Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2002   by Auto Service World

Heavy Duty: The Continuing Saga of Truck Safety: Fleet Safety Must Focus on Human Factors

Fleet managers are focusing on how to keep drivers alive. Their drivers, that is.

While it may come as a surprise to people used to hearing about truck safety in terms of how many wheels have fallen off lately, the issue of wheel maintenance was not even broached by the Safety Initiatives panel at the 39th Annual Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar, held in Toronto in late April.

This is not to say that they are unconcerned with maintenance and safety, but the overwhelming cause of accidents is the human behind the wheel. So, the focus of three presenters was on enabling technologies and driver behavior.

John Billings, who has two decades of experience at Ontario’s Ministry of Transport and has spent the last five years as a consultant, says that driver behavior is an important factor in crashes, but that understanding crashes and vehicle dynamics can help fleet managers and drivers understand what to do.

“There are really two types of crashes. They can have one all on their own where there is only one person to blame: the driver. In multiple vehicle crashes, the driver of another vehicle is at fault two-thirds of the time.”

Still, says Billings, even when the demonstrable cause of a crash might have been another driver, the truck operator might have been able to take action; driving more slowly in traffic or leaving more space, thereby allowing the driver more time to react to trouble ahead.

Still, more drivers die alone than any other way. Two-thirds of all truck drivers killed, says Billings, are the victims of single vehicle crashes. They crash into fixed objects, like bridge abutments, or simply drive off the road and roll over, a scenario that is responsible for 57% of all truck driver fatalities.

“My feeling is that drivers are either operating well within the safety margin, or deeply into the crash zone. When you come down to it, the driver’s action is really the point. The real focus needs to be understanding and making sure that drivers are doing the right things on the highway.”

Enno Jakobson, vice-president Risk Management, Challenger Motor Freight, says that the number of technologies on tap is truly impressive, but it is wise to not overestimate the contribution they can make to safety.

“We have all these automotive and engineering initiatives, but when you get right down to it, fully 50% of accidents are directly related to driver behavior,” chiefly driving too fast. A further 20% are related to driver fatigue, he says.

“What we have seen over time with all the technology, is that drivers adapt to it. With ABS, they drive more quickly and follow more closely. Drivers get more comfortable and are involved in more accidents.” This is supported by independent research, he says.

Jakobson disagrees with the use of skid schools as a method of reducing accidents. They simply show drivers where the edge of the operating envelope is, who too often take this approach back to the road. This echoes the experience in the general passenger car population.

“All these measures don’t actually reduce the number of accidents. What you need to do is get back to the fundamentals of human resource management.” He says that fleets need to determine what they want in a driver. “Check his background. Perform a road test. You would be surprised at the number of carriers that don’t perform these requirements,” says Jakobson.

He says that the technology exists to help mould driver behavior by providing feedback on his activities, and helping to draw his and the organization’s attention to habits that need correcting.

“There is a lot of great technology out there, but all this technology needs to be integrated and accepted by the driver in order to gain the full benefit from it.”

The bottom line is, in fact, the bottom line.

“Investing in technology and safety falls right to the bottom line,” he says. “It has helped reduce our overall operating costs. And our insurance premiums are significantly lower. There is definitely a payback, not just investing in technology, but in your people and your training.”


The Heavy Duty Distributors Council’s Annual Business Conference is being held June 2 to 5 at the Fairmont Algonquin, St. Andrews By-The-Sea, N.B. Contact the HDDC at 519-631-9424 or log on to