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The importance of hiring skilled drivers, the prospects for success with hair-based drug tests, the critical need for infrastructure funding and the promise of technology — especially as it relates to onboard vehicle systems — were among subjects discussed at an all-day Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Aug. 5 truck safety summit.
By far the hottest topic was the advancement and growing adoption of driver-assist technologies that experts at the event credit with helping reduce and mitigate truck-involved crashes.
“Nothing contributes greater to highway safety than the person behind the wheel,” said Greer Woodruff, senior vice president of safety, security and driver personnel for J.B. Hunt Transport, speaking on the summit’s technology panel. “But I have seen drivers that have years of safe driving have a momentary lapse for a circumstance that unfolds, and this has saved them. They have been very thankful to have had these systems on their vehicles.”
He noted that the systems can help motor carriers confront the “increasing headwinds” they face these days, including traffic congestion, marijuana legalization, distracted driving and rising vehicle miles traveled.
FMCSA is promoting the voluntary use by fleets and independent owner-operators of advanced driver-assist technologies such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot warning systems and forward-facing camera systems, noted Jeff Loftus, division chief of FMCSA’s technology division. However, they are not mandatory yet.
Market penetration for such systems has now reached about 45-50%, added Richard Beyer, vice president of engineering and R&D at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems.
“These systems help the driver to reduce the stress and improve the safety,” he said. “But it’s still based on good solid driving practices, drivers staying alert and being part of the solution.”
Connectivity is changing trucking today and into the future, including how it could enable electric and self-driving trucks. Host Seth Clevenger talks with two experts from Penske Transportation Solutions, Bill Combs and Samantha Thompson. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.
And challenges remain, as even the best systems are not perfect, noted panelist Ritchie Huang, executive manager of advanced safety systems and autonomous driving for Daimler Trucks North America.
“When we’re talking about advanced driver-assistance systems, it really is going back to the capabilities of the driver,” Huang said. “What we’re building is just supplementary to them.”
American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear noted highway safety is a “tier one” priority for ATA, and urged regulators to create an environment where innovations in this realm can thrive.
“I think you’ve got to stick with innovation because it’s quite frankly moving 10 times faster than the government,” he said. “Just get out of the way. Let innovation take care of it.”
Another innovation Spear listed as an ATA priority is adoption of hair testing as an alternative to urinalysis testing, and he said the federation will help to see it through.
“If we don’t get the rule that we want, we’re going to go back to the Hill and will be even clearer this time if we have to,” Spear said of hair testing.
Dan Furth, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers, asked that regulators work to help eliminate the federal excise tax and allow electronic shipping papers for hazardous materials carriers.
Other items of interest from the summit included:
- Acting FMCSA Administrator Jim Mullen said that the agency’s effort to supplement its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program using a so-called Item Response Theory method is still being analyzed after some aspects haven’t “passed the test of time.” He added, “The initial findings did not play out as we started to get more data. We’ll have something soon.”
- Jamie Maus, vice president of safety and compliance at Werner Enterprises, echoed several comments that quality drivers are of critical importance to motor carriers. “Driver behavior is still the key to safety,” she said.
- Several panel members indicated that cab-mounted, forward-looking cameras that see the road ahead are a boon to safety, but noted that most drivers are uncomfortable with inward-facing cameras.
- David Edmondson, vice president of safety and Compliance at J&M Tank Lines, said he encourages drivers to call in any time to discuss safety situations they are confronted with. “I’d much rather get a 2 a.m. phone call with a problem than a 2:15 a.m. call saying something bad had happened,” he said.
- Responding to a public question about the efficacy of electronic logging devices, FMCSA director of enforcement and compliance Joe DeLorenzo said, “It’s really important to note that hours-of-service violations are not half of what they were prior to the ELD mandate. We have seen a significant decrease in those violations, and we think that’s really important from a safety standpoint.”
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