The management, reduction, and ultimate goal of completely eliminating the occurrence of accidents and crashes are often discussed, top-of-mind goals for all fleet managers. Protecting the drivers of company vehicles, and the public, are two very important keys to a successful and safe fleet operation.

Recently, two schools of thought are surfacing in regards to the elimination of accidents: one that focuses on the driver and another that focuses on the vehicle. Another viewpoint would be an approach involving an equal focus on both.

Today, technology is being further and further integrated into vehicles, frequently focusing on either fuel economy or safety. On the safety side we have technology that includes back-up cameras that now provide an almost 360-degree view around a vehicle; blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and collision mitigation; and night-vision assist and heads-up displays, OEMs seem to be working toward a lofty goal: a crash-proof vehicle.

“The assumption that a vehicle is going to keep one safe and out of harm’s way is a very dangerous mistake for any driver to make,” said Art Liggio, president of Driving Dynamics, a driver safety training and fleet risk management company. “The key piece of safety equipment in any vehicle is actually located between the driver’s two ears. Overconfidence in technology and a disregard for responsibilities as a driver will catch up with a person over time.”

Regardless of the amount of technology in a vehicle, it is all being monitored and utilized by a human being. Will fleet managers and automakers veer away from ensuring that the human element is operating as safe and efficiently as possible and simply ensure the vehicle cannot be crashed? Is this even a possible goal? Would the aim be making a vehicle simply unable to crash, or would it be making it completely damage-proof?

Liggio noted the issue with Risk Compensation, which points out that as new innovations are introduced to reduce risk, what happens at the driver level may prove to be counterproductive in obtaining the desired result: improved safety performance.

“If you alter a person’s circumstances in such a way as to make him safer, if he is aware of this change, and if his attitude towards risk remains unchanged, he will modify his behavior in such a way that tends to restore the level of risk with which he was originally content,” he said.

He provided anti-lock brake (ABS) systems as an example. “Numbers tracked by the Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have pointed out that even though there are more ABS-equipped vehicles than ever before, just as many people are killed in these vehicles as ones without ABS,” he continued.

While some may believe that autonomous vehicles may be the answer to removing the human element out of vehicle operation, current autonomous vehicle concepts are far from crash proof, and frequently require at least a moderate amount of human interaction and attention.

With the light-weighting of trucks, even with their proven equal or increased strength, damage-proof vehicles are most likely not a plausible solution. And, until autonomous vehicles have the kinks worked out and necessary infrastructure put in place, it looks like that option is still a vision of the future. For today’s solution, I believe we are going to need to find a balance between technology and improved driver behavior.

So, what do you think? Is increased technology making drivers overconfident? Are “crash-proof” vehicles possible? Should we push focus in one direction or another, or is a balance called for?

Let me know!

By Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor

Lauren Fletcher has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006 and is the executive editor of Work Truck magazine. With a particular focus on educational, tips and trends pieces in the vocational truck industry, check out her Truck Chat video series or Chatty Chassis blog for more!