Improving survivability of crashes is becoming less of a focus for both truck and car. To accommodate new energy sources – electric, hybrid, natural gas, etc. – most vehicles are getting smaller and lighter. While new materials and design approaches can help improve strength, a basic fact remains – trucks carry loads and loads weigh more than cars.
A fully loaded combination vehicle can weigh 20 – 30 times more than a car, resulting in greater impact force when a collision occurs. A 4,000-pound car hitting an 80,000-pound truck at 60 miles per hour is not the same as an 80,000 pound truck hitting a 4,000 pound car. The truck hitting the car delivers about 19 times the impact force of the opposite scenario, which means a lot higher probability of a fatality, severe injury, and extensive property damage. Avoiding the crash in the first place is what will help deliver reductions in the fatality, injury, and property damage-only (PDO) statistics.
That’s where driver aid safety technologies – on large trucks and cars – can help. As you look at collisions, technologies like forward collision mitigation are proven to reduce truck front-leading crashes. Blind spot technologies – on both the sides and the rear of the vehicle – can also help reduce side-swipe incidents. The key, however, is penetration within the fleet. Unfortunately, it can take years, or even decades, before most of the vehicles on the road are equipped with safety technologies. In the meantime, as technology makes its slow proliferation, we need to keep a focus on drivers and their skills.
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 rushing 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.
Here's What You Should Know.
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 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 condition types – the majority of driver assistance systems on vehicles today are Level 1, maybe level 2. Once again, they can aid the driver, but do not replace the driver. It’s vital to keep in mind that no commercial vehicle safety technology replaces a skilled, alert driver exercising safe driving techniques and proactive, comprehensive driver training. Responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle remains with the driver at all times.
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?
This is where the second part comes in … driver training.
Trucks are more complicated today. More devices are delivering more data and more information to the driver 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. That’s why nowadays 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:
- Why it does what it does;
- When it does it; and
- 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 reference materials, helps reinforce the lessons learned and updates the driver as the technology evolves. Bendix makes a lot of training tools available in a variety of forms – from quick reference guides and FAQs, all the way to 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.
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