Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

Ask Our Experts: Talking Driver Safety with Drew Schimelpfenig

New technology seems to be the technology that gets the most attention. That’s why you see so many stories in the media about all the companies rushing to hit the market with a viable electric long-haul truck. And it’s why everyone seems so excited about self-driving vehicle. But while everyone is focusing on these coming technologies, they aren’t asking questions about safety. So, we wanted to, and turned to our expert Drew Schimelpfenig for answers.

Headlines are all about new technologies and how they will affect the trucking industry: blockchain, autonomous vehicles, etc. Not as many people seem to be talking about safety. Why is that, and how can we keep safety top of mind for an industry that can sometimes seem distracted?

Drew Schimelpfenig: When safety is a core competency for your entire organization, when everyone has bought in, the best practices will become habits, and the right responses will be instinctive.  And when everything else is changing and going out of your control you will still be safe and focused on what matters.

How important is technology to driver safety?
 Extremely important, but not as important as driver acceptance of technology. The right technology, correctly implemented that is completely understood and accepted by the driver can absolutely lower risk, prevent incidents, decrease accidents, and reduce the severity of non-preventable collision.

However, without driver understanding and acceptance of the role that technology can play, the entire benefit of the investment will not be realized.

What kind of safety technologies are coming in the next few years that will have an impact?
 Machine learning and autonomous vehicles certainly generate the most buzz around what is next, but the continued improvements that are currently available with advanced driver assistance systems is the immediate future of safety.

Experiencing the capabilities that these radar- and video-based systems have to work in concert with the driver and the high-speed environment around a commercial vehicle, provides the best example that “piloted” autonomous vehicles on a large scale can work. Piloted is the key here. The driver still has to be capable of controlling the vehicle when needed.

What about initial driver training? How critical is that to overall driver safety? Is there something the industry needs to change when it comes to driver training? If so, what is it?
 Two responses that have to be considered together:

  1. You cannot learn how to operate a commercial vehicle in a classroom.
  2. For any profession, learning should not end, and training must continue.

This means that in addition to an extensive “apprenticeship” with an experienced senior driver, carriers also need the ability to identify behavior that is indicative of risk and direct the correct coaching as soon as possible.

The challenge for this industry is to quickly identify risk and capitalize on the opportunities to provide the right training in the right way at the right time.  

Compensating drivers fairly for their time spent in training should already be part of your budget and a non-negotiable item. Delivering current, relative content in a way that the driver can absorb and apply even if they are not sitting in a classroom is crucial.

Does the safety discussion go all the way back to recruiting? Is there a certain kind of personality that recruiters should be looking for when bringing in new drivers to the industry?
 Given the limited supply and growing demand for experienced commercial drivers, companies may be tempted to lower hiring standards. I would encourage you to remember your commitment to safety can actually be something that will draw the right drivers to you.  When safety is your culture and when you do not waver, the drivers that hire on with you will recognize and understand this from day one.  And, as your reputation for safety grows, your concern for your drivers will be more than evident. If a driver believes they can make you compromise on your safety standards to hire them, neither you nor that driver will be very satisfied.