ATRI: Drivers & carriers asked to weigh in on Navigation Systems

ATRI has launched a new survey that explores the use of navigation systems by commercial drivers. This brief online survey, seeks both commercial driver and motor carrier input, and will capture information on the attitudes of both groups toward navigation systems including perceived benefits and risks.


From an ATRI Press Release:

“While navigation systems are becoming increasingly commonplace in the nation’s commercial vehicles, the impact that these devices have on driver behavior, decision making and safety is not fully understood.  There is mounting anecdotal evidence that GPS navigation units are being blamed for large truck crashes where “bridge strikes” and other crashes in which the truck driver was using a navigation system designed for passenger vehicles have been high profile events.”

It seems like a very valuable survey based on recent (and not so recent) crash reports.  Perhaps it would be very wise to participate so that you can contribute to their research so that their findings include your perspective/experience!

Training Topic – Vehicle Clearances

Do you remember the first time you scratched or “dinged” the side of your car when you first started driving?  I do. 

My father’s pride and joy was our family’s 1977 Chevy Nova sedan.  I backed it out of the garage and started to turn the car too soon.  To my shock, I managed to rub paint from the garage door frame into the fashionable black trim molding.

I was certain my normally calm and reserved father (a fleet manager at a major public utility) would explode when he saw what I had done.

To my relief, he was only mildly annoyed, and spent a Saturday with me teaching me how to buff out the paint from the molding/trim, and then how to better sight obstacles in my mirrors, etc. (he was also an accomplished driver trainer, having received many certifications and being qualified in several popular driver training programs).

The lessons I received back then need to be translated to my two sons now, as they start to drive.

Understanding vehicle clearances (top, bottom, side to side) are important for all drivers: 

  • For businessmen, they need to adjust their driving when operating rental cars on business trips (that may be wider, more powerful, have buttons and knobs in unfamiliar locations, etc.). 
  • For drivers who change equipment frequently or receive a new vehicle as part of a fleet upgrade, there can be difficulty in keeping centered in lane or stopping short of a fixed object when relying on mirrors that may not be adjusted properly.
  • Turning into a driveway or parking lot can create literal fender benders if the driver misjudges cornering capabilities.
  • Driving along unimproved roads can lead to bottoming out and damaging the undercarriage.
  • Construction zones use tall, concrete “Jersey Barriers” to form “cattle chutes” which provide a full lane’s clearance, but make it feel like you’ll scrape both sides of your vehicle if you drift inches to either side.
  • Commercial trucks and buses must always exercise great caution with limited overhead clearance at tunnels, bridges, overpasses, and even enclosed terminals where they drive under a roof structure.
  • Misjudged clearances can be devastating when pedestrians or cyclists are involved.  “I didn’t see them” is never an adequate explanation.

Because this is a simple issue in the eyes of most drivers, they can become complacent when practical caution is a better approach.

This month, our Ten-Minute Training Topic is on “Vehicle Clearances” and covers this topic in greater detail.  Included are driver handouts, manager’s supplemental reports, and power point slide shows for photocopying or displaying on monitors.

Interestingly, collisions with fixed objects are the second most common type of vehicle crashes.  Hitting a guardrail, abutment or other stationary object has led to more than 11,000 deaths and more than 500,000 injuries during the most recent year’s statistics per the National Safety Council. Yet, we’ve found very little in the way of training or educational materials.  We’ve already received many compliments on this program for exploring the mundane issues that really contribute to actual collisions.

A sampling of issues we raise in the training topic include:

  • When operating any motorized vehicle, we need to pay careful attention to the clearance space around the vehicle.  This includes all dimensions – above, below and beside the vehicle.  It’s possible to hit tree limbs, bridges, tunnel entrances, sideswipe parked vehicles and even to get stuck on railroad tracks depending on your vehicle’s design and conditions. 
  • Key contributors to these crashes include: driving while distracted (failing to notice the hazard because of electronic distractions, fatigue/drowsiness, or other impairment such as being ill or influenced by OTC medications, etc.) and/or assuming there’s adequate clearance when there really isn’t (being unfamiliar with the equipment, route, or specific hazard).
  • Some drivers get into trouble when they rely on GPS navigation systems that are out of date, are missing critical data, or have bad data on board.  Some systems are designed for personal (i.e. car uses) and don’t have the needed insights to warn of low bridges, etc.
  • During 2011, SafetyFirst received tens of thousands of Motorist Observation Reports and 7.24% were specifically tied to dishonoring the right of way (failing to yield, or aggressively taking the right of way from other motorists).  Other reported behaviors related to this issue include:  
    • Failure to stay in lane = 4.35%
    • Disobey traffic rules = 4.28%

Did You Know?

Here are some local news items that further highlight the seriousness of this type of collision.  You may want to share local stories from your area with your drivers:

NY Daily News — 10/07/2012 – “A tractor trailer driver wedged his truck under an overpass of the Nos. 2 and 5 trains at Westchester Avenue and Fox Street in the Bronx Sunday. A heavy-duty tow truck eventually freed the tractor trailer. The unidentified driver was not injured.”

San Francisco Chronicle — 09/25/2012 – “The U.S. should write standards for GPS-connected devices used by truck and bus drivers to stop them from hitting low bridges after driving onto restricted roads, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said. Truckers following faulty directions by global positioning systems devices have hit bridges in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County more than 200 times in the past two years, the New York Democrat said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood yesterday. About 80 percent of bridge strikes in New York state, where parkways with low overpasses are supposed to be closed to commercial traffic, are caused by GPS misdirection, Schumer said. Even if the roads are well-marked, GPS devices may not note restrictions on trucks and buses, he said. “These accidents are frequent, costly, dangerous and entirely avoidable,” Schumer said. “If we have the technology to send a truck to Mars, we have the technology to prevent trucks from crashing into bridges.”

 Websites you may find helpful:

(SafetyFirst is not responsible for the content on these websites – access the information with caution as to the sources and or accuracy of their material)

Largest 6-month increase in fatal crashes in NHTSA’s history

According to a release from NHTSA (“Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for The First Half (January–June) of 2012“); “The estimated 9.0-percent increase during the first half of 2012 represents the largest such increase during the first half of the year in recorded history (since 1975—the first year when NHTSA started collecting data on such crashes).”

While NHTSA also stated that “…it is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any increase in deaths on our roadways…” some traffic safety professionals and journalists have speculated on possible contributing factors:  increasing congestion from commuters and increased freight; road construction adding to congestion; difficulty in finding the most highly qualified drivers, etc.  In fact, a recent NY Times article states; “The improvement in the economy, relative to the first half of 2011, is also considered a major factor in the spike.”

[Update to article] I’d argue that considering the economy makes sense, based on a 2010 study done by NHSTA titled “An Analysis of the Significant Decline in Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities in 2008“.  In that study (which offers a lot of interesting analysis) there is a compelling graph illustrating the past trends in crash data by year:

Figure 10: Percentage Change in Fatal Multiple Vehicle Crashes and Percentage Change in Fatal Crashes Involving Young Drivers, 1975 to 2008

The Times article also mentioned; “The federal estimates showed that fatalities increased for the first three months of this year by 13.4 percent compared with the same period in 2011, suggesting to some road safety experts that weather may have played a role. In a mild winter like the one experienced in many areas of the country this year, people tend to drive more.”  However, winters with greater frequency and severity of storms also contribute to crash rates with more rain, fog, snow, sleet and ice.  It seems to be a leap of logic to attribute mild weather with worsening crash rates due to mileage alone.

The article also contributed this statement; “…others involved in traffic safety attributed the historical six-year decline in the fatality rate to improvements like safer vehicles and roads; more effective laws, like graduated driver licensing laws that govern teenage driving; better technology, like electronic stability control; and awareness efforts that, among other things, have led to increased use of seat belts.”  Interestingly, the contribution of these engineered changes didn’t disappear on January 1st, 2012 — so why are crashes going up despite these technological advancements which remain in place? 

  • Could it be driver habits and operations teams pushing drivers to increase productivity through telematics tracking? 
  • Could it be drivers rushing and forgetting basic courtesies as they push themselves? 
  • What can be done to isolate the trends, diagnose the issues and provide a positive and caring response to drivers so that they avoid violations, injuries or worse?

It’s a perplexing situation for commercial fleet managers and corporate safety directors who have had historically low crash rates for several years and are now confronted with a sudden and measurable increase in collisions.  Reactions have ranged from investigating new safety programs to launching massive refresher training programs for all drivers. 

I strongly suspect; however, that the answer lies in re-dedicating the organization to skillfully mastering the basics — exhibiting discipline to do the mundane instead of surrendering to the “glitzy, flashy and sizzling” allure of “what’s new”.  Driver qualification, driver monitoring, crash investigation and vehicle maintenance aren’t glamorous, but essential.  

SafetyFirst can help you rekindle your managerial discipline, too.  Most fleet clients don’t realize that we have more experience in fleet safety than our competitors — by who we hire (and their professional backgrounds) and in working with clients on real-world, practical solutions (instead of snazzy, one-size-fits-all-but-works-poorly “packages”). 

Remember, “generic packaged products” (which are simply off the shelf solutions daisy chained together from multiple vendors using least common denominator IT support and marketed by a boiler-room telemarking firm located in “Number Blocked, USA”) get you “generic results” (at best).  It wouldn’t surprise me if their profit margins are inflated by meaningless features that look good in sales brochure, but never actually get utilized by the client who is left wondering, “what did I actually buy?” and “where are the results?”

In a time of historic shifts in crash rates, “generic” isn’t where I’d invest my time and money — I’d want to custom tailor my program to my unique fleet operation using the expertise of fleet safety professionals who will stand by their product offerings with a track record of crash reduction results that are unparalleled.

At our discussion group on many fleet safety experts, insurance professionals and corporate risk managers are discussing their plans for the coming two years, what impact the elections may have on results and whether it’s time for a new approach to curtail loss activity.  Why not join the conversation?  We’d appreciate fresh insights, and you may pick up some tips from our industry’s brightest minds.

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