In September, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released their latest “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts” document covering heavy truck (Class 3-8) and bus crash details for calendar year 2018. In the earlier sections of this series, we looked at some of the foundational facts for 2018, along with details around total, fatal, injury, and property damage-only (PDO) crashes. We’ve seen the numbers, so how do we reduce them?

First, as we noted in part 1, the report helps support the fact that it’s not usually the truck driver’s fault that a crash occurs in multi-vehicle situations – a figure representing 79% of the total crashes involving large trucks. In this situation the outcomes are the same, however – when someone is hurt or killed or something is damaged, someone takes the blame, and someone pays the bill. It’s not a win-win for anyone.

Even with the advancement of technology (stifled a bit by slow penetration), we’re still seeing crashes increase. Why? We’re all familiar with many areas that may contribute to increasing crashes – more vehicles on the road, more distractions – especially involving passenger cars, less experienced drivers, more rush to get things done, etc. In this post I’ll focus on two issues I think may also be the list – driver training about the technologies on their trucks, and driver expectations about technology performance.

Let’s start with driver expectations about these technologies and their performance. I have the privilege of talking with many drivers as part of our demos and other training programs. What I’ve learned over time is that drivers may expect these systems to be infallible and always working in all conditions. (Consider the hype around autonomous cars, including the issues around consumer perceptions of topics such as crashes and fatalities, because expectation exceed specification.) Let’s begin with a reminder that today’s vehicle systems are driver assistance, not driver replacement technologies. That’s an important to keep in mind because today’s systems are not fully autonomous. In fact, on the NHTSA 5-level scale – where Level 0 is no technology at all, and Level 5 is fully driverless in all conditions types of technologies – the majority of driver assistance systems on vehicles today are Level 1 and, maybe, level 2. Once again, they can aid the driver, but do not replace the driver.

I’m always reminded of the old story about the vacationer driving his new RV with recently introduced cruise control. You know the one – the driver sets cruise control, hops out of the seat and steps to the rear to make a cup of coffee. The ending varies, but in all cases, the results were not good. That’s why tempering expectations regarding system performance is critical.

How do we do that? It’s where the second part comes in … driver training.

Trucks are more complicated today, more devices, more data, and more information to the driver delivered through a variety of bells, beeps, lights, and braking. If the driver doesn’t understand why a system is doing something, that can create distraction. Or, if the driver expects more from the system because of all the hype he or she has heard about autonomous trucks, that can create disaster. Therefore, today driver training on vehicle technologies is more important than ever. But how we train is also important. It’s not enough to toss the driver the keys to the new truck and leave it at “read the operator’s manual!” (Think about it … how many of us actually read the operator’s manual for the car we drive cover to cover? For those who do, you are a rare breed and I am impressed.)

At Bendix, we look at training drivers from a three-pronged perspective – review the technology, experience the technology, and reference the technology. Here’s how we implement:

  • Review the technology: Present the technologies so drivers can understand 1) why it does what it does; 2) when it does it; and 3) proper awareness and use to help mitigate system alerts or interventions.

  • Experience the technology – it’s not enough to just talk about the technologies in a presentation, show videos, or take a ride on the road. Drivers need to see what the technology can do and, most importantly, what it can’t do. And to do that safely, you need to do it on a test track. That’s why driver training is part of our regional demos and a great opportunity to experience firsthand – both riding and, in some cases, driving the technology in various real-world situations.

  • Reference the technology: Being able to refer to the training, as well as other references, helps reinforce the lessons learned and update the driver as the technology evolves. Bendix makes a lot of training tools available in a variety of forms – from quick reference guides, FAQs, and driver perspective training videos. And before you ask, yes, we do have our own library of operator’s manuals!

It’s been said that even when truly level 5 vehicles arrive – fully autonomous in all conditions – we’ll still see crashes. Maybe fewer, but they’ll still happen. It takes new technologies a long time – decades – to reach a 90-95% penetration level. Therefore, regrettably, we’re still going to see crashes and we’re still going to need drivers. Trained drivers. Not just trained on important driving skills but trained on both driving and the technologies riding with them.

The Large Truck And Bus Crash Facts is a valuable resource but one I hope we can help make extinct one day. Together we can help bring the numbers down through technology and robust training. Let’s keep the momentum headed in the right direction. Let us know how we can help.

Want a little more? You can listen my discussion on the Truck Talk with Bendix podcast here.

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