Today I would like to focus on our dependence on electronic innovation and gadgets in our society. Throughout the history of our great country we’ve developed a fascination with electricity and electronics. This fascination goes back to Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison in terms of its use in the United States. Since the development of the light bulb we have pursued bigger and better uses of electricity. Through the efforts of people like Nikola Tesla and Marconi, these changes have infiltrated our lives and changed our standards of living. Even a small spark had the power to move our society from steam power to internal combustion power. Our government got involved with the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the R.E.A. They are responsible for electrifying much of America. The U.S. also pursued monumental projects with the development of hydroelectric power. Later in 1946 the first computer developed was named “ENIAC” which is an acronym for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer. The pursuit of technology was drastically accelerated in the sixties with the challenge of going to the moon. The U.S. had officially entered the space race. The interest in the development of technology hit an all time high.
Today we enjoy our smart phones, GPS, cars that park themselves, remote controls for almost everything and let’s not forget the internet! We have become addicted to social media, portable connectivity and computing. Technology that is intended to make our lives easier and safer. That brings me to the true subject, E.D.D. ( Electronic Dependence Disorder ) and T.D.S. ( Technology Dependency Syndrome ). These are disabilities that have yet to be discovered or acknowledged. It is important to recognize that when something is gained, something likewise is also lost. In years past the things lost were freely exchanged for the things gained. The slide rule was replaced by the calculator. Use of the calculator, in turn, has caused many of the formulas of an equation to become insignificant. Email has replaced what we now call “snail mail”. We now have smart thermostats to control heating and cooling more efficiently. Some of these devices can even be controlled remotely from a smart phone. We (the public) are eager to consume all the latest and greatest advancements that we can afford.
Some technology has been beneficial overall with little effect of what has been lost. An example of this is self adjusting slack adjusters. Today’s drivers know little about adjusting breaks and the repercussions of badly adjusted brakes. Air conditioning in automobiles was a very welcome advancement. A.B.S. was a great invention. I remember, before advanced technology, when you hit the breaks, you would check the mirrors to see which side the trailer was going to slide toward. However, with self adjusting slacks and A.B.S., the need to understand what causes a trailer to swing sideways in hard breaking was lost.
E.D.D. and T.D.S.( remember: Electronic Dependence Disorder and Technology Dependency Syndrome ) has infiltrated the trucking industry. Some advancements have been welcomed and some, not so much. Today we see a very aggressive push toward technology to balance the lack of education and experience as a trade off for proper training and higher profits. Dependency on electronics was credited as the cause of an airplane crash in San Francisco last year. Laws have been passed about the use of cell phones and texting while driving because of the threat to safety.
While society has reached a point that we may be willing to give up some of our privacy or control for convenience, not everyone is on board with every new innovation that comes out. The technology used in the ELDs today is preferred by some drivers because they don’t have to learn how to record a log properly or struggle with the math involved in the complex HOS rules. Other drivers reject this technology proclaiming it reduces flexibility and forces many drivers to operate in higher risk periods of the day. It has not been shown to reliably increase safety at all, however there are many arguments made to that point. As matter of fact, experienced drivers have protested that the lack of flexibility has reduced safety and increased fatigue. The same can be said about crash mitigation technology. In most cases, it helps the undertrained driver avoid a crash. It removes control of the vehicle from the driver and follows a preset program designed by people who may have never seen the inside of a truck cab.
A properly trained driver would avoid risky situations and negate the effectiveness of, or need for, technology that compensates for a lack of skill. More and more control is being removed from the drivers and being replaced by technology. We seem to be allowing technology to replace proper training. Proof of this can be found with a congressional mandate that is over twenty years old calling for driver training standards that have to this day not been established. During that same time, many electronic advancements have been mandated to reduce the input needed from a driver. What happens when you are on an icy road and the computer applies the breaks? Legends have been made about the drivers that have chosen the lesser of two evils and put themselves in harms way to avoid injury to others. Does technology have the ability to allow that? In the not so distant future, a driver will only be needed as a systems manager for a truck.
Another unanswered question is, what happens when you lose the dependability of technology? Computers depend on sensors to monitor conditions and make adjustments. Sensors will only last so long. What will a truck do if it gets the wrong signal from its sensors? If the computer gets a glitch, can the driver of tomorrow take over safely without compromising public safety? Will a truck driver be able to handle the equipment with proficiency or simply guide the truck to the nearest shoulder until a trained professional arrives to fix the problem? Or maybe we will have a default program to deal with that as well….
I’ve heard the buggy whip argument and how we must adapt. I do believe this is true. I also believe that we must acknowledge what is being lost while we promote what is supposedly being gained. I really believe that we must build from solid foundations of education to truly create a better tomorrow. I support technology that gives a driver more control, not less control. When our dependence on technology supersedes our skills, how much better off are we? Shouldn’t we invest in knowledge and training? Without GPS, how many drivers could find their way? Without an ELD, how many could keep a legal paper log? Without ABS, how many drivers would stay in their own lane? Do we really need to invest in more technology and less training or teach the fundamentals and embrace safety in the absence of technology? This condition we are experiencing of dependency on technology and allowing it to replace real learned or developed skill is littered with pitfalls. We must not allow our drivers to be dumbed down by those who want to sell their latest gadgets and promote them as being safer for the public. Education and experience should be our first line obligation to the industry and the public. We need driver training standards and driver trainer standards. We need to educate our public how to drive better and safer. It is time for all professional drivers to step up and direct the future of our industry.