Achieving ‘360° Driver Awareness’

This story appears in the Aug. 8 print edition of Equipment & Maintenance Update, a supplement to Transport Topics.

When it comes to personal safety, the time-tested adage “know your surroundings” is sound advice. Whether it’s walking down a dark street or driving in heavy traffic, the more you know about what’s around you, the more quickly you can react to changing conditions.

Today, the phrase “360-degree driver awareness” is often used to describe technologies and devices that improve safety by increasing drivers’ knowledge of what is around their vehicles — with the ultimate goal of avoiding crashes.

Duke Drinkard

Manufacturers are starting to employ multiple technologies to achieve 360-degree awareness, including mirrors, cameras, sensors and monitors. The technologies not only improve a driver’s ability to see around the vehicle but also provide enhanced warnings and alerts when visual clarity isn’t optimal.

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Fleet managers are being offered many solutions to help driver awareness, but integrating these technologies on the vehicle so they work well together remains a challenge. Minimizing the potential for driver information overload continues to be a concern.

However, American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council has been at the forefront of industry efforts to increase driver situational awareness through improved standards and technology advancement.

For example, TMC’s S.4 Cab & Controls Study Group and Future Truck Committee have encouraged all vision-awareness technology providers to use the standard measurement techniques and objectives defined in their Recommended Practice 428A, “Guidelines for Vision Devices,” as well as in the Society of Automotive Engineers’ J1750, “Describing and Evaluating the Truck Driver’s Viewing Environment.”

TMC also has:

• Emphasized the need to demonstrate solutions to vehicle “blind spots” in the front of the tractor and at rear of the trailers, including the operations of longer combination vehicles, or LCVs — e.g., twins, triple trailers — as they change lanes, merge into traffic and back up, among other situations.

• Solicited definitive approaches to define acceptable levels of visibility and clarity of vision, or COV.

• Requested these technologies communicate with onboard vehicle systems to improve reaction time but not override the driver’s control of the vehicle.

• Discouraged the use of additional hard wiring between vehicles within the vehicle train.

• Worked to ensure the use of these technologies does not increase driver workload or distraction.

In addition, TMC’s Future Truck Committee, through its “360-Degree Awareness” Task Force, recently developed a position paper that asks manufacturers and suppliers to share their plans for products that will be marketed within the next 10 years — or as soon as possible — to allow equipment users to better assess and implement the technology in their operations. The paper also outlines equipment user expectations for such technologies as used in commercial vehicle operations and makes 21 recommendations for the industry to adopt in the coming years.

To achieve 360-degree awareness, TMC supports these principles, among many others:

• All new technology should allow equipment to be backward or neutral compatible for a period of 20 years.

• Data communication from one vehicle or vehicle system cannot interfere with the safe operation of another vehicle or its components.

• Driver awareness technologies should not require additional hard-wire connections between the connected units within a combination vehicle.

• Only information of impending danger should be given to the driver while traveling in excess of a certain threshold speed — as yet to be determined — to avoid driver distraction and information overload.

• Developers and manufacturers should work together to set standard methods for supplying information to the driver.

• They also should use TMC Recommended Practice 401C to locate any visible aids inside the cab. For other methods, TMC’s S.4 Study Group should be consulted for establishing the best location for the warning notification device.

• Standards should be developed that can be used to measure the clarity of view, speed of focus, target movements and position and the correctness of judgment when a driver receives images from mirrors, camera monitors and other sensors.

• Clarity of interpretation by the brain along with clarity of understanding must be studied to make sure that guidelines and standards are comparable with what humans are able to do.

• Indirect vision or supplemental information devices are needed to inform the driver of conditions behind the vehicle, trailer or between and behind multiple trailers. The capability to check behind and between units of a combination vehicle will greatly increase the need for global communication standards.

• The trucking industry must review the current data communication standards used worldwide by various groups to find the best ones for global use and, as a result, reduce the number of proprietary standards. TMC’s S.12 Onboard Vehicle Electronics Study Group should help lead this effort.

• Third-party, nonbiased testing should be used to report on the true value of a technology or finished product within a specified type of operation.

Additional Standards Needed

To develop meaningful standards for increasing the knowledge and awareness of the driver’s surrounding, the trucking industry must have greater knowledge of the human eyes’ ability to find and focus on objects that may be a danger to vehicle operation. The contrast in colors between background and focus objects will be a big factor in a human’s ability to pick out these objects on a monitor screen. This problem can escalate if the driver is color blind. Speed of movement also needs to be addressed so that movement on a monitor can be accessed quickly and accurately by the driver.

Other areas of concern include clarity, windshields, lighting and electronic communication. For example:

• Standards are needed to measure the COV and position judgment that a driver receives from mirrors or displays from cameras. The industry cannot measure the value of a product or technology without a standard to measure against.

• Currently, there is no standard to measure the clarity of a used windshield that has small pits — sand pits — from highway use. When a driver is trying to see on a rainy night in a high-traffic area, these sand pits cause a higher level of glare that diminish the clarity of vision for the driver. They also greatly diminish the driver’s view when driving into the rising or setting sunlight. This is made even worse if the oncoming vehicle is using extra-bright lights or lights that are aimed too high.

• Brighter headlights give drivers a greater and clearer field of vision from the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, the drivers who are meeting these oncoming bright lights find that vision is greatly reduced, making for a potentially hazardous condition for both vehicles and their passengers.

Third-Party Testing Reports

To provide equipment users a greater level of confidence in manufacturers’ reports of the value of their technologies, TMC also is assembling a library of third-party testing reports for any technology associated with the trucking industry. Connections are being made for third-party testing of the technologies or products to verify the performance level of devices to be tested with the recommended practices of TMC and the Society of Automotive Engineers. These connections involve some of the leading universities in North America concerning the results of those tests that report on driver awareness.

For a copy of TMC’s Future Truck Program Position Paper 2015-1, “360° Driver Awareness Expectations,” visit:

Duke Drinkard is chairman of TMC’s Future Truck Committee and a past TMC general chairman and treasurer. He has been a member of TMC and its predecessor organization since 1974 and is a recipient of the council’s highest honor —the Silver Spark Plug. For more than 50 years, Drinkard was a fleet maintenance manager-executive for Southeastern Freight Lines.