Safety and our industry's understanding of its effects will move far beyond the realm of active or passive systems within the first decades of the 21st Century. Advances like adaptive cruise control and airbags will be commonplace on trucks. Traffic management systems will provide on-demand updates for the driver. And we will also address the real threat that too much data poses in the form of driver information overload.
Due to a somewhat misguided belief that safety can be improved by adding more electronics to our trucks, however, we sometimes forget that safety begins with people. More devices do not always guarantee that fleets will have the drivers they need. Similarly, putting more devices in a truck will not necessarily make drivers any safer.
But before we rush headlong looking for "high-tech" devices to improve highway safety, we must remember that the driver is the most important safety "device" in a truck. Remembering the human factor is and will continue to be critical. Safety begins with people.
These considerations and others can help fleet owners change the competitive landscape. That change will occur if carriers see the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules as the most important change agent since deregulation They can be the impetus to change the rate structure for fleets and the pay structure for drivers. Ultimately, HOS reform can help our industry improve safety and driver retention. Ultimately, fleet profitability will improve as a result.
Rather than discussing whether drivers should work 12- or 14-hour days, we should consider how this fundamental change would allow fleets to move to a rate system that values distance and service. The number of miles traveled cannot continue to be the key factor that drives carrier profitability. Timeliness, service and accuracy should matter most.
In the past ten years, carriers have continually increased efficiency in response to shippers' demands and pressure from shareholders. Carriers have helped manufacturers adapt to just-in-time manufacturing processes. In both cases, parties other than fleets have benefited. Now's the time for trucking to take its fair share of the savings.
A true victory in the area of highway safety will come when fleet owners view the upcoming change in HOS rules as the catalyst that transforms the industry nearly as much as deregulation did. Carriers must change the mindset that the only way to increase revenues is to travel more miles.
This groundbreaking change will have a number of positive benefits for fleets. Chief among them will be the ability to change the way drivers are paid. That, coupled with the new HOS rules, would be the most dramatic safety improvement this industry has ever seen.
We don't have to look very far to see that dramatic changes along these lines do happen. Consider the pay structures for overnight package carriers. Revenues are based on region, time sensitivity and weight.
It's obvious that online sales via the Internet are profoundly affecting freight transportation. Consumers clearly value a shipper's ability to deliver on time.
Clearly, there are a number of economic factors that should drive a change in the way shippers pay for freight transportation. Now we must change rate structures and pay scales for one of the most important reasons ever: safety.