Old Tech vs New Tech

By G. Ray Gompf, CD

Social media is great, I love it. There’s a lot of discussion going on about standard transmissions vs automatic transmissions. The discussion is really much broader than that.

It is my belief, and my belief is pretty much borne out by reality, that once a computer takes over a human skill, that skill becomes lost, at least to those who never had acquired the skill in the first place. Sure, allowing a computer to shift gears is fine and believe me, I’m fully aware that the automatic transmissions in today’s trucks under absolutely ideal conditions can and do outperform an old seasoned hand using a perfectly operating standard transmission under precisely the same conditions.

The automatic transmission is only scratching the surface of computers taking over human skills. There’s cruise control and reactive cruise control. There’s automatic headlights. There’s lane departure warning. There’s blind spot warning. There’s back up warning. There’s gauges that tell you the tire pressure while your moving. There’s even a computer screen on the dash the tells you more than you ever thought you needed to know about the truck you’re driving.

The information being fed to you can be a full time job without the driving part which is becoming the distraction. The complete automation of even the driving part of the truck operation is fast becoming a reality where the truck simply drives itself. For now however, there must be a “driver” who is qualified to assume control if something goes wrong.

In this automation race, there’s also motive power sources that a fighting for the supremacy now occupied by the Diesel engine. Compressed natural gas is making inroads. The advent of a battery system that is powerful enough and offers a quick recharge and a five hundred mile range is also upon us.

Aerodynamics is also a factor. Ever since Kenworth Introduced the “Anteater” aerodynamics is now a critical element of truck buying decisions but was the Anteater truly the first truck to be designed aerodynamically. I seem to remember a Labatt tractor trailer in the 50s that was pretty sleek.

The only constant is that “nut behind the wheel” and while computers have made the driver’s job somewhat different, the need to have a highly skilled knowledgeable experienced driver piloting, monitoring the computers at the very least of this large truck on the roads they need to travel must always remain. If they eliminate the driver to a computer, who is going to ensure the right trailer is properly connected, who is going to slide the boogies when weights need to be shifted, who is going to do the proper vehicle inspections for safe operation, who is going to set the wheel chocks, open the doors, back into docks, supervise loading and unloading (I’m being polite here).

So let’s talk about this automated truck. In absolutely ideal conditions, they can’t be beat. It’s those less than ideal conditions that have me concerned. Would any sane skilled driver use cruise control on wet or slippery pavement? Yes there are people who do but remember I said sane and skilled. No highly skilled driver would even consider the use of cruise control in situations where there could be slippery conditions.

It might be interesting to see how an autonomous truck reacts in a blizzard. Highly skilled human drivers are expected to get through no matter the amount of snow falling or the visibility available. Will Autonomous trucks be able to get through unscathed? Will battery powered electric trucks maintain their five hundred mile range when the temperatures dip into the serious minuses of a bitter cold a Canadian winter?

One of the battery powered entries into the big truck markets is bragging the equivalent of 2,000 horsepower right through the entire power/torque curves. Can you imagine a run up Fancy Gap with 2,000 horses pulling up the hill? But, will that 2,000 horsepower be there in the dead of winter climbing the Coq?

Volvo and Paccar have opened the doors to 100% of their vehicles being emission free within the next few years. One would assume they’ll be relying on battery stored electricity. We’ll just have to wait and see. There are some very good minds working on the equipment.

The problem isn’t going to be the lack of innovation in the building of equipment but it just might be in the innovation of those charged with operating these new vehicles. The lack of inspiration emanating from those politicians making the rules is critical and they have been shirking the responsibility to satisfy lobby groups that have no idea the ramifications of what they insist. Politicians, who are supposed to understand the law of unintended consequences, consider only the votes to be garnered by acquiescence.

Innovators will innovate, those who have to learn and use the innovation will learn and use it with even more efficiency than intended but when legislators enter the fray, instead of having our minds controlling the Bluetooth, we have to operate state-of-the-art innovation with a set of reins designed to direct a team of horses.

We, as the labour component of the trucking industry need to regain the voice we lost when we lost collective bargaining. We, as small business owner operator truckers, must become united, after all we own more of the equipment than do the large fleets who run the show. They were allowed to unionize but we can’t. I’m proposing that all small business owner operator truckers take a look at the way the fleets have organized. They have a federal group that lobbies the federal government. They have a Provincial groups that lobbies the provincial governments. They even have international organizations that harmonize legislation in several countries. We have squat and we own most of the equipment, then have virtually no say in operating that equipment.

So, let’s organize the way the fleets have. Well, we’re doing just that. We have a federal group organizing to deal with the federal government. We have several provinces organizing their voices to deal with their respective provincial governments. Notably Quebec and Ontario. Other provinces have people discussing the way they need to organize.

Where support to the Fleet groups is appropriate, it will happen, where their position is contrary, there will be a methodology to discuss the issue and hopefully reach a consensus that works for most.

Some of the major issues that need our attention and input:

— ELDs
— Hours Of Service, particularly making it flexible.
— making driving a recognized skilled trade.
— ensuring there is a career path.
— ensuring a life skill development path is promulgated and to which will be adhered. 
— ensuring technology and human skill are properly merged.
— ensuring Federal and Provincial governments harmonize regulations.
— ensuring US and Canadian governments harmonize regulations with respect to transportation.
— ensuring fairness with insurance.
— ensuring small business owner operator truckers have the same buying ability as fleets.
— ensuring laws already in place are enforced (like double brokerage)
— ensure that we have a say and control on our working conditions, wages, etc

For the small business owner operator truckers to rely on the fleet organizations to which the small business owner operator truckers are not eligible to join, to be the voice of Trucking is beyond insanity.

It would behoove every small business owner operator trucker to proactively contact the now existing Canadian Federation of Transportation in the person of Yannick Fournier by email at: yannickfournier@fct-cft.com and become member of both provincial and federal organizations to be heard and recognized at every level.

The organization is set up so that if you join the federal group you will be a member of your provincial group.

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