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The good old days of trucking were technology-free and a lot tougher

By on November 25, 2015

When I got into trailer trucking many years ago, big rigs were pretty basic vehicles. There were no power windows or power mirrors — never mind heated mirrors. There were plenty of gears to shift through, and only “arm-strong steering.” The ride was harsh, from whence came the expression: “rides like a truck.” Turning on the air conditioning meant rolling down the windows and turning the dash-mounted fans to high. There was that lovely smell of diesel, especially on cold winter mornings and nights.

You used road maps, not GPS, to guide you to your destination. If you were fortunate, you might be able to raise a trucker on the CB radio to give you directions.

Trucking was far from easy and glamorous back in “the old days,” but I loved it — and still do. So, I was never a fan of technological improvements to trucks, especially automated transmissions and cruise control. To me, “jamming gears” was a continual challenge that I welcomed and found to be great fun. As for cruise control, my feeling was: “I don’t need any help in controlling my speed, thank you very much.”

However, I have grown to be a believer. Why? First, I have mellowed. Second, the technology — what it does, how to use it and the benefits to be reaped from it — have been explained to me. This is key, because no matter how brilliant a new vehicle technology, it will only perform as advertised if the driver understands why it has been added and knows how to best employ it. Third, technology makes any trucker safer and more productive, and more productivity translates into greater earning power.

Fast forward

Back in the day, if someone had told me that in my lifetime we would have self-driving (autonomous) trucks, I would have bet the farm that it wouldn’t happen. Operation of a vehicle occurring without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration and braking, and designed so that the driver is not expected to constantly monitor the roadway while operating in self-driving mode? Really? Yet in May, Freightliner introduced its Inspiration Truck, the world’s first autonomous truck licensed to drive on public roads.

A lot of individual innovations got us to that point, and some were not welcomed. Like many truckers, I felt that onboard monitoring of my every move was tantamount to spying. I take great pride in being a good, safety-conscious professional truck driver.

But once onboard monitoring was demonstrated to me as a tool to help make me become a better, more efficient and safer driver, I got “onboard.” What professional driver wouldn’t welcome any new tool that they comprehend will help them improve?

I say embrace technology. (I never thought I’d be saying that.) It can positively benefit you as well as your company. Do not fear learning new technology or new systems. Get a good understanding of them. Then, learn how to use them to improve your skills and at the same time enhance highway safety.

Keep in mind, however, that regardless of any technological advancement on any vehicle, the person behind the wheel remains ultimately accountable for its efficient and safe operation.


Some of the technology now commonly being used on big rigs that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable:

• Adaptive and predictive cruise control
• Neutral Coast (automatically tells the transmission to go into neutral coast mode under certain conditions to save fuel)
• Collision warning and avoidance/ mitigation systems
• Lane departure warning systems
• Lane change/merge warning systems
• Stability control systems
• Adaptive Loading (tractor tandem axle set-up that automatically adjusts to weight changes)
• Systems that provide data on engine health, plus diagnose the problem, provide the recommended solution and note the closest repair facilities
• Real-time low tire pressure and high-temperature warning systems
• Electronic logging devices/electronic onboard recorders
• Onboard monitoring that measures and records speed, acceleration, fuel consumption, following distance, unsafe driving practices, time at stops, unauthorized stops and more

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