When most people look at a big truck on the highway, they see a massive combination vehicle with a huge grill, protruding smoke stacks, eighteen wheels, and a lot of power. Automobile drivers look up into the cab and expect to see a big, burly guy looking back through the mirrors. While these perceptions might have been true in the past, things are rapidly changing … in a positive way.
To begin, more women are entering the industry as professional drivers. While women currently comprise about seven percent of the driver population, that number is growing quickly. Women are learning that the old image of a dirty, physically demanding job is no longer true.
Technology within the trucking industry has progressed at a dizzying pace. Visiting a truck show is no longer just kicking tires and looking at chrome and steel. Now, the technology companies are outpacing the traditional manufacturers at industry events.
As the industry adopts more technology, it allows the driver to enjoy a career that’s less physical and more skilled, which in turn attracts more women.
Twenty years ago, a driver might kiss his wife and children goodbye and spend two to six weeks on the road, with very little communication in between. Now, a driver might be away from home but can stay connected virtually from anywhere on a 24/7 basis. Cell phones with “FaceTime,” tablets and laptops with Skype, Google Hangouts, and other video conference abilities allow a driver to see and hear his or her family and friends in real time. When asked to name a favorite technology device, drivers on the WIT Facebook page overwhelmingly mentioned their smartphones for checking on customer addresses and looking at the facilities with Google Maps, finding parking spots, weather and road conditions, traffic patterns and more.
From the carrier perspective, connection with the truck and driver is also immediate. Look inside a large terminal’s dispatch area and you’ll see large maps with tiny dots indicating a power unit somewhere on the nation’s highways. Those silver domes on the cab of the truck are actually satellite receivers which track every mile of the more than three million tractor-trailers on the road at a time.
What about safety? Trucks are now equipped with collision warning devices, anti-lock brakes, stability control systems, and anti-rollover equipment. Trucks are much safer, both inside and outside of the cab.
A driver can sit in the cab and ensure a secure connection with the fifth wheel via video. He or she doesn’t have to crank the dollies, as a touch of a button will raise and lower the trailer legs. Snow chains apply themselves to the tires with a command from inside the truck. Drivers can even monitor the tire pressure without using a club to hit each wheel on the truck and trailer.
Fatigue systems include glasses that alert a driver if his or her head tilts forward and in the future, that could come from a sensor in the cab that sounds an alarm when a driver’s eyes shut for too long.
Comfort in the cab has advanced a great deal since the days of the wild cat haulers. Women especially look for “creature comforts” to make the truck feel more like home. Better positioning for appliances such as microwaves, refrigerators, and even portable toilets, allow the driver more storage and a better-designed living space.
The ergonomics in the front of the cab has been a focus for the truck manufacturers at the prodding of the Women In Trucking Association. More adaptability is the key, as many women drive in a team configuration with a husband or boyfriend.
From seat positioning to the slope of the dash, trucks are getting a makeover. A typically shorter woman has a harder time seeing over the dash without losing touch with the pedals. Also, the slope of the hood can create a barrier for visibility in front of the truck. The console can reduce visibility to the passenger side mirrors, which is what a driver relies on to see the opposite side of the truck.
Women’s typically shorter arms and legs require an easier to reach dashboard so knobs and switches can be accessible. Seats need to accommodate a woman’s shorter leg length and wider hips. Seat belt comfort has been an issue for female drivers, as women are designed differently than men and a webbed belt rubbing across anyone’s chest for ten to eleven hours can be uncomfortable, but often more so for women.
Many four-wheeler drivers might not realize that most trucks are now being built with automated transmissions. The days of double clutching and synchronized shifting are fading away. This isn’t something women have needed or requested instead it’s a reflection of the need to attract millennials, who typically learned to drive with an automated transmission and wouldn’t know what to do with a stick shift in any vehicle!
A common misconception about trucks is that they pollute the air. Sure, there might still be some old vehicles on the road with a trail of smoke flowing from the stack, but those days are in the past as well.
Over the years, the allowance for emission standards has been reduced to nearly nothing. Newer trucks have EPA standards so stringent in some places that the air coming out of the truck is cleaner than what went in. The Obama administration has proposed rules to reduce truck emissions by 25 percent over the next decade.
Truck manufacturers have adopted European technology that uses a product called DEF, or Diesel Exhaust Fluid, which is a mixture of urea and deionized water injected into the exhaust stream to reduce harmful NOx emissions. Drivers must purchase this liquid and refill their truck tanks at truck stops.
Drivers sleep in the cab of the truck, but anti-idling laws force the driver to turn the truck off, despite hot or cold outside temperatures. Carriers install auxiliary power units (APUs) that heat and cool the cab of the truck when the engine is turned off.
With all the technology in the truck and at the terminal, the advances are even more prominent when it comes to the industry’s use of apps. A driver can locate a parking spot three hours away, secure a repair service, stay connected to friends, or just get directions to a shipper, all on a smartphone or tablet. Some truck manufacturers have the ability to monitor a truck’s engine and diagnose repairs through a smartphone app.
If you’ve ever glanced inside the cockpit of a commercial airplane, you’ve probably wondered what all those gauges, knobs, and switches are designed to do. Check out the cab of a truck some day and you’ll see a similar sight.
Instead of looking at big trucks as massive combination vehicles with huge grills, protruding smoke stacks, eighteen wheels, and a lot of power, consider the level of technology inside and outside the cab. Not only are today’s commercial trucks more environmentally responsible, driver friendly, and connected, they are full of technology that makes them safer and easier to operate.
Technology and trucks … a great combination.