Trucks are getting smarter, and truck drivers aren’t happy about it


Elmer Bontrager, a Kentucky-based truck driver, doesn’t mind his overly helpful big rig. But he knows it has its limits.

Bontrager’s semi-truck wants to alert him whenever it seems like he’s going to mess up. The problem is, the truck isn’t always correct. A weigh station, for example, might have a stop sign where the truck only needs to stop if another light is red; his know-it-all truck might want to stop anyways. Or, his truck may confuse tire tracks or cracks in the pavement with lane markings, or believe a trash can on the side of a curvy rural street is a car he’s about to smash into. The techy truck, provided to him by his employer, can’t distinguish between a threat and a routine blip.

“[T]he technology doesn’t always work as intended,” Bontrager, who lives in a small town in southwest Kentucky, wrote in an email to FreightWaves. “I think technology works best in an environment where everything is rational, which is probably the case in a computer program or even in a computer simulation. Unfortunately in the real-world operational environment decisions are made and actions are taken by humans, and humans very often make irrational decisions and take irrational actions.”

So-called advanced driver-assistance systems have become ubiquitous in trucks over the past 10 years, said Suman Narayanan, director of engineering of Dailmer Trucks North America’s Automated Technology Group. These technologies monitor if a driver is abiding by lane markings, keeping appropriate distance from the vehicle ahead and other key driving activities. Narayanan said the technologies have the “potential to mitigate accidents,” but they are “not a replacement for highly attentive and well-trained driver.”

These trucks are not taking over the job of driving, but these features certainly may result in drivers who relax their attention. In turn, fleets are increasingly installing inward-facing cameras to monitor whether truck drivers are paying attention while driving. Motive, one such provider of AI-powered, driver-facing cameras, says fleets enjoyed 57% fewer accidents within four months of deploying Motive cameras and a 30% reduction in accident-related costs.

Read more: FreightWaves