Editorial: Of Geology and Technology

This Editorial appears in the June 12 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Rivers transport dirt that is deposited as silt and, eventually, after millions of years and many tons of pressure, it becomes rock. It’s a very slow process, but geologists think it’s beautiful and worthy of study.

The federal government has the pace of geology but none of the aesthetic delight, having been compared with sausage making. Maybe there will be some useful agreement by 2020 on transportation infrastructure, a simpler tax structure and health insurance, and maybe not.

In contrast, for those with a need for speed, we urge you to ponder technological innovation and how engineering ideas are transformed from analogue firings within the human brain and in very little time become vehicle systems in action, first on test courses and then on a (probably congested) nearby highway.

Our iTech supplement in the middle of this issue offers a status report on an astounding array of systems. The most remarkable change that might be seen in several decades is the fully automated driverless truck.

Far more likely in far less time are other technologies that are nevertheless revolutionary. Adaptive cruise control that adjusts speed relative to what other vehicles are doing already is on the road and a great gift to fleets eager to promote safety.

Connected vehicles that communicate with other cars and trucks, stop lights, roads and even with pedestrians are possibly on the cusp of becoming widespread. Not surprisingly, regulatory issues are a hurdle. Safety and better traffic routing could be the benefits here.

Another technology that might appear soon is platooning, or operating vehicles in close formation.

An encouraging aspect to this wave of change is that it’s not all or nothing; it can be enjoyed incrementally as these developments roll out. Industry suppliers such as Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems and Meritor Wabco can upgrade their offerings every few years, and that enhances safety.

Insurance and safety are closely linked, as we show on p. 5. Cameras help a truck back up, show a driver if anyone is in a blind spot and can even prove a trucking company innocent. “Not guilty” is fine in a criminal case, but in civil actions, proof of innocence can save a company millions.

An executive at a major flatbed carrier said that for a large fleet, the devices are indispensable.

Far away from Washington, some people actually accomplish things. It’s amazing.