Today’s technology in cars and trucks focuses on easier and safer driving. We have lane departure warnings, backup cameras, and automated emergency brakes. All of these technologies are helpful and well-intentioned, but the number of accidents hasn’t really gone down. Why?
As helpful as this new safety equipment is, modern technology also provides more things to distract drivers. And it is driver behavior that truly determines how safe the roads will be. In many cases, drivers can now take parts of driving-the blind spot, backing up, steering straight in bad weather- for granted because they feel that the safety technology will cover them. They can text or mess with picking a song on their phone instead of paying attention to these details that could easily cause an accident.
New technology plays into risk homeostasis. This is the idea that every person has a limit to the amount of risk they are willing to accept for a payoff of sorts. We are willing to jaywalk across a busy street to get somewhere faster or we are willing to speed to get someplace on time. If risks get taken without negative consequences, that limit of risk increases over time. People get comfortable with texting or not looking around when they change lanes if they haven’t gotten a ticket or into an accident. And they keep doing those things until something bad happens.
A new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety makes this point once again. While the report is focused more on the technological side of driver distraction, it does consider another part of the problem in that there are now gadgets and gizmos that have nothing to do with safety that are now in cars and trucks.
There are hi-tech toys like the touch screen monitor on many display consoles now. These get people to fool around on them to control satellite radio or have the car read their text messages. All of this just adds to the possible rewards of risk homeostasis by giving a driver more things to do behind the wheel.
But the overall point is still the same. Drivers, especially professional drivers, need to understand how important it is to develop good driving habits until they become automatic behaviors. They need to always remain on alert and aware of everything going on around them. Technology is helpful when used right, but it shouldn’t become what drivers rely upon.
Truck drivers especially also need to remain vigilant about driving defensively and watching civilian drivers. Just because you are driving as safe as you can doesn’t mean everybody else will. Normal drivers will probably continue to do many of the same things, taking more and more risks, while on the road to entertain themselves or grab little rewards like shaving a few minutes off of travel time. It’s more important than ever that truck drivers be on the lookout for those people whose eyes or hands are not where they are supposed to be.
Use technology wisely and cautiously. There is nothing wrong with using a backup camera to make it into the dock easier or a GPS to find the closest rest stop. There are times and places for technology. But professional drivers should know those times and places. On the road, there is no replacement for safe, professional driving. Keep driving the way you learned -LLLC, defensively- and you can be sure that you are driving as safely as you can and bringing as little risk to the road as you can.