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Advanced Driver Assistance Systems can make vehicles safer on the roads but they can also lead to distracted driving if drivers aren't properly trained and reminded that they still need to be in control.

When driver assistance becomes driver distraction

June 13, 2024
Advanced driver assistance systems can make the roads safer. But ADAS is there to help drivers—not replace them. The technology can also lead to driver distractions. Here are some tips for fleets to help keep their drivers’ eyes on the road.

Today’s trucks are technological masterpieces. Sensors relay the exact condition of vehicle components and safety systems. Cameras, radar, and lidar scan the road ahead for potential danger. Automatic emergency braking slows the truck to avoid major collisions. Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance maintain the truck’s position and safe following distance. A stream of alerts, warnings, and data informs the truck driver. And there is more to come.

Industry experts call these technologies advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS. The key word in that phrase is driver. Technology can assist the driver, alert the driver to changing traffic conditions, and help the driver safely respond to potential hazards. However, the driver must remain present: rested, alert, and always in control because driver assistance can become driver distraction.

Here are the causes of driver distraction related to advanced safety technology:

Lack of training

To safely utilize ADAS, carriers must train truck drivers in the specific vehicle technology according to the installed model. ADAS models differ by manufacturer and by year. The fleet should train drivers on each if it operates different truck models.

The driver must learn how to turn systems on and off, what ADAS-generated warnings and alerts can occur, what those alerts mean, and how to adjust their volume or frequency. They also must learn how to input information that ADAS technology requires for operation, such as the desired following distance for an adaptive cruise control system.

And most important, the truck driver must learn to make the technology inputs and adjustments before driving—fiddling with knobs and buttons while on the road is the very definition of distracted driving.

Overreliance on technology

ADAS is there to assist, not to replace the truck driver. Speed governors, for example, may be set to a predetermined maximum, but only the truck driver can assess whether traffic, weather, or road conditions call for a lower speed.

Automatic emergency braking systems can avoid catastrophic collisions, but only the fully engaged truck driver can prevent a collision altogether. A truck driver who allows ADAS to operate the truck and make all driving decisions is, by definition, distracted.

Technology failure

Things break. Even advanced technologies can have glitches, hiccups, and failures. Most commonly, the camera lenses and sensors that provide the inputs to advanced technology can become smudged or damaged by mud, rain, snow, and road debris.

ADAS adds an element to pre- and post-trip inspections: check the ADAS inputs. In the end, a truck driver must remain ready to drive that truck, undistracted, without the assistance of technology.

ADAS is a positive step for truck drivers and highway safety. But truck drivers must remain alert and in control, letting technology do what it does best: assist.

About the Author

Steve Vaughn | Senior Vice President of Field Operations

Steve Vaughn is senior vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass and electronic toll-payment and management services. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

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