CDL-licensed drivers can showcase their safety skills at trade shows and special driver competitions. They'll back into tight alleys, parallel park, drive close to obstacles without touching them, and much more. The most widely publicized is the American Trucking Associations' National Championship — which takes place Aug. 18 – 22 this year in Pittsburgh — but there are many state and industry competitions, too. Photo: American Trucking Association

Last month we examined the electronic wonders that can revolutionize truck safety. Now let's look at how our drivers and equipment operators can be expected to accept (or reject) the new devices.

Any fleet introducing electronic safety devices runs the risk of driver rejection. At best, this means lack of cooperation and attitude problems. At worst, operators who see these devices as a reduction of their status or an invasion of their privacy may leave the department, although in today's economy this is rapidly becoming less of a concern.

In the long run, retaining skilled personnel trained to your department's equipment and procedures is always beneficial.

More than a decade ago, Eaton Corp. introduced their first vehicle on-board radar, or VORAD, which has been recently sold to Bendix. It simply measures distance to a vehicle in front and alerts the driver, by lights and tones, when the following distance becomes too short. It calculates vehicle speed against distance and warns the driver when there is about two seconds or less to the car or truck ahead. The system also analyzes situations to prevent false alarms. If a car cuts in but is accelerating away from you, no alert is sounded. If traffic ahead suddenly slows, you get a warning just in case you're distracted.

One of the first fleet managers to test the VORAD system reported that his drivers objected strongly to the system and wanted it removed, or at least adjusted. But over time the drivers realized that if they increased following distances, alerts became less frequent and accidents decreased. Eventually they accepted the devices.

The manager's cost of equipping his fleet's trucks with the system was offset by the resulting reduction in rear-end crashes.

Maverick Transportation of Little Rock, Ark., an over-the-road flatbed carrier, decided to test Iteris Inc.'s lane departure warning (LDW) system. It optically scans the road ahead, defines lanes by identifying repeating patterns such as lane markers and shoulders, and then issues a warning if the vehicle is drifting out of its lane. Warnings can be audio, visual, or haptic — including the use of tactile sensations. Motors embedded in the driver's seat simulate the feel of rumble strips, combined with the sound of rumble strips from the appropriate side.

The fleet installed the units in just 10 of their more than 1,100 trucks and rotated drivers through those 10 for a week at a time. In just a short while, drivers were asking for LDW systems on their assigned trucks.

SmartDrive Systems Inc. and Drive-Cam Inc. both provide two-lens video recording systems. One wide-angle lens records the road ahead and around the vehicle, while the other is focused on the driver. The units also record driver errors including failure to buckle seatbelts, following too closely, speeding, and other unsafe practices.

Drivers in several fleets that tested the cameras were wary of having “Big Brother” scanning their actions on the road. Fleet managers eased their fears by using the data to counsel drivers positively on ways to improve safety and productivity, rather than for discipline measures. Driver acceptance was established the first time each fleet had a crash, which could have turned into a “he said she said” situation. When the cameras established that the fleet driver did everything properly for the situation and the other driver was shown to be clearly in the wrong, driver acceptance was assured.