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Meritor WABCO's OnGuard ACC system is tested with an artificial target.

Do these devices mean the driver's role will be minimized, opening the door for inexperienced newbies to sit in the left seat and just point the truck?

Probably not. In fact, if modern aircraft are any indication, new technologies will raise the skill levels of all drivers and make experienced personnel more important than ever. Functions that were done manually now must be done by computer as planes get more complex and operate in increasingly congested skies, just as operator tasks become more complicated and we drive in more congestion.

Looking down the road

What will the future bring? Thanks to technology, radar can determine speed and direction, identify shapes and sizes, and measure inputs such as steering direction and brake or throttle applications. Computers can interpret the rates of changes in braking or acceleration to distinguish between a gradual stop and a panic stop, or normal acceleration and maximum power.

Here's how it all comes together. Radar on the upper corners or roof of the cab continually surveys the landscape in an arc around the truck. The computer continuously detects and evaluates potential threats. It never gets distracted and never sleeps, except when the truck is asleep.

If the computer detects crash potential, it alerts the driver with lights, audio alarms, or vibrating seats that sound and feel like a rumble strip. If the driver reacts slowly or improperly, the truck will slow, speed up, stop, or even steer out of harm's way.

Crashes that might have happened won't. And those that do occur will be much less severe.

We'll also have fewer and milder injuries and, of course, fewer and less expensive repair bills. If this all seems too futuristic, just remember, we're halfway there already.

Paul Abelson is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association and is currently on the Board of Truck Writers of North America. E-mail truckwriter@anet.com.