Editor’s note: Written by John Carione, the vice president of marketing at IntelliShift, a fleet and safety management company. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
For most freight companies, the answer to the troublesome driver shortage lies in Gen Z – younger individuals who have never yet sat behind the wheel of a cab. While regulatory measures have traditionally required certain age limits in commercial vehicle operation, Congress is currently reviewing a bill that would ease these rules. The DRIVE-Safe Act, a bipartisan bill, would allow individuals under the age of 21 to cross state lines through a two-step apprenticeship program, greatly increasing the pool of potential driving candidates when it’s needed the most.
Yet this change doesn’t come without several concerns, key among them, experience and safety. Understandably, a first-time truck driver may not have the skill to maintain proper safety procedures the same way a 10-year veteran would. That puts a significant onus on fleets to find ways to support these drivers through technology, implementing systems like artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics to offer guidance in real time and help new drivers develop their skills.
Here are some of the most impactful ways technology is reducing risk and helping new drivers hit the road:
AI Video, Coaching and Safety
In any industry, one of the most powerful ways to develop new talent is a system of coaching and mentorship. Under the auspices of a seasoned co-worker, a new employee can pick up tips and best practices to correct mistakes and develop positive habits. In the trucking world, it’s slightly more complicated as drivers make their journeys solo. There’s no wizened guide offering tips from the passenger seat.
As a result, more fleets are implementing video systems powered by AI. Via a combination of intelligent monitoring, G-force sensors and dual-facing video, this technology can detect and alert drivers to risky behaviors, identifying distractions as well as providing forward-collision warnings. Importantly, in the event an accident does occur, records of the event can ensure accuracy in terms of liability cases, and protect drivers and fleets from false claims.
Providing an in-cab system for new drivers can improve their driving skills and ultimately their safety metrics. It helps identify behaviors that might be acceptable in a personal vehicle capacity, but have the potential for risk when operating a commercial rig. Importantly, these solutions are tracked and rated over time, so new drivers get a sense of their own progress in skill development. Together, it creates a system of coaching that can prevent accidents and build strong drivers.
Analytics Dashboards, Pattern Identification and Training
One of the foundational benefits of analytics is its ability to synthesize a tremendous amount of disparate information and glean key insights and learnings. From a fleet perspective, this could mean identifying consistent issues with certain truck technology or inefficient delivery routes. From a new driver perspective, however, it can revolutionize a fleet’s approach to early training and development – an approach that only improves the longer it is implemented.
Consider, for example, a new class of drivers, each of whom is subjected to the standard training practices in accordance with company policy and industry regulation. When they finally start driving, fleet analytics can discover patterns in the mistakes new drivers are making. That offers companies insight into how they can improve training and development. It also can provide a roadmap for adjustments in hiring and onboarding drivers.
Notably, this approach can only work if the data that informs analytics is flowing without disruption. If analytics aren’t fed correct data streams, the recommendations they provide are fundamentally flawed. Breaking down data siloes is a key consideration when leveraging analytics to help new drivers in the future.
Setting The Next Generation Up For Success
The American Trucking Associations has long tracked the need for talent with its annual Driver Shortage Analysis. The trade group estimates the driver deficit will reach 160,000 by 2028. Implementing the DRIVE-Safe Act will go a long way in closing that gap, but the responsibility for training and protecting the next generation of drivers will ultimately fall on the fleets who hand them the keys.
It is vital then, given freight’s unmatched role in supporting economic growth across multiple industries, that this core demographic is given the necessary support to hit the road as quickly as possible without sacrificing important safety skills. Through the smart deployment of technology, new drivers can be empowered to ensure business needs are met and the roads remain safe and secure.
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