Every single driver on the road can aspire to driving in a manner that reduces traffic fatalities to zero, but we don’t.
Vision Zero is a multi-national road safety initiative started in Sweden in 1997. It’s a paradigm shift in the way we approach road safety and our attitude as to how we share our road infrastructure. Drop “Vision Zero” into your search browser and check it out.
I’ve always believed that road safety is about attitude. Skills can be learned, practiced, and developed throughout a driver’s career, but how we employ those skills makes the difference between a driver that spends a lifetime on the road free from accidents and violations, and a driver that ends up with an abstract that reads like a novel.
Both types of drivers broadcast messages to the public about the trucking industry. One is positive; one is negative. The negative one catches most of the public attention. The positive one is what the majority of us aspire to, and for the most part achieve. This is a fact. The statistical evidence is on our side.
The times require that we set the bar as high as possible for ourselves as professional drivers, as knights of the road, as truckers. No matter how you think of yourself as you do this work, Vision Zero should be the goal. We need to take the lead in road safety and set the example if we want to change attitudes of other road users.
We know that about 95% of collisions are the result of human error. We need to stop thinking that being involved in a smaller percentage of those collisions is good enough. We need to stop thinking that being involved but not being at fault is acceptable. That’s difficult to swallow but that’s the high standard we need to judge ourselves by. We should expect and demand that universal training and support programs are put in place to help us all get there.
But is it too late for all that?
We’ve allowed decades to slip by, which should have been used to build a network supporting drivers and making the objective of zero road fatalities a reachable goal while addressing the industry’s problems with recruitment and retention at the same time.
Now, just around the corner, we face a network of a different type. A network based on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). A network that doesn’t tire, learns at an exponential rate, and always follows the rules to the letter. A network without ego, without emotions, that will always pull over and shut down when conditions require it. It’s a network that can deliver the Vision Zero goal, or very close to it.
In 2012, just five years ago, the Canadian Trucking Alliances’ Blue Ribbon Task Force released its report on the driver shortage. Automation, AI, machine learning and its possible impact on the driver pool was not a factor that was considered. In November 2017 we saw the release of the Tesla electric truck but more importantly General Motors announced a half-billion-dollar investment in autonomous technology and a projection of driverless vehicles on the road by 2019. Dealing with a driver shortage has been turned on its head in just five short years. We’re just getting started.
We have a long way to go towards a world that sees trucks without drivers. But the transformation of our industry in the next 10 years will be overwhelming.
We face complex issues without simple solutions. Billions of dollars of venture capital is being invested in a technological revolution that is transforming our society.
Reducing road fatalities to zero is but one of its benefits. Our adaptation to the change is an incredible challenge.
I have no idea how things are going to pan out but I’m sure we’re in for one hell of a ride.
Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross
canada.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.