Is technology the answer to reducing crashes?

The technology revolution is well upon us. Almost daily, risk managers are bombarded with new technology-based products, services, and concepts targeting truck design, improved fuel efficiency, and overall system efficiency.

While most technologies have some link to safety, increasingly carriers are seeing safety-specific products such as collision-avoidance, braking and stability control, lane departure, blind spot monitoring, and active cruise control systems.

It is not surprising in that crash costs have been estimated to be approximately 2% of Canada’s GDP by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (of which Canada is a founding member).

Regardless of the purpose of these technologies, carriers need to seriously consider driver reactions and behaviours in the presence of these technologies before making a final decision.

New in-vehicle technologies have the potential to increase as well as decrease crash and injury risk.

In March of 2011, a Penticton, BC couple left home heading for a trade show in Las Vegas. Several days later both were reported missing by their family. Seven weeks later, the wife was found, near death, in their vehicle on a logging road in a remote area of northern Nevada. Fortunately she survived. Her husband was not so lucky, searchers found his body about 18 months later.

When found, the wife explained that they had been directed to this logging road by the GPS mapping device. Indeed, this road was the fastest route to their destination, however the device did not account for the fact that these roads are not maintained in the winter. Being unfamiliar with the region, the couple believed that the device was guiding them safely to their destination.

Devices with visual displays and audible alerts can distract the driver from the driving task. Whether it is watching for the next turn, checking a blind spot camera, or reacting to a following too closely alarm, each can be an unnecessary distraction. After all, what is the difference between being distracted by talking on a cell phone or text messaging and being distracted by a four-inch screen with blinking lights and audible alarms sounding?

Arguably, the greatest risk lies in inducing the driver to have a false sense of security, bordering on believing they are invincible, thereby encouraging riskier behavior.

In his book, “Target Risk 2”, Professor Gerald Wilde of Queens University argues that improvements in safety cannot be achieved by safety technology alone, stating that the extent of risk taking ultimately depends on the values that prevail. Wilde advocates that every individual has a “target risk” or a level of risk they are willing to accept in order to maximize the anticipated benefit from an activity.

Think of it in terms of an inner thermostat (comfort level) within each of us. If there is too much perceived risk, we adjust our behavior to reduce the amount of risk. If there is too little perceived risk, we adjust our behavior by assuming more risk in another area.

At the onset of ABS braking systems, the perception was that they would stop the vehicle faster. This led to increased speeds and shortened following distances as people sought to compensate for the perceived lack of risk now that they were protected by ABS systems.

New safety technologies have the potential to simply shift risky behavior around and not necessarily eliminate it. Unless we can address the individual’s “target” level of risk, we have a very limited chance of meaningful crash reduction.

As more knowledge is gained, adaptation of technologies will improve. This knowledge, however, is gained reactively from complaints or negative reports. Carriers have the opportunity to become more pro-active in their choice of technologies by creating an evaluation plan and asking some simple questions.

Is this technology being used to compensate for a lack of skill and/or inappropriate behavior? Alternatively, is this technology being used to provide information to the driver that will facilitate better decisions behind the wheel?

From the outset, drivers must be made aware of the capabilities/limitations of systems, and need to learn how to use them and be afforded the opportunity to gain experience with them.

Ultimately, though, effective crash reduction is going to rely on utilizing the information gained through technologies to address inappropriate behaviour and inappropriate levels of risk taking. Don’t expect that technology will do it on its own.

Rick Geller, CRM has been providing innovative and cost-effective risk management solutions to the trucking industry for more than 30 years. He serves on the board of directors for the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, is the vice-chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Fleet Safety Council and vice-chair of the Fleet Safety Council Conference Committee, as well as an Executive Committee member for both the Ontario and Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships.

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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  • A not so well known fact is that ABS brakes increase stopping distances. The most glaring omission is that the “2 second rule” is not attainable within city limits and if your traveling to Montreal on the Friday of a long weekend, you may not enjoy your space and time at all. The drivers handbook assumes that we all passed high school physics and have a firm grasp of the gravity of operating a motor vehicle. The learning usually stops after a passed road test. In our society , operating a motor vehicle is understood to require minimal effort or thought and the advent of new technologies follows to escalates or exacerbates driver disconnect or a de-evolution of care. The technology extends to the vehicles also in that we believe that the modern automobile or the gadgetry that compliments it, can defeat the laws of physics to a degree that we are now safer at higher speeds. The fundamental fact , that has been with us for thousands of years is that we are still travelling on round wheels and getting stopped safely must still be the primary thought.
    It use to be that a taxi driver would have to pass a test to the knowledge of the jurisdiction they would be operating in whereas, a transport driver can be licensed without ever delving into such studies. The GPS must always be complimented with ones own learned abilities to understand their bearings. I have taken drivers out for a day of orientation. I hand them the delivery bills and tell them that they’re in charge. They have already been licensed- I need to know that they they know where the runway to take off and land is . Getting lost with a transport truck is not an option. It breeds confusion, frustration, and, ultimately to a rookie driver, mistakes. The flaw is that after only 100 years of real technology, we believe that we have arrived at a place that allows technology to take over. The human mind still remains the only computer capable of quantum thinking… if we so choose to exercise it. Five seconds is a lifetime on the road.

  • I get a chuckle out of these types of ‘news’ articles. Too many seem to believe that all this new electronic gadgetry and computer controlled operational events in trucks (and cars) will make them safer. I beg to differ. All most of these technologically advanced computers, all very expensive and unreliable I might add, will do is make all vehicles simpler to drive. There is nothing available that will actually make any vehicle safer if the respective drivers are not dedicated, safety oriented and trained. If a driver isn’t properly trained, they’ll just be a simple driver, ‘steering wheel holders’. A properly trained professional driver does not need, for example, a speed limiter. Same for an EOBR that will dictate to him/her when they can drive, when they’re supposedly tired and need to sleep, etc. What needs to improve is basic driver training to an acceptable minimum level with continued ‘on-the-job’ training and guidance and respect, including decent pay, for professional drivers. Instead of poaching drivers from other carriers, these companies need to seek out and train suitable applicants to be career minded, safety oriented professional drivers.

    But that costs money………..