It’s Fourth of July week 2019, and naturally our veterans will get lots of well-deserved accolades as they always do this time of year. Freedom isn’t free, as the saying goes. And our military veterans have gone above and beyond the call of duty in what has ended up being close to 20 years’ worth of wars around the world.
And, of course, many of those brave and women have returned home from those conflicts with often grievous injuries that have left them disabled to one degree or another for life.
And I think that’s something the trucking industry should be thinking, looking and talking about today.
This is an industry that is in desperate need of mature, capable and dependable drivers. But currently, laws around the country detailing disabled truck drivers are all over the map. And most of those regulations and impediments are vastly outdated in the face of all the new technology inside truck cabs today.
This is one aspect of autonomous driving systems and advanced safety systems that never gets talked out, except in negative terms: While driving a Class 8 tractor-trailer is still a highly demanding, skilled job, it is in fact easier today to drive a big rig safely than ever before. And again, that’s largely thanks to the vast suite of safety systems available.
Usually when somebody points out that it’s easier to drive big rigs today, somebody immediately criticizes the new technology as eroding the set of skills many older drivers have spent decades honing on equipment that was – at times – extremely challenging to drive. Open up any social media story or post about new technology, and it’s almost a given there will be a snide comment about “steering wheel holders” somewhere in the comments.
That’s a normal reaction to any technology that makes life easier for us. But what if we think about the advantages this technology offers in a slightly different way – a way that empowers wounded warriors and gives them an opportunity to earn a good living driving a truck?
We all know about the amazing advances in prosthetic limbs over the past several years. Now, combine that amazing medical technology with the amazing autonomous technology in a modern truck, and suddenly a whole new untapped pool of drivers suddenly becomes available to this industry.
Once upon a time, someone missing one of their legs could never even imagine driving a truck with manual transmission. But with modern automated transmissions and predictive cruise control systems today, that’s no longer an insurmountable obstacle for a veteran who lost a limb to a IED attack.
Likewise, even with power steering systems, driving a tractor-trailer – particularly at low speeds – would be tough for someone missing part of an arm or a hand. But today’s steering assistance systems, like ZF’s ADAS, allow drivers to maneuver a truck around a lot at low speeds using just a pointer finger. I know, because I’ve done it.
Obviously, not every disabled veteran is going to be able to drive a tractor-trailer. But I have to believe that all the new technology on trucks today has to have opened the potential pool of drivers among wounded veterans to a considerable degree. And this is something it is time for the industry as a whole to start talking about and see if a set of new, more open, regulations can be crafted that help both our wounded veterans earn an honorable living and move the massive volumes of freight we all know this industry is going to have to contend with in the very near future.