Trucking safety technology putting the driver first

Will there be a time when the commercial blogosphere won’t have to lead their content with some mention of COVID-19 and the affects of the pandemic? Likely not for the while, but the crisis has been putting trucker safety and safety technology into a new light.

Truck safety is especially relevant considering the times and how confrontational the regulatory and legal system has been against drivers, resulting in what are now termed “Nuclear” verdicts because the excessive damage awards can obliterate a company financially.

It also has everything to do with obtaining cheaper trucking insurance rates. Before COVID-19 (remember that?) the industry was being rocked by closing after closing, including the failures of some of the biggest—most of those blamed rising insurance rates as a root cause.

David Braunstein’s TSR

President of Together for Safer Roads or TSR, David Braunstein says his organization’s mission is helping improve road safety and save lives through roads-supported local demonstration projects, key partnerships and key connections with the international road safety community.

In a recent editorial in FreightWaves, Braunstein says truck drivers have always kept America’s economy moving, handling about 80% of all cargo in the U.S is transported by trucks. He notes the trucking industry itself is responsible for roughly 6% of all full-time jobs in the country – which adds up to some 3.5 million professional truck drivers on the roads. “Without truckers,” says Braunstein, “the American economy would grind to a halt.” True that, eh?

Paragons of social responsibility

Braunstein offered some great examples of how truck drivers and fleet operators stepped up to deliver the essential supplies Americans needed during unprecedented times including:

  • Anheuser-Busch pivoting to manufacture and deliver more than a half a million units of hand sanitizer in support of relief efforts.

  • Shipping and logistics carrier Gulf Winds International, who delivered an emergency supply of hand sanitizer to port workers along the Gulf and East Coasts.

  • ABF Freight shipping critical ventilator parts across the country.

Braunstein says that in just one week in April, drivers for GP Transco delivered 15 million pounds of food to grocery stores and more than 10,000 pounds of medical gloves to healthcare facilities. Bravo.

It’s a dangerous place to work

According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, truck drivers had the highest number of fatalities of any occupational group in 2018. In that year alone, says Braunstein, 831 commercial and heavy-duty truck drivers were killed while doing their job.

Braunstein leveraged his FreightWaves op-ed to also spread the word about the Global Leadership Council for Fleet Safety, a coalition of private sector companies dedicated to preventing traffic crashes, injuries and deaths on the world’s roads. Braunstein says a primary goal of the council is to foster cross-sector collaboration that helps identify and scale best practices on road safety.

A practical, technical response required

Driver safety technologies and connected, integrated information technologies now make it possible to coach recruits away from high-risk driving behaviors, proactively prevent collisions, and in the process save more lives.

Advanced driver systems for advanced safety

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), originally developed for autonomous vehicles, are according to Braunstein increasingly being adapted by commercial fleets. For example he cites “smart” dash cams that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect things like distracted driving, collision potential relative to speed and distance, and other dangerous scenarios in enough time to prevent calamities and collisions.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center finds connected vehicle technologies have the potential to prevent and mitigate the severity of an estimated “5.338 million police-reported crashes annually, in which over 32,000 people are killed and over two million people are injured.”

Technology, of course, is only one part of the equation. It’s also expensive and if drivers and fleets are excluded because this obvious barrier to entry, then no matter how good it is, it’s not going to do anybody any good.

Assuring access to safer technologies

Doing his part to put drivers in safer seats is John Flynn, CEO of Fleet Advantage, an asset management firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In a recent FreightWaves report Flynn says that after a Walmart truck collided with Tracy Morgan’s limousine in 2014 (injuring Morgan and killing another passenger), “we started looking at safety shortly thereafter, and we were one of the first companies to put safety equipment in as, I won’t say it’s a mandate, but we told our customers we wanted to put safety [equipment] in all of the trucks.”

According Flynn, Fleet Advantage will pay cash to its fleet customers to buy safety technology enhanced trucks and lease them back as part of the company’s safer-truck initiative.

Flynn’s goal says FreightWaves report, is to sell more trucks in a market that was approaching its cyclical bottom before the COVID-19 pandemic. Flynn explains selling safer equipment carries multiple benefits whether the truck new or used. At the end of a new truck lease, he notes, the second buyer is often an owner-operator priced out of the new equipment market.

Flynn says that from 2018 onward, truck manufacturers and information and communications technology providers have introduced a growing list of safety-enhancing equipment, from collision mitigation to automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning, lane centering and even some semi self-driving platooning features built on existing radar and camera technologies.

Setting new safety expectations: Money talks

Flynn says the company is using the power of its purse and requires safety offerings beyond manufacturer specification in the 3,000 new trucks Fleet Advantage buys annually from all makers.

Flynn explains that by lowering the up-front lease cost and inflating the residual — the value of the truck is worth at the end of the lease — Flynn is betting used truck buyers will pay an extra 1.5%-2% that he shaves from the initial lease price to get a one-owner, late-model, low-mileage truck with an extended warranty and up-to-date safety features.

Great idea, Mr. Flynn – Win – Win - Win

Fleet Advantage may have come up with the proverbial win, win, win, scenario. Their leasing scheme for increasing safety technology content and offering an affordable financial route to promote access couldn’t be timelier. With more potentially safer trucks on the road the potential impact helping fleets and drivers find cheaper, more affordable truck insurance they need to help protect them from the financial dangers of the road.