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Hey Look, Ma, No Hands! (What’s in store down the road)

Most people outside the trucking industry likely don’t realize that approx. 70% of goods delivered to us is shipped by truck. Without trucks, we would have an economic crisis (how would we get those gourmet chips, that lovely Napa valley wine, those orders from Amazon?). Supposedly, indications point to a brighter future for the trucking industry but not without very real challenges. Challenges, you say? No surprise; there are always challenges. Here we’re talking about volatile fuel prices (up, down, up, down), ever-increasing government regulations (reduction in gas emissions), rapidly changing vehicle technology (driverless trucks-oh yeah), higher operating costs (oh that’s a new one we haven’t heard), and a possible driver shortage (good drivers, not Speedy Gonzales types).

These challenges are very real and won’t go away - no, not even if you close your eyes. Large trucking companies are, typically, in a better position to adjust to the future because they have more money with which to prepare but with some foresight and smart planning, everyone can adapt for success. Some things are beyond one’s control, like the fuel prices, so you have to figure out how to work around that. Everyone in the industry knows that fuel costs eat up a tremendous amount of the operating expenses, about 40%, so whatever means can be implemented to cut back on this will be good for the bottom line (and the environment). One single big rig might cost about 100K in diesel fuel, per year. Ouch! Technology can help with this. There already exists technology that is used for pairs of rigs (like a mini convoy) that allows them to operate, essentially, as one (more on that later). This means the second rig travels much closer to the first one thereby reducing wind resistance due to aerodynamics. This can actually save about 10% in fuel costs (imagine if a company owned 83,230 trucks… that would be a savings of…oh, forget it, you get the point). As well, do you realize that a top notch driver can help with fuel costs too? A truck, driven efficiently by a pro can add another 30% savings- yeah, crazy, right? So good driver training will pay off very quickly. Pretty soon, the fuel will be for free- ha!

Technology has shaped the industry in so many new ways. Over the years, as the roadways have become more and more congested and it seems that any fool can get a driver’s license, safety has become a huge issue. Your average car driver is rather intimidated by that big rig and they’ve all heard the stories about flying tires! So smart companies are adapting. No, not cheap but it is necessary. Back to the example of the tandem rigs and how technology has dramatically improved safety on the road. Although the drivers in both trucks are still actually steering, it is not their reactions that make the safety difference here. There is a radar sensor on the front truck that looks 800 feet down the road (significantly further than the human eye can see-with or without glasses). When it detects any obstacle, it immediately applies the brakes to both trucks, simultaneously. Since it is more reliable and faster (it reacts in 1/100 of a sec. compared to 1-2 seconds for the human eye), it is safer. Inside the truck, not that much has changed. There is a video display so the driver can see the view from the other truck. How cool is this? There is a control that engages/ disengages the system, if necessary (driver’s call?)

Remember, earlier we said that professional drivers are so very important in helping reduce fuel costs, well, that’s not their only skill. Regardless of whether or not a company has the latest in technology, having the best drivers is essential. They know how to handle the rig properly, they are smart and can read developing situations quickly, react appropriately, and they don’t behave like bullies trying to outwit those with whom they share the road. Companies would do well to pay good money to get the best driver training (re-training), pay them well (good labour is never cheap labour), treat them as professionals (assuming they want them to be professional-duh!), and invest in them in whichever way they can. Something to think about here - Bose has designed a driver’s seat that reduces 90% of vibrations. This can, potentially, add years to a driver’s career (and leave his brains unscrambled – a good thing, yes?). If technology can help a driver stay more alert, be more comfortable, and keep everyone else safer, then it should be done. Drivers today, like everyone else, want to live a more balanced life. They don’t want to be away from home forever, be so tired they need additional “stimulation” to stay alert, and they want to stay healthy into retirement.

The future may very well look brighter for the trucking business but not for those companies/truck owners who do not adapt to the necessary changes. Technology is here and, in fact, in the next 10-20 years there will be more advances in this area than we saw in the last 50 years. Do not be a dinosaur. If you’re a company owner, invest wisely in your people and your trucks. If you’re a driver, get the best training and make yourself indispensible (it’s really great to be indispensible). Change is not something we, as humans, take to readily but if we try to pretend nothing has changed and think nothing will change, we’re doomed. There is always someone who “gets it” and moves forward, leaving you in the dust. Evolution is real; ignore at your peril. Do not be part of the problem on the road, be part of the solution.