There may be a place for autonomous (self-driving) vehicles with companies like Torc Robotics developing the software and vehicles needed for this to become a fixture on the roads. It does, however, seem likely that there will always need to be a human in control somewhere. Similarly, the current generation of human drivers could benefit greatly from technological help.
Human error versus computer error
Between them, human error and computer error probably account for the vast majority of the problems the world faces today. On the roads, however, the main issue, at present, is very much the issue of human error. This is understandable given that autonomous vehicles are still in the early stages of real-world, road use.
There tend to be three main issues behind human error. These are lack of concentration (general or momentary), lack of ability to predict future conditions accurately and mental overload. These issues are often linked.
For example, if a driver is tired, they may struggle to think ahead and easily feel overloaded. Likewise, overload can lead to fatigue and the inability to plan ahead. Difficulties planning ahead can leave drivers overloaded by the need to react to events they could have predicted and hence lead to fatigue. If a driver is tired they may leave the Powered Trailer Door Opener unlocked, or even fall asleep at the wheel. Safety always comes first for anyone sat behind the wheel, especially truck drivers.
How technology can help drivers
Technology can often help to break this vicious circle and create a virtuous one instead. It is, however, vital to note that technology is intended to complement existing safety measures. It should never be seen as a justification for cutting back on them in the name of cost/productivity.
In particular, drivers need proper rest breaks. There is absolutely nothing technology can do about fatigue caused by lack of proper rest. By contrast, what technology can do extremely well is to reduce the mental burden on alert drivers. In particular, it can help monitor driving conditions and help drivers plan ahead effectively.
Looked at in terms of sheer quantity, monitoring systems currently make up the vast bulk of driver-assistive technology. Basically, anything which alerts the driver to a potential hazard is a monitoring system. This would include the likes of blind spot warnings, collision warning systems and lane-departure warnings.
It’s becoming increasingly common for these systems to have some level of autonomy. For example, adaptive cruise control, automated lane-keeping systems and autonomous emergency braking are all essentially a combination of monitoring technology and self-driving technology.
Dashcams are also monitoring technology. They just monitor the behaviour of other road users rather than your driver. They can, however, be a huge help to your drivers as they can encourage other road users to think before they act.
The most obvious example of a mainstream predictive system is trucking-specific GPS. That said, there are plenty of general predictive systems which can also be helpful for truck drivers. Possibly the most obvious example of this is weather-forecasting apps.
Less obvious examples include any system which analyses data from drivers to help with decision-making. These systems are unlikely to be in HGVs themselves. They’re still more likely to be in control centres. They are, however, still massively helpful to drivers.
Using your phone hands-free should be seen as a minimum standard rather than a target. Realistically, there’s a case for arguing that drivers should never be using their phone while they are driving (except as a sat nav). There’s a massively strong case for arguing that they should never be using it while the vehicle is in motion, especially in an HGV.
Of course, people are human, so they want, and sometimes need, to keep on top of their communications, both professional and personal. This can be particularly important to HGV drivers by themselves on the road.
One potential solution is to teach drivers to use digital assistants to manage their communication. This would relieve drivers of the worry that they might miss genuinely urgent communications and hence allow them to focus better on the task at hand.
Emma Tyrer is the Head of Sales and Marketing of Walker Movements, who are specialists in quality second-hand, used trucks and trailers and are global leaders in the trucking industry. Walker Movements have a true passion for the industry and make it their mission to answer any question customers can throw at them.
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