Winter began early in some provinces and states this '22/'23 season and has been particularly brutal in many locations. At least by now, one would think that the professional driver would have acclimatized to conditions as they change daily. Unfortunately, from what is seen and heard on daily news sources, it seems some have not yet adapted well to the vagaries of nature and end up in regrettable situations. Like the driver of a semi who encountered an icy patch west of Salmon Arm on the Trans-Canada recently and ended up entering the residence of an innocent sleeping homeowner. The tractor was pretty much destroyed, with considerable damage to the house structure. Every year one hears of multi-vehicle crashes on Ontario's 400 series of highways. Just before last Christmas, there was one involving over 100 vehicles near London, many of which were semis, and Hwy 402 at the same time was shut down due to the many incidents caused by the same storm. There are safe havens along these routes. One might wonder why they weren't bicycle parking – no room for anything bigger!
As a veteran operator and one-time safety supervisor, I often pondered why drivers do not accept that conditions are not conducive to progress and find a safe off-road location to park until they improve. Ultimately it is the driver who is captain of their ship and in control of its wellbeing, but one so often hears that dispatch "pushed me so that I had to keep going" or "I had to keep going or lose my return load." Stop me if you think I'm wrong, but is it perhaps not more productive to be late with one's cargo and reload rather than not arriving for either event at the estimated arrival time? Is Just In Time delivery adding to the problem? Certainly, in today's market, many companies use the trucking company's trailer as a moving warehouse to save money and depend on timely appointments to keep their lines of production operating smoothly. But then again, is it not better to give one's employees a bit of a break rather than time off without pay due to a lack of resources?
There is speculation as to whether or not autonomous vehicles will be better inclined to interpret poor driving conditions and take the necessary safety precautions to avoid the grief and sorrow which often accompanies a bad decision when one or more vehicles experience an incident. Plus.ai is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to put the above problem to the test. The experimental performances will take place at the Department's cold-weather pavement testing facility, paving the way for public discussion to support the growing interest in automation. The project will involve driving in all weather conditions, including extreme winter circumstances. Currently, over 1,300 fatalities and more than 116,800 persons are killed or injured every winter in the US of A, so it is important that increased safety factors and rigorous testing be initiated before full-scale autonomous units find their way onto public roads and highways.
As the first line of transportation in the US, trucking is a trillion-dollar business, and the founders of Plus.ai saw the potential of pursuing the industry as the model to emulate in the progression of autonomy on the highways and byways. Currently, Plus.ai is working with the major truck manufacturers to produce safer self-driving units than those operated by humans.
I believe fully automated transport trucks will be used primarily on line hauls where the routes are the same coming and going, and infrastructure is user-friendly. Living drivers will still be required for the random long hauls where the infrastructure has not yet been installed. That will take many years, so I am not prone to believe that there will be many idle drivers unable to find work in the commercial trucking workplace. And Canada, because of its variety of weather and motoring conditions, will likely lag further behind the Excited States. So relax! North America is already facing a critical shortage of qualified, experienced drivers, hence the increase in accidents involving heavy-duty rigs, especially in inclement weather. One must remember that posted speed limits are intended only for optimum driving environments and are not a full-time mandatory requirement!
I've told this tale before, but it is worth repeating again … and again. Now I was never one to shirk from driving in adverse conditions. In fact, I always welcomed the challenge. However, when danger was deemed imminent, I would find a safe spot off the beaten path to sit out the real or imagined hazardous situation. On one occasion just west of Cochrane, Ontario, the highway surface was a veritable skating rink, and one could swing the steering mechanism back and forth without changing direction. I was already going at a snail's pace but opted to pull into an abandoned service station and wait for the sand and salt trucks to venture forth. After a few minutes, one of our intrepid owner-ops went by and shouted on the 2-way radio, "Come on, Birddawg, you won't make any money sitting there!" I answered that I would see him down the road, and I did once the situation had improved where I felt it would be safe to continue. Unfortunately, not that far along the way, I saw the rear end of our highway hero's trailer resting in the ditch while the rest of his rig was buried in the bush. I encouraged him to get going as he wasn't making any money sitting there. In fact, it cost him $750 to extract his combo from the forest fringe, plus a day lost and a few minor cosmetic repairs.
Take refuge when in doubt and arrive alive even if your shipment might be received later than predicted. I had a saying that aptly described my working philosophy, "I'm never early, and I'm never late. I'm always on time." So please be safe out there and enjoy your life … 10-4!