Written by Chris L’Ecluse, Safety Solutions Specialist, Teletrac Navman. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
Today’s long-haul trucks are integrated with more sophisticated safety features than ever.
Truckers and fleet managers have access to a wide variety of tech solutions to help prevent driving incidents, including lane-departure warning systems, collision-avoidance alerts, rollover protection, advanced driver-assistance systems or ADAS, GPS fleet tracking and dashboard cameras.
But there is a downside. As drivers adapt to this technology in their day-to-day driving, they may get too used to it.
They may become so reliant on automated safety technology that their defensive-driving capabilities suffer as a result. When drivers lean on safety technology more heavily than their human instincts and professional driving experience, it can lead to more crashes. As safety technologies play a more integral role in the fleet-safety equation, fleet managers and owners must make sure drivers understand the limitations. They must train them to properly use the technology and implement other methods to consistently monitor and improve driver behavior and create a culture of safety fleetwide.
As a first step, fleet and safety managers should consider working alongside human resources departments to develop a physical handbook or driver-safety and distracted-driving guidelines. This can include items such as safety-management policies and procedures, driver safety agreements, approved instructions for drivers operating new or unfamiliar vehicles, and information on integrated in-cab technology. Creating clear expectations around the use of company technology systems and agreed-upon disciplinary actions or measures for breaking regulations will reiterate a fleet’s commitment to creating a culture of safety.
After creating a safety playbook, fleets must properly train drivers to work safely with technology. This should happen either during their onboarding training or early in the installation process of a new tech system. Providing detailed instructions on each tech solution embedded in their vehicle is a must. Companies should provide drivers with an appropriate amount of time to prepare for changes. Give them time to explore and ask questions. Emphasize the benefits this will bring in communications to increase employee buy-in.
With dashboard cameras, for example, drivers may be wary about their privacy. Instead, fleet owners should candidly explain why they’re investing in the tools, how the technology works and how it supports specific company goals. For cameras in particular, explain what journeys will and won’t be monitored and take the time to address specific driver concerns openly and honestly.
During training, it’s also important to help drivers understand the limitations of ADAS. Automated features like lane-departure warnings provide great benefits to drivers, notifying them if they’re drifting out of a lane. For truckers traveling long distances and battling fatigue, this technology can be a lifesaver, but it isn’t foolproof. Fleets must train employees on the drawbacks. The technology might not work properly if lane markings are hidden by snow or aren’t visible. Drivers must remember that if they do something unsafe in their large, heavy vehicles, it takes longer to stop, and there’s a greater chance of injuries. Drivers must be cautious.
In another example, a recent survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found electronic driver-assist systems like collision mitigation may not register stopped vehicles and could steer drivers directly into a crash. In many circumstances this technology could save the lives of commercial drivers and other motorists. But a driver who is aware of the technology’s limitations and thus pays attention to and monitors the situation could prevent traffic incidents.
With more technology available in vehicles, it’s important for fleets to build and reinforce safe driving habits on an ongoing basis. Fortunately, connected vehicles with Internet of Things or telematics systems give fleet and safety managers full insight into driver behavior with real-time data.
Insights collected from safety analytics, dashboard cameras or telematics systems can be compiled into driver scorecards, detecting unsafe behavior like speeding, harsh braking or harsh cornering, which could be symptoms of distracted driving or overly confident driving from over-reliance on technology. Fleet and safety managers can use this data to measure performance and give targeted, customized feedback to individual drivers.
Data from these safety systems can also be used to measure or manage safety trends across an entire fleet and to develop training sessions or group discussions around specific behaviors or key safety concerns. Fleet managers can use this opportunity, as well as one-on-one meetings with drivers, to highlight, again, how technology is designed to work with drivers and operators to increase and improve overall safety, not replace their own judgment.
Truck drivers are the lifeblood of the transportation industry. Their unique skills and experience on the road are an asset to any fleet, but as they gain more experience driving alongside technology on a daily basis, it’s important they remain on high alert and drive defensively without completely relying on that technology to improve their driving and create a safe environment on the road for everyone.
Editor’s note: Chris L’Ecluse trains drivers in safe driving techniques alongside safety technology. Prior to joining Teletrac Navman, L’Ecluse held the rank of sergeant in the Western Australian Police Force, where he served for more than 20 years.