Drivers won’t use safety systems if you don’t teach them

By Jack Roberts on

volvo dashboardI’ve been driving for 30 years now, and in those three decades, I’ve seen a lot of technological changes in both automobiles and commercial vehicles. For me, the two greatest innovations during that time have been keyless entry and intermittent windshield wipers.

But today’s pace of technological evolution in the automotive industry goes far beyond those relatively simple innovations and is accelerating rapidly. Vehicles today are smarter, safer and more productive than ever – provided that drivers are aware of new technology and understand how to get the most out of it.

This thought occurred to me not long ago when I flew to Greensboro, N.C., to spend a day test-driving Volvo’s outstanding VNL 670 tractor. Frank Bio, Volvo’s North American product manager, was on hand to guide me through the test drive and make sure I understood every facet of the truck and its operating systems.

Frank’s the perfect guy for the job. He’s got more than 40 years of experience at both Mack and Volvo. Point to any nut on the tractor, and he knows why they opted to make it a 10 mm instead of a 15 mm; his knowledge of Volvo’s trucks is that intimate.

One thing Frank reinforced for me as we conducted a vehicle walkaround and then a test drive was the great lengths Volvo engineers go to in order to make drivers safer and more productive.

High-tech trucks:
Modern safety systems help fleets be safer and more productive.
Training trick:
Many drivers aren’t aware their trucks are equipped with systems that can help them.
Worth the effort:
These systems are proven to help fleets save time and money.

Volvo isn’t alone in this effort, of course; all the truck OEMs take driver comfort and safety seriously. There are multitudes of crash avoidance, communication and productivity systems on the market, and many of them are standard features designed into the vehicle regardless of the trim level being spec’d.

This jumped out at me as Frank ran through the list of driver-specific features in the VNL’s cab, from hands-free Bluetooth communications to the outstanding I-Drive automatic transmission and XE13 optimized powertrain.

One cool feature harkens back to the intermittent wipers I mentioned earlier. Frank showed me Volvo’s system, which instead of preset wiper speeds allows the driver to move the wiper stalk to the “set” position, hold it for the exact wiper interval he or she wants, then return it to the “on” position for use. It’s an infinitely variable system that allows the driver to meet any conceivable magnitude of rain they encounter.

But here’s the thing: Do drivers know the system is there and understand how to get the maximum use out of it?

The same question holds true for the I-Shift transmission – which is packed to the gills with productivity enhancement features. Those features are there just waiting to be used to their fullest advantage. But do drivers know how to use them?

I have no doubt fleet managers know all about these features and understand the benefits they offer both to a fleet’s bottom line and to drivers at the end of a long, tough day. But is that information being communicated effectively to hundreds – if not thousands – of drivers who may be scattered at terminals all across the country?

Of course, all the pertinent information is contained in the owner’s manual. But – and let’s be honest – who really reads owner’s manuals? And even if drivers actually take the time to read the manual, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience to showcase a new feature’s usefulness.

Fleet training is an option – and certainly new driver training is an effective method of getting the word out. Another option might be to partner with a dealer and have them brief drivers on new vehicle systems and features.

It’s a tough nut to crack logistically – particularly for large fleets – but it’s worth the effort. There’s no question new vehicle systems can make drivers safer, more productive and better rested. More importantly, many of these systems are proven winners when it comes to saving time and money – and nothing affects the bottom line as dramatically as time and money.

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts is executive editor for CCJ and equipment editor for its sister magazine Overdrive. Roberts joined Randall-Reilly in 1995 as associate editor of Equipment World magazine and began covering both heavy-duty and light trucks in 1996. In 2006 he was the founding editor of Total Landscape Care before joining CCJ's staff in 2008.

12 comments
Old Lady Driver
Old Lady Driver

Reading the comments it is well obvious who has the experience to know, we do not need 'safer' trucks, we need 'safe' instilled into the future drivers, the present younger set have a uphill pull, many do make it, a lot do not.  WE ALL suffer for that.  My daddy taught me from little childhood, the pay off was tremendous.  34 years of happy trucking, some of those old trucks were way past new, but well taken care of, loved driving them!

john3347
john3347

The company not only has the responsibility to teach the drivers how to use all the electronic safety devices, but also the responsibility to illustrate the need for such a device.  The device also has to be intuitive to use with one control.  If the driver does not understand the benefit of a certain device, they are not going to use it.  For instance there is no need for a complicated  procedure to select one of 100 or 100s of available windshield wiper speeds, it is not a benefit, it is only a distraction.  High, low and 3 or 4 intermittent speeds is all that a wiper needs.  Anything more is only a distraction.  You make a safer driver by simplifying his life, not by complicating it.

DOTDoctor
DOTDoctor

Partnering with the dealer makes sense on initial delivery.  How do you account for training on the never ending revolving door that we know as trucking?  A new driver is passed through a truck every 3-6 months and sometimes more often.  Who is training them?  While the newer units are often saved for senior members, it will be passed to the jr. staff in time.  This is something that would almost have to go into the orientation program.  Then again, if you are running multiple models or brands; that would add undo complexity to the orientation process which is already too long by most driver standards.  As for the manual, it is in the truck with the first driver but by the third one; don't expect it to still be there or at least not in a usable condition.  Features are great, as you said, but worthless if you don't know about them or how to optimize their capabilities.

mrtmrsh
mrtmrsh

A gentlemen I used to work for email Volvo about 10 years ago because he had a question, I don't remember the question but the answer was very memorable, the answer was, don't worry about it, we don't build trucks for you we build them for your company. So when you talk about driver comfort, that is just a smoke screen.

Crazy-Canadian
Crazy-Canadian

I don't normally post to articles like this one but I really have an axe to grind on this one. I am Canadian. I drive in some of the harshest weather you can think of. My company has Volvo trucks. I do not own one, nor would I want to after my expereance with them. The more electronics put on the trucks the more they break down. I have driven these Volvo's for the last 5 yrs. I can't remember the last time I made a trip WITHOUT having to go to a dealer or shop for some stupid small sensor or major problem. The DEF all these guy are bragging about are hell. The DEF freezes. I have to carry 4 jugs of the crap in my truck when I go North because if it runs out I'm stranded. I have to keep it warm so I can pour it in the tank. If I get into the place that I can buy my own truck the last truck I would buy is a Volvo. I love the drive and the ride but I would be broke if I owned one. I would purchase a PRE-EGR truck and then buy a glider kit to get a truck that is reliable. BTW, my company has replaced the trucks every 2 yr so it's not just one truck with the repair problems.

johnnn
johnnn

Good Point, however you ae still buying and maintaining the fivolous items.

MASTERMECH48
MASTERMECH48

How about a techy DVD on the vehicle and ALL of it's nuances geared to that vehicles VIN. The MASTER stays at a home location and a user copy in the truck in a well labeled spot clearly visible. Now if technology could only eliminate those inspection/weigh/harassment stations.

THeGeorgiaGUY
THeGeorgiaGUY

johnnn ,  You pretty well hit the nail on the head so to speak. In some ways , we have made today's driver a technological guru who is sooooo  busy with the latest "amazing new toy"  that I don't know how they have time to get their rest and keep the big truck between the lines. Much less get their deliveries made.  

johnnn
johnnn

I've been in this business for 35 years.  No matter how smart you make the truck, it's the employee who you are only able to directly supervise less that 1% of the time who is out there with your $200,000 truck, your $ 2,000,000 liability policy, carte blanche fuel purchasing depending upon how he drives, and your goodwill written on the side of the truck who make the difference. There are many drivers in this business who are safer, more fuel efficient, and more productive in a "dumb",  hard wired, functional truck than the crop of "steering wheel holders" we are putting in these "smart" trucks".  It would appear with today's truck prices, the difficulty finding mechanics, along with all of the talk about distracted driving we should be reducing the gadgets the driver has to deal with,  which at the same time reduces the number things cause downtime and repair expense.

Pissedoffguest
Pissedoffguest

 @Crazy-Canadian This is exactly why they keep "improving" those trucks and stuffing them with electronics that are so "cool" and "convenient", but what this really is is their need for us to go back to them and buy more parts and pay for the service to check them and replace them. I have a guy, owner operator , he drives old Freightliner with Cummins N 14 engine, 1 700 000 miles on it and no overhaul done yet, that is the engine that was a problem for the "industry" , because they need engines like ISX, that needs overhaul sometimes after 600 K mi, so the owner of that truck will pay his hard earned money to fix that piece of $#it. So you go nowadays, buy a brand new truck and few weeks later you start bringing it to the dealer every week or so, to get stuff fixed, and even if you're lucky and everything is covered by warranty, you still have your truck sitting in the shop, not on the road , making money, and at the same time your truck payments and your insurance payments will not wait, they keep coming and coming and coming...........

That is how I see it. 

OEMHMI
OEMHMI

What about flashing all the features on the truck accross the start up screen on the ICU?  If the driver didn't know how to use one of the features or didn't know what it was they could pull up the users manual for ti on the ICU also...  Of course this assumes the truck is going to be equipped with a display in the ICU...

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