In a Sky News interview with David Spears this afternoon, Senator Michaelia Cash has called for a ‘black box’ to be mandatory in all Australian trucks. Much like the black boxes found in the airline industry, the trucking industry implementation would be different in a very important way. The proposed device wouldn’t simply be post-crash investigation to learn more, instead what’s being proposed is a tracking system for preventative measures to be taken and penalties to be applied.
Its no secret truck drivers push the limits of their abilities as a human behind the wheel in the hours they drive per day and are constantly fighting fatigue. Even with a strict log book regime in place and a constant threat of a fine or loss of licence if they breach industry regulations, some drivers find their way around it.
When it comes to the physical constraints of what’s possible, many turn to drugs, prescription or illicit to overcome tiredness and push on when they should stop. Some employers are responsible and understand they are best served by keeping their staff and their trucks safely on the road, while others will lean on drivers to push the limits.
Senator Cash says wherever possible we should leverage technology wherever possible, to make our roads safer and with that, I couldn’t agree more.
Thanks to the world of business efficiency, most trucking companies worth their salt, already run fleet management software to understand and optimise the delivery of freight around the country. This software not only routes the drivers in the most efficient way possible, their GPS nav system also takes into account environments we don’t think of. It’ll route drivers around hazards like weight-restricted roads or known areas with low-hanging trees tunnels or bridges.
This fleet management monitoring software already leverages a tracking system, similar to what Cash is talking about, however there’s one very important difference. The data about driver location, duration, speed etc is only accessibly by the company. What Senator Cash is proposing is Government access to this data in real-time to establish wherever a breach occurs.
Normally I’m a massive fan of open data, I embrace and promote data.gov.au initiatives, but that data is anonymous, this data couldn’t be. A driver’s truck would connect to them as a driver as to determine how long they have driven in any given day and if they’ve had their mandatory breaks. This means its only useful if they can issue penalties against the driver responsible at the time of the breach and be able to identify the location, time and properties of the truck at the time of the breach.
The real solution to accidents and deaths on our roads is technology, but not in the way Cash believes. Driverless technology is reaching our cars (Tesla Autopilot being the best current example) and is also being trialed internationally for heavy vehicles. With a majority of the sleep-related issues occurring down well-marked stretches of highway, there’s no reason trucks couldn’t receive similar radar, sonar, lidar and software smarts to effectively drive themselves. Government investment in making this technology arrive sooner would be the best thing the Government could do, rather than add a prison bracelet to every driver in the country. For now there’d definitely still need to be drivers as the technology spends the next few years being refined for fringe cases, but for the easy, often most risky long-haul travel, this is the most meaningful investment the Government could make to save lives on the road.
Of course the smaller operators will also struggle to meet the costs of technology implementation, so if the proposal was to be implemented, they would need to invest to ensure the technology reached owner-operators as well.