Drivers' skills will be showcased at the annual Mack Truck Driving Skills Challenge at World of Concrete in February. I'm always impressed by the expertise the CDL licensed drivers from around the country demonstrate.
The event is designed to show the driver's involvement by performing a pre-trip safety inspection on a ready-mix truck, then maneuvering the truck around a demanding course that simulates problems encountered every day on the job. Drivers back into a tight alley, parallel park, drive close to obstacles without touching them, and more.
The event and the drivers' ability to compete at such high levels reinforce the theme of my November 2008 column, “Crash Course.” I'm convinced that drivers are the key to vehicle safety. And as fleet managers know so well, vehicle safety, or the lack thereof, can have a huge impact on a producer's profitability.
Many fleet managers believe that the driver is the only tool of safety. So traditional driver safety programs have focused on keeping drivers safe through enforcing seat belt use and participating in driver training exercises. Because of this view, these fleet managers hesitate to incorporate passive safety devices into their fleets.
Next month, I'll report on the wide array of passive safety devices emerging into severe duty trucking. Before examining these electronic wonders that have the potential to revolutionize truck safety, let's address the issue of driver acceptance.
Any fleet introducing electronic safety devices runs the risk of driver rejection. At best, this can mean lack of cooperation and attitude problems. At worst, drivers who see these devices as reducing their status or invading their privacy may choose to leave the company. In these difficult economic times, that may seem as much an opportunity as a problem. But in the long run, retaining skilled personnel trained in your company's procedures is always beneficial.
What are these passive safety systems that can upset drivers? They range from distance alerts to lane guidance and camera systems that record the driver and his surroundings.
More than a decade ago, Eaton introduced its first Vehicle On-board Radar, or VORAD. I simply measured distance to a vehicle in front and used lights and tones to alert the driver when following distance became too short.
It calculated vehicle speed against distance and warned the driver when there was about two seconds or less to the car or truck ahead. If a car cut in but was accelerating away from the truck, no alert sounded. If traffic ahead suddenly slowed, the driver heard a warning in case he or she was distracted.
One of the first managers to test VORAD on a fleet of over-the-road trucks said that his drivers first objected strongly to the system and wanted it removed. After a heated discussion, the drivers agreed to continue the test if the system was adjusted.