Issues & Positions
Selling Snake Oil

In my editorial comments in the November issue of Land Line, I discussed a recent announcement by Freightliner President Jim Hebe that Freightliner would be installing black box technology as standard equipment on new truck models. I also discussed our concerns with technology that is designed to provide information about the driver, rather than to provide useful information to the driver.

Well, guess what? The latest news is that Freightliner will also be including, as standard equipment, technology that will report information to the driver.

Two new systems, in fact, were announced in a recent press release: A Lane Guidance System that uses a digital camera to monitor the truck's position relative to lane markings, and a Roll Advisor and Control System that alerts the driver to potentially-dangerous driving behavior (with messages of increasing urgency as the potential for rollover increases). The Roll Stability Control will automatically slow the truck if it senses a rollover is imminent.

In a related news release, the U.S. DOT announced that grants of $12.7 million dollars would be awarded to fund operational tests of advanced safety systems, including systems to address large truck rollover accidents. The grants will be combined with $7.7 million from partners in the project, one of whom will be -you guessed it - Freightliner (with its Rollover Stability Advisor).

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? Why would our tax dollars be awarded for operational tests of this technology, when Freightliner has already announced that it would be included as standard equipment next year? Sounds to me like somebody's at work selling Snake Oil.

Granted, truck rollovers are a significant factor resulting in a large percentage of injuries and fatalities to commercial drivers. The question is, how many of those rollover accidents are a result of a sudden, unexpected occurrence or maneuver, as opposed to simply taking a curve too fast? How comforting it will be to hear that Rollover Alert sounding as the truck goes over.

Do experienced, professional drivers really need to have the truck slow down automatically on every curve? Do you need the truck to tell you if you're keeping it between the lines? And wouldn't it really be better to provide the pay and training necessary to place and keep quality, experienced professional drivers behind the wheel, rather than try to foolproof the truck to a point that any dummy can drive it?

It's not my desire to use this space to pick on Freightliner. There are many other important issues I would rather discuss. But it is important to shed light on important developments that can significantly impact professional truckers. And if Freightliner is going to continue to proclaim itself the "industry leader," it is important to know where they are trying to lead us.

I don't know if this new partnership with DOT has anything to do with Freightliner's willingness to add, as standard equipment on its trucks, technology capable of subjecting professional truckers to electronic surveillance (black boxes). The timing, however, is certainly suspicious.