers have bad habits that need to be broken before they hit the road again. For example, the Learning Management Systems (LMS) offered by EBE Technologies can provide your fleet with digital training tools that are more effective at increasing driver retention.
In the long run, you'll be saving money by avoiding the financial repercussions and devastating loss of life that come with truck accidents. And as an added bonus, having a fleet that is less prone to accidents can do wonders for the reputation of your organization.
Jan Clifford Parker is an operations analyst who actively promotes more stringent safety measures across industries. When he's off-duty, you'll most likely find him at a pub trivia night.
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