Automated technology impacts trucking industry ROI, benefits driver retention

by Jeff Della Rosa ( 242 views 

For the trucking industry, automated technology is about a return on investment, a trade organization executive said. It’s not investing in automated technology “because it’s cool,” said Michael Cammisa, vice president of safety policy and connectivity for the American Trucking Associations.

Cammisa recently spoke on autonomous vehicle policy to members of the Arkansas Trucking Association at its annual business conference in Rogers. Impacts related to the technology include safety, productivity, and driver health, wellness and retention.

“We think there’s a role for the driver for the foreseeable future,” Cammisa said.

He expects the trucking industry will be a leader in automation, noting that “we really want to see this technology develop.” Technology such as collision mitigation systems, lane departure warning systems, air disc brakes and predictive cruise control are viewed as “stepping stones toward automated or autonomous vehicles,” according to Michael Baudendistel and Brady Cox, both transportation analysts for Stifel.

On Aug. 1, electronic stability control will be required for tractors with two drive axles. Now, between 35% and 40% of new class six to eight air-brake tractors and straight trucks are being built with electronic stability control, and Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, one of the largest suppliers of braking and safety equipment in North America, doesn’t expect the regulation will be rolled back.

“The presence of electronic stability control in a tractor is important not only because it reduces the chance of rollovers, jackknifing, and loss of control, but also because it allows even higher-tech safety features to be added on top of the ESC system, such as the Bendix Wingman or WABCO OnGaurd active safety system,” according to Baudendistel and Cox, who expect the use of the electronic stability control to rise after the mandate goes into effect.

Fred Andersky, director of customer solutions, controls, and director of government and industry affairs for Bendix, recently spoke on a conference call with Stifel analysts and trucking industry leaders about safety features and air disc brakes, which are widely used in big rigs in Europe.

Andersky said air disc brakes are more comfortable, more powerful and consistently more powerful than drum brakes. Regarding maintenance, drum brakes need to be changed twice before an air disc brakes need changing, and changing disc brakes is less time consuming. Disc brakes have a 10%-12% shorter stopping distance compared to drum brakes. They also don’t show the same “fade characteristics” drum brakes do when running hills and mountains. However, air disc brakes cost $500 to $1,000 more per axle, according to Baudendistel and Cox.

The reduction in crashes is a key benefit to using collision mitigation systems, Andersky said. One fleet saw a 70% reduction in rear-end crashes, and a 70% decline in the severity of the accidents, while using the technology.

A fleet using WABCO’s collision mitigation system had up to an 87% reduction in crashes and an 89% reduction in accident costs, according to the Stifel analysts. “Bendix, for what it is worth, has seen similar reductions at some of its fleets.”

“Fleets are in business to make money,” Andersky said.

Carriers won’t purchase the technology without a pay back in 18 to 24 months. Technology that improves safety might lead to reduced insurance rates, according to Cox and Baudendistel, but this might not be realized immediately.

“Insurance companies evaluate a holistic picture of a carrier’s risk profile when quoting rates, and a carrier typically has to demonstrate that it is a good credit risk from a clean driving record before being able to negotiate a reduction in insurance premiums.”

Andersky explained using collision mitigation systems along with cruise control have helped fleets save on fuel and alleviate concerns of driver complacency related to cruise control. Platooning technology is also starting to gain traction, but he said don’t expect to see the technology used in rain or snow.

“We call a lot of these technologies driver assistance technologies, not driver replacement technologies,” Andersky said.

Several hurdles and years remain before self-driving, level-five autonomous trucks hit the road, “but there are many intermittent technologies that will gradually seize control from the driver with the objective of saving fuel and improving safety,” according to Cox and Baudendistel.