Think Safety When Choosing Specifications for Your Next Truck

New monitoring technology and cab comforts will help your driver return safely from a long and productive workday.

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In work truck fleets, operator safety is a paramount concern. Adding safety options can have huge payoffs in terms of insurance savings, productivity and employee morale.

Driving is the most dangerous activity most Americans undertake on a regular basis. Thousands perish in traffic crashes annually. Even though a large number of our wastewater industry drivers possess CDLs, this does not mean they are “good” or “professional” drivers. Safe driving is an attitude and a learned skill.

Safety encompasses more than just vehicular accidents. Job site safety is as important as roadway safety. It is important that the vehicle gets from the shop to the job site safely, but while on the job site, operator safety takes the lead. These are distinctly different conditions that have different requirements, concerns and needs.

Crashes are costly in many ways, from property damage to injury, even fatalities. I was at a drivers’ meeting in which the manager of the facility announced that the company had a fatality on the job. A worker had been run over by a truck he was guiding into a job site. The manager was in tears. The accident was avoidable, and he felt personally responsible for the employee’s death. In the subsequent investigation, the event was ruled accidental and no blame was assigned, but the manager struggled for some time afterward. I hope you never have to make that announcement to your staff.

ROADWAY SAFETY OPTIONS

Many truck brands now offer such options as collision avoidance technology, lane departure technology, camera technologies, and other electronic means of making trucks safer for driving. GPS and telematics programs can also help by tracking driver behavior and allowing management to make decisions based on data, both recorded and real-time.

Collision avoidance uses onboard radar technologies that “sense” the surrounding environments with radar systems. These systems are usually combined with the cruise control features and can be programmed to give the truck’s computer the ability to override driver inputs and slow or stop the truck by several methods. Full stops are available on some models. The various systems offer a range of features including frontal, side mount, and rear radars. Programming can include automated features (braking engagement) or various degrees of driver alerts, such as a steering wheel shaker or audible alerts.

Lane departure technology is optically based, a camera observes the lines on the roadways and alerts the driver to movement out of the lane. These functions engage if the driver does not use the turn signals and have a speed threshold (around 35 mph).
Camera systems can give drivers unparalleled ability to see the environment around the vehicle. There are backup cameras and sophisticated systems that give a comprehensive 360-degree view. Cutting-edge camera technology will eliminate mirrors and put heads-up displays in the side windows of trucks, simulating the view from the traditional mirror.

DRIVER MONITORING

GPS and telematics programs allow managers to track a driver’s behavior. GPS tracks truck location on a working route and has limited functionality. Telematics integrate the truck’s operating systems, combining them with a GPS function and offering more data to be monitored. Telematics can monitor engine conditions, mechanical equipment, speed, G-force loading on the vehicle, braking incidents and more. Telematics allows for immediate notification of predetermined parameters of operation and reports can be generated to show activities of the truck.

An example of parameters could (and should) be a text notification of an engine-overheat situation. If the truck starts to run hot, the program will send a text to the fleet manager (or anyone you indicate). In turn, the fleet manager can call the driver and make an appropriate suggestion (shut it down, now!).

Other parameters can be set to send emails or just be put into reports. For example, telematics programs can monitor activities such as seat belt use. Seat belt engagement is self-explanatory and provides data about drivers and their habits. This information can help managers monitor the drivers, identifying undesirable behaviors before they become problematic and costly.

SIMPLER SPECS

Other options are less glamorous but offer protections that can be more valuable than the sophisticated technological approach. These options are a part of the truck specification process.

Common risks include slip and fall accidents. Slips and falls usually occur when entering or leaving the truck cab. Rain, snow and ice make footing and handholds unsure. Proper handholds with rubber grips and steps with ample foothold decrease slip and fall accidents.

Be aware of visibility concerns. Common items that can be overlooked include mirror options, door lenses and window options. Most chassis brands offer several mirror options, including heated mirrors, spot mirrors and hood-mounted spot mirrors. Downward-looking mirrors can often be specified as well. This type of mirror is mounted to the top of the door frame and gives a view of the passenger side of the truck. Hood-mounted spot mirrors add tremendous visibility along with the benefit of a “sight rod” feature.

(They can tell the driver where the edge of the hood is in relation to objects.)

Window options also need be addressed. Some chassis manufacturers can install a “port” in the door, a small window in the lower corner that allows the driver to see the blind spot. Other options include one-piece windows, removing the center post of the window and the associated blind spot, and rear corner post windows, allowing visibility aft of the cab.

Seating and cab options are also critical to operator safety. Providing a comfortable cab enhances driver productivity and safety. Simple options such as air-ride seats, heated seats, lumbar control, etc. can help a driver pay attention to road with minimal distractions. A tilt steering wheel enhances vehicle control by allowing proper handhold of the wheel. High-visibility seat belts allow law enforcement and management to visually check if a driver is using his seat belt. Cab storage options can reduce clutter and the potential for flying debris — and give the added advantage of being more organized and productive.

Proper tire specification can also affect safety. Choosing the wrong tires can lead to traction or loading issues, creating potentially dangerous conditions. Modern tires are engineering marvels, specifically engineered to maximize performance. Consider speed and load ratings as well as tread design, and apply your parameters to tire choice.

ORDER CAREFULLY

These are some of the highlights of truck specifications that have a bearing safety, and many are overlooked. Consult a professional when building a truck and understand all available options.



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