November 16, 2016 Vol. 13 No. 23

Let me start this 23rd newsletter of the year with a bit of a bitch and a moan. It may seem defensive to some of you, but so be it. I’m really just trying to explain the limits of what I can do — and tell you what I can’t do — from this editorial pulpit of mine. I’ve written things like this before but it seems there’s a need to repeat myself.

The urge to write this arises because of an e-mail that just popped into my inbox. It was from an owner-operator whom I like and respect, a veteran who knows what he’s doing. He’s been driving truck since the 1970s and has been hooked up to one particular major fleet for more than 20 years now. I’ve had notes like his more than once.

In a nutshell he claimed, gently, that I’ve been guilty of “glorifying” the highest of the new electronic technologies like stability control systems and beyond. More particularly he said that I can’t possibly know how well they perform, or how poorly on some occasions, because I don’t spend my days on the road in a truck like he does.

WELL OF COURSE NOT, I told him in response. Any enthusiasm I express for the technology we have coming down the pike is based on a reporter’s observations, an educated assessment of the potential, sometimes helped by a brief on-the-road demo. What else could it be?

And even if I still did road tests like I did for many years, like my buddy Jim Park still does, what would I learn about durability and reliability and such? Zip. I’d be very unlikely to see any of these high-tech systems go wonky or fail outright, though that did indeed happen on my first road test of an electronically controlled engine way back in 1985 or so. Never since. They do sometimes choke, like everything else, but I’d hazard a guess that they keep drivers safe far, far more often than not.

Better driver training needed for electronic safety systems?My friend has had ABS since it was first launched, and even disc brakes on both his sub-leased tractor and the company trailers he pulls. Trailer stability control has been part of the mix for the last five or six years. The latter systems have failed him twice and once put him in a dangerous position on the road. Technicians at one shop were unable to diagnose the failure, necessitating a tow to a larger dealership. In that case he lost miles and money.

He wishes I’d write about those ‘cons’ as well as the ‘pros’.