Headlights Once Again

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Two weeks back I wrote about the inadequacies of headlamps in a newsletter issue entitled Got Enough Light? It seems I struck a chord as there was more than the usual amount of feedback on the subject. You can read that one here but to be brief, I started this way…

“I’ve long held that North American headlight standards are inherently dangerous because they don’t allow brightness levels to match the speeds we travel. It’s just too easy to over-drive your lights, meaning you don’t see obstructions like stalled cars or animals or — may all the gods forbid — pedestrians in the way until you’re past the point of being able to stop in time.”

I ended things this way…

“Until a decade or two ago, my own first step upon getting a new car was to make  lighting upgrades, but modern cars — and most trucks are no different — make that very difficult and/or expensive. There’s nowhere to find a solid mount for driving lamps when ‘bumpers’ are plastic, to start with. Headlamp bulb changes are easier but seem not to be cheap. I find this very frustrating as I haven’t had a new vehicle in quite a few years with what I’d call adequate lighting. Long-range driving lamps are essential for me.

“I have yet to explore the LED headlamp option so can’t comment, but I’d be grateful to hear from any of you have tried it.”

ONE SMALL-FLEET OWNER in Ontario responded to my LED comment request this way, slightly edited, about the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution tractors in his yard…

“They have LED headlights,” he wrote in an e-mail, “and that sells my drivers on these trucks… You can’t drag the guys out of them. Anyways, the LED headlights are spectacular. You can see everything bright, shiny and clear, regardless of weather, and they don’t bother oncoming drivers either (unless you leave the high beams on). The downside is if you smack one, they’re $800 to replace.”

THE MANAGER OF ANOTHER SMALL FLEET, this one in Alberta, also offered some useful observations…

“Poor headlights have been a sore point for me for all of the 37 years I have been in this industry as a fleet manager,” he wrote. “Unbelievable how you buy new trucks and the headlights do not give adequate lighting.

“About 15 years ago I discovered all the common lights in semi’s can be upgraded from the standard halogen to ‘high-output’ halogen for about $5 per light. They made a huge difference. I asked my dealer why he even stocked the regular ones. He told me he would lose sales because he has to compete with flyer prices for the people that make their purchases only based on price. (Those people do not drive a truck).

“In the last 2 years I have purchased 15 Navistar trucks with LED headlights. WOW! Every driver had positive comments. Less fatigue and less eye strain. The lights are brighter and there’s much more side visibility. I am also testing LED replacement lights on my older units.

“The bad news is it now costs about $500-600 a truck for the sealed beams. I think this cost will go down as demand increases. The only negative on LED lights is that until the public gets used to them, the driver gets flashed on low beam once in a while. We adjust them a little bit lower and still get excellent light.

“Finally someone other than me has noticed such inadequate performance in such an important item.”

ANOTHER LIGHTING CORRESPONDENT, from a driving school, offered this good advice that doesn’t involve buying much of anything in order to see better…

“How about cleaning the film that builds up on the covers — a few minutes of elbow grease can improve things immensely. There are excellent cleaners on the market.

“Drive the speed limit at night — in moose/deer/elk areas especially — and use a deer whistle.” They work, he says, citing reliable info from a friend who runs an airport van and charter bus company.

“How clean,” he went on, “is the windshield? The headlights may be fine but the window on the inside might be horrible with tar film from smoking, dirt, and grease smears.

“Has the windshield on the outside been cleaned recently of road film?

“These last two make a huge difference for clarity at night.

“Are the wipers clean and in good working order?”

He continued with this observation…

“Headlights often don’t help you to see but to be seen. I remember when the day-time running lights were introduced — incidents dropped by a high number.”

And he finished with an idea that would get my support 100%…

“The first thing I would sign off on as Transportation Minister is full-time tail lights — turn on the ignition, the tail lights are on. In low sun, for example, it is very easy to lose a vehicle with lights off. Bad-weather road spray and fog, same thing. How foggy does it have to get before the lights come on? Now many vehicles have dash lights on making the driver think [outside] lights are on too, but they’re not.”

FINALLY, A DIFFERENT HEADLIGHT ISSUE as presented by an old friend on the safety side of a major fleet…

“We had an owner-operator charged in Manitoba a few months ago for improper headlights, even though they were OEM,” my friend wrote.

“It was a new tractor equipped with halogen headlights that illuminated a purple hew. I read the regulation and it states that the headlights must emit a white light only. The OEM was Western Star and had to change the lights.

“Have you heard of this issue at all?”

I’ve heard only whispers about this as a legal issue and haven’t yet checked it out, so I ask you, dear readers: has anyone else suffered a similar fate?

Thanks to these four guys and others who took the time to comment. Much appreciated.


DON’T COUNT OUT DME as a diesel replacement. Haven’t heard a lot about this lately but I’ve long maintained that DME — otherwise known as dimethyl ether — could well be the fuel of the future. And Mack Trucks is going to give it a shot. That’s not entirely surprising as corporate parent Volvo could well be the fuel’s biggest proponent.

In collaboration with the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and Oberon Fuels, Mack has just begun a demonstration to test the performance of a DME-fuelled Pinnacle model. DSNY is the first Mack customer to evaluate DME, a non-toxic, clean-burning alternative fuel.

“We believe DME shows great promise, and we are pleased to be working with our longtime customer DSNY to evaluate the fuel as a viable alternative to diesel,” said Mack president Denny Slagle. “We look forward to gathering data.”

DME delivers the same performance as diesel fuel and generates no soot. It offers many benefits, not least of which is that it can be made from multiple sustainable feedstocks, such as food waste, animal waste, grass clippings, and natural gas. It offers the same energy efficiency as diesel, and it doesn’t require cryogenic temperatures or high tank pressures.

The Pinnacle axle-back model is equipped with a Mack MP8 13-liter engine and the mDRIVE automated manual transmission.

The DSNY evaluation will take place at the Freshkills Landfill, located on Staten Island, and will last several weeks. Results are expected to be available mid-2017.

New York City recently announced a vision to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% in 2050 compared with 2005. In order to achieve this goal, the city must reduce 43 million metric tons of GHG emissions. When produced from organic waste, DME can do that. 

“DME could be one solution to help us achieve this goal,” said deputy commissioner Rocco DiRico, DSNY.

“This first-ever customer demonstration of a DME Mack truck is an excellent opportunity to showcase the potential of DME in real-world-use cases,” said Rebecca Boudreaux, president of Oberon. “We commend the New York City Department of Sanitation and Mack Trucks for their leadership in this program, which we believe will advance the testing and adoption of the zero-soot, low carbon, emissions-reducing DME fuel to help cities around the world become more sustainable.”

Gets my vote.


VNOMICS TRUE FUEL ADDS FEATURE. I’m pretty high on this outfit from Rochester, NY, as regular readers will know, because I think the True Fuel idea is a simple and an inherently good one. It’s been shown to save fuel at quite a rate and it just got a little better.

True Fuel is a stand-alone fuel-optimization tool that combines real-time, in-the-truck driver coaching with comprehensive fuel-waste analytics for the office to help fleets reduce fuel expenses in a pretty big way. And with little investment.

Vnomics Corp. says it now offers a new balanced driver scoring model for True Fuel. Simply named “True Fuel Score”, it includes distinct, normalized assessments of driver fuel efficiency in three key areas — engine control, speeding, and idling — as well as a blended overall score.

TRUE FUEL SCORE PRESENTS a composite rating of the three highest fuel-wasting behaviors, combining new idling and speeding scores with the current Vnomics engine control score. The new scores are normalized for actual operating conditions so drivers will experience the same fair scoring that has been the hallmark of Vnomics from the start. Drivers are scored only on what they can control. 

“The blended True Fuel Score provides a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of real-world driver fuel efficiency,” says Bob Magnant, vice president of product management and strategy at Vnomics. “We like to look at it as the ‘GPA’ of fuel efficiency.”

The new speeding score assesses both the duration and severity of highway speed over a set threshold. The new idling score segments and measures approved and unapproved idling. Approved idle time (e.g., short stops in traffic) is not included in a driver’s Idling score and statistics.

THESE NEW SCORES complement the existing engine control score, which measures how well the driver maintains proper engine speed given load and operating conditions, whether through careful acceleration for automatic transmissions or gear selection for manual transmissions.

All of the scores can be accessed on the newly enhanced Vnomics customer web portal. With the latest changes, fleet managers can better provide key information to drivers on how they can improve fuel efficiency. This detailed, more robust accounting of fuel loss can also be used to augment Vnomics’ in-cab driver coaching to change behavior.

“Over the next several months, we will be extending the capabilities of True Fuel Score by adding other scoring dimensions in new areas of fuel waste that can be assessed and minimized by optimizing driver fuel efficiency behaviors, said Magnant. “As a driver’s score improves, fuel loss will decrease, lowering costs and ultimately driving MPG improvement across the fleet.”

True Fuel is an OEM-agnostic tool that combines the intelligence of on-board machine learning with real-time driver coaching. Sold on a subscription basis, the only hardware involved is a small dash-mounted ‘black box’ that can be installed in 10 minutes or so. Payback is claimed to be well under a year, with users seeing fuel savings of 10 to 20% or even higher.


THIS NEWSLETTER IS PUBLISHED every two weeks. For the most part it’s a heads-up notice about what’s going on with trucking technology. I also write here about interesting products that may not have had the ‘air play’ they deserved within the last few months, and maybe about issues that warrant attention in my occasionally humble opinion.

I should remind you that, with the odd exception, I don’t endorse any of the products I write about in this e-newsletter, nor do I have the resources to test them except on rare occasions. What you’re getting is reasonably well educated opinion based on 38 years in trucking.

If you have comments of whatever sort about The Lockwood Report, or maybe you’ve tried a gizmo I should know about, please contact me at rolf@newcom.

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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