One of the results of the kinds of accreditation and qualification for drivers is something which is beginning to look like driver information overload. With the increase in permits, documentation and covering letters which have to accompany some types of truck, some classes of freight and exceptions to the normal road rules, all of this information can end up as a bewildering collection of paperwork. Some follows the driver, some the truck and some the freight. In the cramped conditions in a truck cabin paperwork is easily misplaced.
The introduction of telematics or just mobile tablets has taken a bit of the confusion out of the issue. Many documents the truck driver needs to carry are acceptable if they are stored in the memory of an electronic device in the cabin. This can make life easier for the driver and enable them to carry all of the documentation for all the possible loads or trailers they may come into contact with. The electronic device can also be a useful receptacle for all of the information about delivery sites or codes of conduct, helping the driver keep up to speed.
The vast majority of fleets use their telematics as a way of monitoring both the truck and the driver. Apart from the basic information about where the truck is, there are also forms of electronic work diary, some of which will soon be migrating across to being able to replace the paper work diary, as they are phased in over the next couple of years.
This is driver monitoring in its simplest form. The EWD will merely replicate the function of the bulky log book drivers have to haul in and out of truck cabins with them. Of course, once they are adopted more widely, we can expect their functionality to be improved and changed to enable both operator and regulator to keep better tabs on the driver and their behaviour.
In fact, the level of monitoring available to the modern operator is as far as it can possibly be from the old days of sending the driver off into the unknown. GPS records where the truck is and where it has been and if it has kept to the speed limit. These systems will also pick up data from the vehicle CANbus to alert the owner of harsh braking events, harsh acceleration, over revving of the engine or even the stability control being activated.
It doesn’t stop there, the telematics hub can also be connected up to cameras. These can range from the simple dash cam to record what’s going on in front of the truck all the way to an operator Diesel spoke to earlier this year who fits six cameras on each truck giving a 3600 view around the truck. The video data can be stored on board the truck for later use, downloaded on return to base or stream a live video feed back to base all of the time.
Often one of the cameras will be turned to face the driver to monitor their behaviour in the lead up to any incident. Sometimes an infra red camera can be fitted, this watches the driver at night or may be used as apart of a system to monitor potential fatigue events. These system watch the driver’s blink rate and set off a wake alarm if the driver is showing signs of drowsiness. It may even message back to base that there has been a fatigue event.
Not that long ago, safety equipment in a truck cab consisted of a seat belt for the driver and passenger. The wearing of seat belts was often problematic as drivers felt uncomfortable with them on or listened to old wives’ tales about jumping out of a rolling truck.
When the belt was mounted on the truck’s B pillar the effect of the motion of the air suspended seat could lead to abrasions on the neck. The introduction of seat belts mounted on the seat itself soon overcame that complaint.
When statistics started to come out demonstrating how often fatalities in trucks were associated with the driver not wearing a seat belt, minds began to change. Companies specified high vis seat belts so it was clear whether the driver was wearing a seat belt or not. Cameras looking at the driver leave no room for doubt.
A Changing World
The contrast between the responsibilities of the driver before 1990 and today provide a clear illustration of how far we have come in monitoring and controlling driver behaviour to get to this point.
One of the developments which could improve matters greatly will be when the truck driver population start to buy into this kind of change and let it become part of the truck driving culture. At the moment there is a constituency among drivers who will climb into a modern truck and turn all of the auto and safety systems off, if they can. There is even a minority who will disconnect an EBS system on certain combinations.
The young drivers coming through come from the computer gaming generation and have little fear of electronic control. However, when the average age of a truck driver is well into the fifties, the need for a culture change is obvious. If trucking wants to get the best out of their drivers both in terms of productivity and safety, the priority must be to improve both the conditions and behaviour of drivers to fit in with current industry leadership thinking.