While much has been made about futuristic technology coming to the trucking industry over the past several years, the fact is, Transport America is investing heavily in new technology today that will increase the safety and comfort of its drivers.
“To attract and keep the best drivers in the industry, we know that we need to invest in trucking technology that makes our trucks safer, easier to use, and more comfortable,” says Phill Reynolds, Vice President of Maintenance for Transport America. “It’s what today’s top drivers demand, and at Transport America, we’re continuously evaluating our fleet to meet the needs of drivers today and those who will drive with us tomorrow.”
With those values in the mind, the Transport America fleet is being upgraded with 300 new Kenworth and Freightliner tractors over the coming year that will replace older model tractors. In addition, the company has placed an order for a new Tesla tractor to begin the process of learning about electric vehicles.
From the cab to the trailer, inside and out, these new trucks continue to raise the bar in terms of new technology being used day-to-day throughout the company.
“If the technology is there that allows us to keep our drivers – and those who drive around them – more safe,” says Reynolds, “we’re interested in researching and investing in it. We don’t give lip service to safety. We put our money where our mouths are.”
Before Reynolds placed the order for the new Freightliner and Kenworth trucks, he and a number of other business leaders at Transport America carefully listened to Transport America drivers about their needs. In addition, the company poured through maintenance and driver records, too.
“When we invest in new features and technology for our trucks, we want to see what types of impact those improvements will make,” he says. “Of course, we’re interested in lowering our fuel and maintenance costs. But new trucking technology also can have an impact on costs such as insurance and recruitment, too. Insights from our drivers can help us understand better where we can maximize our investments.”
Upgrades to the driving experience include fingertip controls on the steering wheel that allow drivers to adjust cruise control or even pick a radio station.
“It’s about keeping those eyes on the road,” says Reynolds.
In the sleeper area, all of the new Freightliner and Kenworth trucks will include an escape door in the sleeper area that will allow drivers to easily evacuate a vehicle in case of an emergency. In addition, the mattresses in the new trucks are extra thick to help drivers obtain higher quality sleep.
“Better sleep, safer drivers,” Reynolds adds.
To continue to advance the safety of Transport America drivers, all new tractors will come equipped with Lane Keeping Assist Technology. Anything from a cough or a sneeze to a driver nodding off can cause an abrupt and dangerous lane change. Lane Keeping Assist Technology alerts the driver of the change while maintaining a safe location within a lane.
In addition to Lane Keeping Assist Technology, the new Freightliners and Kenworth tractors will be equipped with side-object detection technology. Monitoring the blind spot is always a challenge and irresponsible four-wheel drivers on the road pose a huge safety hazard for professional truck drivers. This new technology reduces potential accidents by alerting a driver of an object in the blind spot area (about 15 to 20 feet from the driver’s seat toward the trailer) on both sides of the tractor-trailer.
“These technologies, combined with other safety technology that we currently use in our trucks, will continue to help us reduce our exposure to crashes,” says Reynolds. “Will they completely prevent them, unfortunately not. But little by little, these investments will add up and have a measurable impact on our safety record.”
“And that’s important to attracting and retaining good drivers, and in securing loads from customers,” Reynolds adds. “We know that what really matters is our drivers arriving home safely after being out on the road. There’s no load worth dying for.”
Improvements aren’t limited to just Transport America’s tractors. It’s fleet of trailers will be upgraded, too, over the course of the coming year.
According to Reynolds, one of the major improvements the company is planning is to reinforce the rear bumpers of its trailers to reduce the impact of four-wheel vehicles that crash in the back of a Transport America trailer.
In addition, the company is installing new rear facing lights on the back of the company’s trailers which will give drivers improved visibility when backing up to loading docks in poorly lit or dark loading areas.
The company also is installing new air pressure monitors for all trailer tires that automatically adjusts tire pressure to optimum levels. This technology ensures that tires are inflated to their safest levels, while at the same time, optimizing fuel consumption.
Professional truck drivers are used to having one eye on the horizon. This mindset also applies to the advancements in driverless technology. Driverless vehicles continue to make strides in effectiveness and accessibility. However there are plenty of logistical hurdles that stand between fully autonomous vehicles being the norm.
“The amount of regulation around the country that would need to occur for autonomous trucks to safely navigate our roads is simply tremendous,” says Reynolds. “We are just beginning to understand how this technology will shape the future, so it will be many years before we see driverless trucks on our roads.”
While the use of driverless vehicles may be a ways off, some of the technology that would be used in driverless trucks is already helping to make our nation’s roads safer for all drivers, including four-wheelers.
“As it exists now, technology such as Lane Keeping Assist Technology and Side-Object Detection is improving the safety for our drivers,” says Reynolds, “that’s technology Transport America wants to invest in now.”
With major players in the vehicle industry developing electric-powered products, Transport America is continuously monitoring how those changes may impact the future of truck driving.”
Transport America has ordered a Tesla electric semi-truck with the understanding that the adoption of such new technology may be years away.
“While electric trucks will make their way into the industry, the infrastructure to facilitate a massive change doesn’t exist yet,” said Reynolds.
The biggest hurdle to electric trucks is charging stations.
“Right now, it simply takes too long to charge a tractor,” says Reynolds. “And until that changes, you won’t see the numbers of charging stations you would need at truck stops or support centers to make it feasible.”
“But, that may change in the years to come,” Reynolds says. “The technology is advancing quickly.”
It Boils Down to Respect
Transport America knows that drivers are aware of these massive changes in their field and want to know that both their excitement and concern is heard.
The company understands that when professional drivers succeed, the company does as well. Respect is built into every choice and those choices are made with full awareness of what drivers go through on a day-to-day basis.