August 10, 2016 4:00 PM, EDT

Driver-Focused Designs

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

The annual National Truck Driving Championships kicked off Aug. 10 in Indianapolis. To coincide with Transport Topics’ coverage of the “Super Bowl of Safety,” this edition of Equipment & Maintenance Update features stories focused on drivers’ needs and concerns, including those related to comfort, safety and health.

In the midst of the well-publicized driver shortage fleets are facing, manufacturers and suppliers are increasingly designing trucks and equipment to attract and retain quality drivers.

Fran Matso Lysiak

One of the cover stories in this issue is on the growth of electronically controlled, or EC, transmissions. As Contributing Writer Jim Galligan reports, more fleets are transitioning to these automated manual or torque converter automatics, also known as full automatics, for several reasons. Among them: These transmissions give fleets a critical recruiting and retention tool.

BEST OF AUGUST E&MU: More stories, columns

“The use of the [automated manual transmission] opened up the recruiting process to drivers not comfortable with the manual transmission,” said Ron Hall, vice president of equipment and fuel for refrigerated truckload carrier C.R. England. In addition, AMTs offer fewer distractions and are less fatiguing to drivers, Hall said. “We feel the drivers are safer if they do not have to concentrate on shifting.”

Other stories address cab seats and suspensions, which can help soothe the aches that often lead to lower back pain — especially when a driver is on the road day after day.

As Contributing Writer Bruce Lilly reports, among the main goals for seat and truck manufacturers is reducing vibration. Drivers experience excessive exposure to vehicle-related whole body vibration.

“Lower back is the most prominent example of the health problems that can occur,” said Peter Johnson, professor in the Occupational and Environmental Exposure Sciences program in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.

Meanwhile, efforts to improve the design of trucks for female drivers’ specific physical characteristics are the focus of three other stories. A study by the University of Wisconsin and Women in Trucking found that the average female driver is 6 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than her male counterpart, Contributing Writer Mindy Long reports.

The study revealed several cab modifications that could benefit drivers, and equipment makers are responding to female drivers’ needs with adjustable designs that are aimed at increasing comfort.

However, in-cab safety remains a key issue the industry continues to push for, said WIT President Ellen Voie and Scott Perry, vice president of supply chain management and global product management at Ryder System Inc.

Concerning this key demographic, E&MU columnist Phil Romba writes that it’s his view, as well as those of some fleets and drivers, that “There is no gender gap in today’s Class 8 trucks and tractors. The concept of vehicle features and designs tailored to female drivers is unnecessary.” Romba formerly worked as a public relations manager for Volvo Trucks North America.