A new host of Common Sense Safety Solutions are working behind the scenes to keep truck drivers safe.  -  Photo: Volvo Trucks North America

A new host of Common Sense Safety Solutions are working behind the scenes to keep truck drivers safe.

Photo: Volvo Trucks North America

The importance of safety for both drivers and trucking fleets has been steadily growing in importance. Nuclear insurance verdicts and rising insurance costs have been a big driver. But just as importantly, safety systems and technologies have gotten much better, more affordable, and easier to install and use.

Recently, I’ve noticed a new trend in trucking safety: new smart safety system technologies that automatically perform obvious tasks without any input from drivers.

These aren’t intrusive systems. They don’t intrude on a driver’s preferences or practices in any meaningful way. Yet they perform common-sense, practical actions that help drivers (and fleets) better deal with fluid traffic situations, avoid accidents, or mitigate crash outcomes when they do occur.

Here are four recent announcements illustrating this trend.

1. ESS HELP System

The ESS HELP system is basically a smart, high-visibility, emergency system that automatically updates navigation apps and first responders when an accident occurs.  -  Photo: ESS

The ESS HELP system is basically a smart, high-visibility, emergency system that automatically updates navigation apps and first responders when an accident occurs.

Photo: ESS

My recent trip to CES 2024 highlighted two such systems for me. The first is the new ESS HELP digital lighting and alert system. Hazard lights have been on vehicles for decades. I’m still scratching my head wondering why no one ever thought to mate hazard lights to modern mapping apps, high-speed, high-intensity, strobe hazard lights, and an automatic call to the local 9-1-1 system in the event of an accident.

2. AUO’s Smart Cockpit

AUO's Smart Cockpit technology includes hybrid window-display screens that can deliver vital information in a way that keeps drivers' eyes focused on the road.   -  Photo: AUO

AUO's Smart Cockpit technology includes hybrid window-display screens that can deliver vital information in a way that keeps drivers' eyes focused on the road. 

Photo: AUO

Same thing with AUO’s new Smart Cockpit driver interface system. This was another CES 2024 reveal. And – again – the kind of technology that seems obvious when you think about it. In this case, AUO blends its micro LED technology with specially coated vehicle windows to create a hybrid window-information display screen.

Drivers no longer need to look down at their phone or a display screen elsewhere on the dash to see navigation prompts. That sort of information – along with real-time, moving alarms and alerts highlighting dangerous vehicles, pedestrians or hazards, flashes on the windshield in front of the driver. Everything is completely see-through, of course.

The system works both ways and it’s completely interactive. So a truck’s windows can display maintenance or shipping information outside of the truck, as well, where technicians or dock workers can click on those see-through information screens to check off tasks or add information as needed.

3. Volvo’s Proprietary Safety System

The new Volvo VNL dash display features lane-keeping assist as a standard feature.  -  Photo: Volvo Trucks North America

The new Volvo VNL dash display features lane-keeping assist as a standard feature.

Photo: Volvo Trucks North America

Hard on the heels of these technologies, I found myself considering Volvo’s new Proprietary Safety System, which is new on the all-new VNL.

For the first time, a North American Class 8 truck can be spec’d with side-curtain air bags. And, in the event of a rollover or airbag deployment, the Volvo Safety System automatically sets the parking brake, unlocks the cab doors, activates the trucks’ hazard lights and cuts the fuel flow to engine off. The all-new Volvo VNL also has E-Call, a proprietary technology which will automatically connect the driver via a voice call with emergency services to the nearest 9-1-1 call center, and provide a precise location of the accident to get first responders on the scene fast.

4. Mapbox’s Real-Time Dynamic Mapping and Management System

Mapbox's dynamic, AI-enabled routing systems can be optimized for a variety of vehicle management situations, including EV range and charging stations.  -  Photo: Mapbox

Mapbox's dynamic, AI-enabled routing systems can be optimized for a variety of vehicle management situations, including EV range and charging stations.

Photo: Mapbox

And just last week, I interviewed Peter Sirota, CEO of Mapbox. His company combines artificial intelligence and voice-actuated controls with dynamic, real-time routing and mapping systems. The result is a flexible, voice-powered, vehicle navigation and management system that helps drivers adjust to chaotic driving conditions.

It also does away with looking away from the road to tap on phones or manually enter information into a display screen while driving. Instead, a driver simply can say, “Give me directions to the Acme Freight Center in Pomona,” and Mapbox will immediately call up the most optimized route to get there.

Mapbox can also be used to help manage range issues in battery-electric vehicles and map out routes with available charging stations. And it can be overlaid with fleet maintenance systems. So instead of filling out forms, a driver can simply say, “Alert maintenance that I’m feeling a vibration around 60 mph that seems to be coming from the right-rear of the truck.” Mapbox’s AI system will route that information to the fleet maintenance software so technicians can take a look at the problem once the truck is back at home base.

None of these four systems I've highlighted force drivers to change anything about how they prefer to drive a vehicle. These are all smart, mostly passive systems that are designed to complement and aid a driver.

They help keep a driver’s eyes firmly on the road. They provide them with information in an efficient, timely, and effective manner. And they automatically perform tasks drivers would naturally perform anyway — assuming they are unhurt, functional and capable of doing so — in the event of an accident.

I believe that what we are seeing with the advent of these new safety systems is the future of driving. Technology is now reaching the point that it can provide these safety features in virtually invisible and seamless fashions that complement a driver’s behavior.

Moreover, some of these are truly holistic systems that also help fleets, shippers, technicians and logistics workers do their jobs. These are human-focused, integrated, AI-enabled and comprehensive safety/management systems that have the potential to help drivers in ways that were never possible before. And all of them are coming soon to a truck near you.

About the author
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

Executive Editor

Jack Roberts is known for reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

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