Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

Operation Safe Driver Week 2020: The evolution of commercial motor vehicle safety

Michael Ahart
Michael Ahart
Vice President of Regulatory Affairs

When Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler introduced the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1886, the popularity of their esteemed invention was near-instantaneous. While many likely knew that moving from a horse-and-buggy mode of transport would revolutionize transportation around the globe, only the most imaginative people could have predicted the evolutionary sequence the beloved automobile would witness in the coming century.

As the 20th century emerged, so did society’s dependence on cars. As was the case with all modes of transport, the automobile emerged with its fair share of issues. With this evolution of personal mobility came speeding, reckless driving, and pedestrian fatalities. In the 1920s, the National Safety Council began launching Safety Week campaigns — not so different from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) Operation Safe Driver Week happening now — to increase public awareness and encourage drivers to practice proper on-the-road caution.

Commercial vehicle safety in the 20th century

In the decades following these initial safety efforts, educators and elected officials worked to shape the narrative around what safe driving entailed. Simultaneously, researchers, scientists, and engineers worked to understand the psychology of driving behavior and the shortcomings of their present-day automobiles to shape future models.

Recent decades continue to expand on the combined efforts. Much of what we now associate with vehicle safety today was not emphasized until fairly recently. Airbags, for example, were not required until the federal government mandated them in 1998.

Commercial motor vehicles are no exception to this evolutionary process. The same year that airbags were mandated, U.S. Congress also mandated that new trailers would require larger and more durable rear guards to prevent crash-related explosions caused by rear fuel tanks. This mandate only came after decades of awareness campaigns aimed at the dangers of these unprotected, rear-mounted fuel tanks.

As times change, so does our approach to safety

At the start of the 21st century, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted extensive research on commercial motor vehicle safety. In their comprehensive report, researchers concluded that company leaders would need to develop multilevel, all-inclusive safety programs with steps and procedures that would aid in safety management efforts. According to these researchers, a well-established safety program must encompass motivational tools, record data collection and analysis, and knowledge development of institutional safety.

The researchers also stressed the importance of communication in promoting an influential culture of safety. They stated that managers that created a culture of fear for drivers and unleashed excessive termination threats were outdated in their thinking. Instead, these fear-based management methods needed to be replaced with verbal communication, positive reinforcement, and internal cooperation. While this research was released less than two decades ago, it bears truth that much of what was emphasized has been incorporated in the way modern and successful industry leaders approach safety today.

The future of fleet safety

Technology plays a critical role in the way we approach safety today. With the emergence and evolution of navigation technologies, in-cab video, and near real-time reporting solutions, fleet professionals — from managers to back-office teams to drivers — are now objectively more confident in driver safety than they were just ten years ago.

While I could spend ample time talking about the multitude of benefits robust telematics solutions offer, I’ll instead emphasize one key point regarding safety. The near real-time visibility that these solutions provide truly serves as a testament to how technology has evolved to protect drivers. From keeping a watchful eye on critical, safety-related events before they become hazardous incidents to gaining vehicle transparency and proactive maintenance alerts before driver safety is jeopardized, technology solutions play a crucial role in shielding drivers from serious harm.

These solutions, coupled with an evolving culture of safety, can prove highly beneficial to our entire industry today and in the future.

That’s a wrap for my Operation Safe Driver Week blog-post series. I certainly enjoyed sharing my various perspectives with you, and I look forward to doing so again in the future. In case you missed it, check out my post from earlier this week on ways you can prioritize driver safety. Happy driving!