Why refuse a helping hand?

by Al Goodhall

One of my pleasures every Saturday morning is listening to the Trucker Radio News and Talk podcast with Stan Campbell. This podcast is a great way to stay current with industry news.

So, back on the first Saturday in March, I was listening to Stan and Truck News editor James Menzies discuss the world’s first production series Class 8 truck with SAE Level 2 autonomous capability, the new Freightliner Cascadia. What stood out for me was the discussion over the lane departure protection feature of the Detroit Assurance 5.0 protection package, which is the “brains” behind the automation.

What interests me about this new automation is not the titillating newness of the much touted “self-driving” capability, but the ability of the system to work in tandem with the driver, which is something James made central to his reporting and review of this technology.

When the discussion of lane departure protection turns to the limits of this technology, we talk about the need for clear lane markings and the inability of the system to work on snow-covered roads, intersections, construction zones, and roadways on which the line painting has faded or worn away. So the system reverts to the driver in these conditions, as it should. It’s my opinion that this is not a drawback of the system, but rather exactly what we need as drivers.

Driver distraction is something that I have always believed is a psychological issue, a mental issue. As drivers, we are distracted by our mind wandering away from the task at hand, and daydreaming is just as distracting as a phone call. Remaining focused on the driving task at hand for 12-13 hours per day is the issue.

Focus and being mindful at all times behind the wheel is the real challenge every driver faces each day. This is especially true on clear days on dry roads in ideal driving conditions. Statistics show us that most collisions occur under these conditions. This is exactly when the lane departure system on the Freightliner Cascadia works at its best – exactly when we need it.

As a driver, I am always the most attentive to my driving when I am challenged, not when I am least at risk. Poor weather, winding roads, construction zones, and heavy traffic demand your attention and hold it in a manner that a wide open interstate on a sunny day will not. But we do become distracted on secondary roads and busy urban streets as well.

Every driver, whether a beginner, novice, or expert has missed a sign, exit ramp, or looked in their rearview mirror at the red light behind them after driving through an intersection and wondered, ‘Did I just drive through a red light?’

The only moving violation I have ever received as a commercial driver was in the first year I was licensed and ran a four-way stop in Montreal on a Sunday morning. I was distracted, looking for a drop yard in an industrial area. You’ve all been there in terms of breaking the rules of the road unintentionally as a result of distraction. I know you have. If no harm came of it, that was just dumb luck or other drivers acting defensively to avoid your mistake.

Let me say here that we should look at the tragedy that took place near Humboldt, Sask., as the most horrid result of harm that can result from distracted driving. This is not the first time – nor will it be the last – that a driver blows through a stop sign.

It is in this light that automation can work hand-in-hand with drivers to enhance safety for all of us. At present, the Detroit Assurance 5.0 protection that is built into the new Cascadia does not read stop signs and automatically brake, but it does read and display speed signs so the capability is at hand. Distraction is our Achilles heel. Driver assist technology is something we should be embracing.

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