Many people, when evaluating technology in their everyday lives, ask the question, “Does this make my life any easier?” The obvious answer is yes, whether it's a new gaming system to keep your kids quiet or the latest cellphone to communicate with your office or loved ones. However, is the answer the same for the trucking industry?
Long gone are the days when drivers relied heavily on CB radios. CBs have been replaced by cellphones and other 21st Century technologies that make drivers safer, more accessible and more accountable than ever before. With those benefits comes a potential downside: the negligent use of technology, which is the failure to use technologies properly or the use of a technology in a way that hinders a driver's ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced a policy change making it possible for the agency to request a carrier's electronic records, such as GPS reports, during compliance reviews. If a record does not support a driver's duty record, then the carrier has some explaining to do. As such, the use of technology comes with the responsibility to use it wisely. If not, then there would be no point in investing in technologies.
As life inside the cab changes, so do the questions asked after the occurrence of any safety incident. “Was the driver texting at the time?” “Was the driver talking on a cellphone?” “Where do GPS reports place the driver?” These are now common and legitimate questions and they are prompting many to question the safety of driving under the influence of technology. To add further pain to a growing migraine for carriers, many attorneys have begun to cite instances where technology has contributed to driver negligence. Some attorneys advertise that in-cab technologies may have contributed to an accident and can be grounds for a lawsuit.
Thankfully, all is not lost in the battle of good versus evil in the technology arena. Over the past 20 years, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes has declined 5%, and it has been creeping lower almost yearly. Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported the lowest number of fatalities on our highways since 1961. These statistics suggest that technology is doing its part in making the industry safer. With technology growing more prevalent, truck cabs are being filled with more bells and whistles than ever before. Carriers continue to investigate the benefits of such systems as rollover mitigation, pre-collision warning and blind spot detection.
While we applaud the efforts of forward-thinking people who make our industry safer by developing systems such as GPS, lane departure warning systems and stability control, we must also encourage everyone to be responsible with their usage. These tools of the trade can certainly prove beneficial to the many fleets that use them, but let's remember to proceed with caution.
So, does technology make the professional lives of the men and women in our industry any easier? Technology should be developed based on sound science and implemented to save lives, but may not necessarily make the work any easier. With every person in the industry dedicated to reducing fatalities on our nation's highways, I think most will agree that the headaches involved with using technology are well worth it.
David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn., responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Forward comments to Mr. Heller at [email protected]