Jeff Barker is an experienced truck driver (and technician by training) who’s been training drivers for Crete Carrier Corp. for years. He's just about seen and heard it all. But a recent encounter with a young trainee about GPS navigation systems was a new one.
On a recent morning, Jeff was taking a short break at a truck stop, cleaning some dirt out of the floor of his cab, when he was approached by a young man who was out with his trainer (for a different company, which shall remain unnamed.)
Here’s how Jeff related the encounter on his Facebook page:
“You know your truck can be placed out of service, don’t you?” he said.
I asked, “Well, did you notice something wrong that I didn’t?”
“You don’t have a GPS in there!”
Jeff said, “I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically. Then while still laughing, I said, ‘Now, where in the hell did you come up with THAT nonsense? I have been out here for almost 25 years now and have NEVER seen a single FMCSA regulation that states I need to have a mandatory GPS device in my truck!’”
The young driver’s trainer came up and asked what was going on, so Jeff asked the trainer where his student was getting his misleading information. The student asked him, “Well, how do you get around?”
Jeff held up his note pad and Road Atlas and told him, “The same way I have been safely doing it for the last 2.9 million miles – and GPS units were not around back when I started, either!”
The trainee apparently didn’t get it, because Jeff reported that resulted in a very puzzled look on the young man’s face.
In a follow-up post, Jeff noted, “Seriously, a GPS could be a good ‘tool’ for any commercial driver to have, if they know how to use it properly and not rely on it for anything more than finding streets in the written legal routing as part of a good trip plan. I know many good, safe drivers who use them for that fashion, but I just choose not to.”
Quite a few of Jeff’s fellow drivers chimed in with comments on his posts:
“I had a student that required a GPS to get to work every morning, despite three weeks of showing up to the same place, parking into the same spot, he still required a GPS to get there," noted one.
“When I was still on the road, dispatchers didn't want us using a GPS because of the mistakes on the device itself or the driver's inability to follow the directions properly when the GPS navigated," said another. "I actually had a GPS tell me to leave the road and wanted to navigate me through a field to get to a warehouse in Savannah, Georgia.”
One driver said that although he’s used his road atlas for years, and still uses it to locate an unfamiliar town or city, he finally bought a truck-specific GPS and loves it. “I put in the address, cross- reference the directions the GPS gives me with the local directions I get from Crete, and I've got to say it is a great tool. Because it is truck specific, has my height and weight programmed in it, I've found it to be very reliable. I love it that I always know how many miles I have to go at a glance and it gives a very good ETA that I find useful when communicating with dispatch.”
But another GPS user cautioned, “Even being truck-specific, you still have to watch. Mine has tried taking me down no-truck roads and other things. I love mine, but only as a backup to my road atlas.”
There’s no shortage of news stories of drivers, passenger-vehicle and commercial driver alike, who have blindly followed their GPS directions into situations ranging from difficult to deadly. There was the 2017 case where a truck driver followed his GPS right onto the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. And in Oregon last year, a trucker whose GPS sent him up the wrong road went missing for four days and had to walk 36 miles in the snow. And how many trucks have you seen that hit low overpasses or get stuck on a tight curve they couldn't navigate because their GPS is not truck-specific?
Just like so much of the new “driver assistance” technology available in new trucks, GPS navigation systems are a tool – a high-tech tool that can be abused or misunderstood by the user.