While advances in driverless technology and electric vehicles have been making headlines recently when it comes to innovations in trucking, a quieter evolution is underway, one that may be even more important.
Data, monitoring and analytics are helping to produce safer vehicles and safer drivers.
Penske Logistics of Cumru Township, Berks County has been using several advances in technology to help track the safety of its vehicles and drivers.
“There’s so much new, it’s overwhelming,” said Jason Herr, vice president of safety logistics at Penske Logistics. “It’s overwhelming when you start to plug into how the industry has changed with technology just over the last seven to 10 years.”
He noted some of the changes are simple things such as backup alarms and collision-mitigation technology like automatic braking.
Scott Barraclough, technology product manager for Mack Trucks, which makes vehicles in Lower Macungie Township, said much of the technology Mack is using is geared to making trucks safer.
“Safety is a core value of ours,” Barraclough said.
He said Mack began investigating new technologies to improve safety in the early 2000s when it started adding features like stability control and traction control to all of its highway trucks.
Even entertainment technology helps with overall safety, Barraclough said. He noted that entertainment options, including Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and Apple Car Play integration, allow drivers to focus on the road ahead.
Most recently its Anthem truck comes standard with such safety features as adaptive cruise control and stationary object detection. Collision mitigation (emergency braking) and lane-departure warning are also standard.
Barraclough said many of those technology features are subtle.
“It’s not overly intrusive. It’s not annoying the drivers,” he said.
Some of the newer technology is helping safety professionals get inside a vehicle to spot maintenance issues before they become hazards or driver behavior that could lead to crashes.
Video-monitoring technology, which collects video and data related to risk incidents encountered by drivers and their vehicles, is a technology that is growing in popularity.
Penske Logistics uses event-triggered onboard cameras from a company called SmartDrive that face into the truck cab, and out to the road. Video taken when a risk event occurs can then be incorporated into its ongoing driver safety coaching program. A risk event could be something as simple as a hard brake to a near collision.
“This is an awesome coaching tool because we can go to places we couldn’t go before,” Herr said. “Drivers want to be safe and now we have video to show them of a trigger event … and help them know how to prepare for that.”
Mack installs wiring and camera brackets to fit a video and software system called Drive Cam from a company called Lytx, so those who buy Mack trucks can also use video to track and improve drivers’ responses in risky situations. The truck’s buyer would contract through Lytx to purchase and operate the system.
According to Penske’s Herr, the video can be used almost like a game film that helps a coach show an athlete how to improve his or her performance.
“We can show the video footage of when something like a hard brake occurred and show it to drivers so they can see where they can improve their ‘game’,” he said.
Del Lisk, vice president of safety services for Lytx, said that’s exactly the way the technology should be used – integrated into traditional driver safety and coaching practices.
“It’s very objective. The driver can see what happened during a close call,” Lisk said.
It can also be used to check for other basic safety procedures, from “Is the driver wearing a seat belt?” to “Is the driver looking when approaching an intersection or just barreling through?” he said.
One of the most important advantages of using video to track risky behavior is that a company can coach driver behavior before an accident occurs – hopefully preventing it.
He was also quick to point out that the concept of Drive Cam isn’t just to point fingers at bad driving practices.
“We’re are also identifying drivers who are driving well and can be examples,” he said.
Lisk said the system is an improvement over safety coaching in the past, where a supervisor would actually go out and follow a driver to see where mistakes were being made.
He called that a waste of resources. But the only other option would be to coach a driver after an accident occurred, which is already too late.
Mack also installs a monitoring system that regularly checks the functionality of the vehicle itself.
Mack Connect integrates software, predictive analytics and driver-assist technologies to let a driver know if service may be needed soon or immediately because of pending vehicle trouble.
“Any issue is sent to the uptime center and we can get right on that,” Barraclough said.
He said when a safety issue is diagnosed it could be as serious as the uptime center contacting a driver immediately and asking him or her to stop driving.
Or it could be a less-serious problem and they’ll tell the driver to get the load to the drop off and then get to a service station as quickly as possible.
Either way, it gets trucks with pending safety issues off the road before an issue manifests.
DOES IT WORK?
Is the technology helping to make highways safer?
Herr said the early use of its new video monitoring system at Penske is showing results.
“We saw significant reductions in total incidents and improved safety scores for our truck drivers at all locations,” he said.
At Lytx, Lisk said trucking companies adopting the Drive Cam technology can expect to see about a 25 percent reduction in accidents after the first year. Depending on how committed they are to best practices with the system and follow-up coaching, they could see a 50 percent reduction in accidents over time and an 80 percent reduction in collision costs.
Other statistics also indicate that the highways have been getting safer.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute has been tracking deaths involving large trucks since 1975 when 4,834 people were reportedly killed in accidents involving large trucks.
The number of deaths peaked in the late 1980s. In 1988 and 1989 there were about 5,300 truck-related deaths.
The number of deaths has gone up and down from year to year.
But since 2009 the number has been consistently below 4,000.
While other factors – such as road conditions and regulation of such issues as how many hours a driver can be at the wheel – could impact that number, it also coincides with the trucking industry stepping up its use of technology to improve driver safety.