Thursday, May 28, 2015

Truck Driver Proves Technology Has Its Limits

Technology is a wonderful thing. At the same time, it does have its limits, as evidenced by a truck driver in Wisconsin who got his 16-ton rig stuck on a footbridge after allegedly being led astray by his GPS device. Fortunately, there were no injuries or reports of substantial damage due to the incident, which occurred on November 11 (2014) in Milwaukee.

Official news reports say the 53-year-old truck driver from Indiana drove his rig across a pedestrian bridge and onto a walking path before being stopped at the entrance of a second bridge by concrete barriers. In order to get to the first bridge he had to traverse several service roads and gravel roadways. Along the way, he damaged several trees, railings, and cosmetic portions of both bridges. Structurally however, the bridges remained sound.

When asked what happened, the driver said his GPS device led him to take the route he chose. He was cited for reckless driving and a failure to obey traffic signs. As for his rig, officials had to bring in a crane because there was not enough space to safely back it out.

Technology and Carelessness

Truck drivers all over the U.S. use GPS devices to help them find their way. It is important technology that has greatly improved efficiency and productivity. However, there comes a point when a driver must ignore GPS information and use common sense. Especially when it comes to road signs.

We can laugh about what happened in Milwaukee because there were no serious injuries or damage. Nevertheless, the story does underscore the fact that technology can make us careless. When we rely on technology as a replacement for common sense, it can often lead us down the wrong road – both literally and figuratively! In light of this, the trucking industry and government policy makers should tread very lightly where technology is concerned.

Treading lightly is especially important with safety technologies. Where the GPS device is more a matter of convenience, other types of equipment have everything to do with life and death. For example, the trucking industry in Great Britain is now in the midst of a debate over whether or not to fit trucks with technology designed to reduce collisions between truck and cyclists. The equipment in question utilizes a series of sensors and alarms intended to reduce accidents.

Here in the U.S., we are looking at technology that would help prevent drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. It involves a set of cameras, facial recognition software and alarm systems that can monitor whether or not a driver's eyes are open. An alarm sounds if they are closed for over a specific amount of time.

In both cases, the technology has very valid uses that could help to reduce accidents. Yet neither should be implemented without addressing the drivers themselves. Think of it in terms of the arms race of the 1980s.

During this period in world history, the U.S. and Soviet Union were continually increasing and upgrading warfare capabilities. The idea was to never have to use the weapons they were developing by deterring one another from instigating war. We should view some of these new driver technologies the same way – they should be deployed in the hope that they will never be needed. In order to achieve that goal, driver carelessness needs to be addressed.

Ongoing Driver Training

One of the best ways to address driver carelessness is through training. This includes the initial training needed to acquire a CDL license as well as ongoing, remedial training at the fleet level. It is the latter form of training that is likely to have the most positive effect.

Human nature is such that we tend to be careless in our routine activities if not constantly reminded of the need to stay focused. This is true whether you are talking about a truck driver or someone working at a manufacturing line. So constant reminders through remedial training help to keep drivers focused on how to perform their duties safely. This kind of training can be effective even if it amounts to just a monthly safety meeting called to remind drivers of best practices.

In the case of the Milwaukee driver, the substantial fines he faces will likely be a sufficient deterrent to prevent him from making the same mistake. However, as an industry, let us work toward preventing carelessness before things like this happen.


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