Automated Discipline?

Growing up, many of us had chores to do around the house, or we had a pet whose welfare rested on our shoulders.  Our parents wanted us to learn responsibility, to exercise discipline in remembering to do the things we had to do — even when we’d rather not.  If we did it, we got paid in some fashion, but if we forgot consistently, we had a sit down conversation about our performance (and/or received some other motivation, too).

As a driver, we learn that we should consistently use our signals, we need to monitor our position in the lane, and be aware of the location of vehicles around us.  Training programs point out that we need to maintain an escape route and keep a sense of what’s going on down the road in front of us.  These are principles that I call “Disciplined Driving” as a counter point to what we actually encounter on the road — “Distracted Driving”.

For almost a decade, researchers and engineers have been working on systems to:

  1. Watch traffic for us
  2. Monitor our position in the lane
  3. Check our blind spot before we merge
  4. Tell us we’re likely to roll over because we’re going to fast into a curve
  5. And more…

I’m not going to criticize these efforts — they are a noble enterprize designed to save lives; however, I have three concerns about potential, unintended consequences:

  1. Would  these systems “accidentally” encourage drivers to become less disciplined while behind the wheel? 
  2. Will the upfitting of these systems to existing vehicles sap financial resources from organizations that could have been more productively employed (while waiting for OEM installations of the whiz-bang technology to be amortized into the cost of a new vehicle lease or loan)?
  3. Have you ever seen the “OSHA Cowboy” comic?  We wouldn’t want to do that to our commercial vehicles, right?

Now, I realize that these systems represent a tremendous potential in saving lives – and that’s the best reason to charge forward.  Also, these aren’t planned to do the driving for us, but to help us during moments of distraction.  They’re a “warning of last resort” before our actions would lead to a collision.  And I think that’s great!

I’m just not convinced that we should try to “automate” discipline behind the wheel.  Maybe the relationship between the driver supervisor and the driver can be improved — in fact, one of the “keys” to successful implementation of “technology solutions” is talking to the drivers about the technology — how it works, why it is being implemented, and what it can do to benefit the driver.

What if an organization put that same effort into a communications plan to talk (eyeball to eyeball) with their drivers even if they weren’t installing technology in their vehicles?  I bet you’d see an improvement in production performance and safety results, too.

Embrace technology where it fits and meets a specific need, but let’s not replace old-fashioned discipline (on the parts of the driver OR the supervisor) with fancy automation and expect sustained results.  Otherwise, the “pied piper” promise of technology will come with a higher bill than originally quoted.