Truck Drivers Want to Keep On-Board Computers

As if cell phone weren’t distracting enough, many long-haul truck drivers have on-board computers in their cabs, and they don‘t want to give them up. They typically have the monitor set up near the steering wheel, and they hold the keyboard in their laps. They use the computers to get directions, check email, surf with Internet, and stay in touch with dispatchers as well as family members.

A Distracted Driving Summit organized by the Transportation Department begins today in Washington, and some truck drivers are worried that new legislation will take away their rights to use text messaging devices as well as on-board computers while driving. Many trucking companies have invested heavily in on-board computer technology to facilitate communication with truckers.

In a New York Times article published on Sunday, Clayton Boyce, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, argued that the computers require less concentration than cell phones because they “have a screen that has maybe two or four or six lines [of text], and [truck drivers] are not reading the screen every second.”

“We’re supposed to pull over [to use on-board computers], but nobody does,” said Kurt Long, 46, a trucker from Oklahoma. “When you get that load, you go and you go and you go until you get there.”

Long’s computer contains a warning: do not use while vehicle is in motion. “But it gives you a proceed button,” he said with a laugh during an interview at a truck stop.

Most trucks with on-board computers must use them while they are driving. They cannot afford to pull over to use the computer because that would lose valuable time.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute videotaped truckers behind the wheel and found that those who use on-board computers are 10 times more likely to crash, almost crash, or wander from their lane. The same study found that truckers are 23 times more like to crash when sending text messages. Researchers note that truckers typically use on-board computers more often than they text.

Richard Hanowski of Virginia Tech asks, “Is this any different than texting? With either one, the risks are very high.”

Some on-board computers are designed so that they will not work when the vehicle is in motion, and some trucking companies already have bans or partial bans on cell phone use and computer use while driving.

Randy Mullett of the Con-way trucking company explained that his company’s drivers only use the computer technology to communicate with dispatchers. The truckers have to push a button on the screen to acknowledge that they received the message. Mullet said it’s not much different than pressing a radio button.

Mullett said, “If it took a driver 15 minutes, four times a day to pull over, you’d basically lose 10 percent of a driver’s time. You can’t take 10 percent of a truck fleet out of service to make them answer…. Let’s figure out a way to work with Congress that doesn’t make these technology advances obsolete or less efficient than they are.”

I personally do not like the idea of any driver using on-board computers or cell phones. Their eyes should be on the road at all times. A brief distraction can lead to the loss of multiple lives.

Long, the truck driver from Oklahoma might agree with me now. The New York Times reported that he had a wreck last week after taking his eyes off the road to reach for a cup of coffee.

“I guarantee, if you’re not an ace on that keyboard, you’ve got to look to find them letters,” he said. “Sometimes, it takes a lot longer to find a letter on that keyboard than it does to get a cup of coffee.”

Let’s hope that the Distracted Driving Summit will result in swift legislation that prevents accidents and saves lives.

If you need legal advice about an injury caused by distracted driving, call Atlanta truck accident lawyer Michael Neff at 404-531-9700 to schedule your free consultation.