Controlling drivers vs empowering them

by Al Goodhall

As long-haul truck drivers, we spend the majority of our time observing what is happening around us. Most of us are very good at it. It is a set of skills that extends far beyond the ability it gives us to be safe, professional drivers.

In fact, as drivers we are uniquely positioned to provide feedback that is valuable when it comes to streamlining operations and improving productivity. Despite this, the industry has developed a culture aimed at controlling its drivers rather than enabling them. No doubt this approach stems from compliance with the rule of law, but this approach need not be so.

Look at the hours-of-service legislation and how it is applied to drivers. Sleep research recognizes the differences between individual drivers that contribute to fatigue. Differences such as: a driver’s schedule; their age and the effects of any existing health condition the driver may have; and the time of day he/she may be driving. Sleep research has also shown that the average adult requires seven to nine hours of sleep per night, yet the National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 Sleep in America poll showed that 44% of working adults get an average of six hours and 40 minutes sleep on a workday and the average workweek was reported at 45 hours. So based on that, is it reasonable to expect that you can force individual drivers to sleep seven to nine hours in a row while at the same time work well in excess of 45 hours per week?

We still require our rest but we require the flexibility to obtain that rest within the confines of the job we are performing and dependent on our own individual needs. The answer here is education and training on a regular basis as well as laws that enforce the required amount of rest in each 24-hour period but still leave a wide margin of flexibility to the individual driver as to how they manage their time.

This is where the control culture butts up against the culture of empowerment. Has the trucking industry as a whole lost sight of the big picture and the true purpose of legislation that reinforces the safety of drivers and the travelling public? It’s easy to lay the blame for this situation on government regulation (or over-regulation if you prefer) and enforcement agencies. But I think that is a bit of a cop-out on the trucking industry’s part and we all own a slice of that pie.

Why is it a cop-out? Because we are living in a golden age of communication. There is this little thing called the Internet ripe with social media that is still very much in its infancy. These tools empower drivers by providing an infrastructure capable of gathering their collective experience. Yet for the most part social media has been seen as a business-to-business tool by carriers and I believe they have missed the boat, or at least underestimated the value of social media. Drivers are developing loosely organized social circles on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. With the ability to link all of these platforms together, drivers have a much louder voice, but is it being heard?

Then there is the rapidly developing “industrial Internet,” a term originally coined by General Electric. It’s all about linking together machine-learning, big data, the Internet of things, and machine-to-machine communications. Think about advanced braking systems, stability control systems, the virtual technician that remotely reports engine fault codes, cars that will park themselves and of course the Google driverless car. The vehicles we drive – whether personal or commercial – will continue to communicate with the world around them in more meaningful ways at an exponential rate over the next several years, or at least as much as government regulators will allow.

So again, as drivers observe from the driver’s seat, is this technology being used to empower the individual driver or is it being used to control the individual drivers’ actions? I often think of the signs posted on the side of Ontario’s highways that state, “Safety through enforcement.” I don’t disagree with that statement when it comes to enforcing the black-and-white rules of the Highway Traffic Act but it doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to applying a set of one-size-fits-all regulations to issues like driver fatigue. This is why electronic on-board recorders are reviled by many drivers.

An EOBR cannot empower a driver and advance a driver’s safety and quality of life. The EOBR enforces a set of one-size-fits-all rules for the average driver, but an average driver doesn’t exist. Although we all share the same characteristics we are uniquely different.

There is a lot that drivers observe from driver’s seat. In today’s environment I think it’s fair to ask if we are to become cogs in a machine. I would hope to hear a resounding NO!

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • I’m absolutely agreed with this article. Only one thing I would like to mention here. Because everyone is different as a driver and the jobs are different as well(flatbed, reefer, or tanker etc…), we should have the old HoS rules to manage our driving sleeping or on – duty time per day. In this case the EOBR would be OK. Otherwise we all will lose money. Of course there are lazy guys outthere and they happy with the EOBR, but most of us driver or 9 best money in trucking because 84 the good wages or profit. Also they force this EOBR to save money on paperlogs… well, I spend $ 160 per year on logbooks. The EOBR is much more expensive to buy and keep running. So, maybe I’m stupid but I won’t eat that BS. Please, let me know if I’m wrong and give me some good advice. Thanks