If there’s one common thread to all the over-the-road tractor models now available, it’s that OEMs have poured reams of research and much thought into seriously enhancing the interior design and features of cabs and sleepers.

All this effort serves a very singular purpose—to assist fleets in recruiting and retaining drivers by providing them literally with home offices on wheels that are safe, productive and comfortable to work in and to live in while they rack up miles and hours, on and off duty.

To be sure, the days of Plain Jane “fleet trucks” easily distinguished if not condemned by drivers for their bare-bones cabs and sleepers are long past. Now what truck buyers and drivers will experience inside any new tractor on the market will likely astound them, even in comparison to trucks that are just a couple of years old.

Indeed, several truck builders point to their latest Class 8 models as boasting cabs designed anew from the ground up with the driver specifically in mind.

What’s more, no OEM is skimping on making improvements to their trucks’ interiors, opting instead to keep a sharp focus on meeting the universal needs of drivers to drive, work and live on the road safely, productively and comfortably.

“Talking to the fleet manager and the driver no longer has to be two different conversations” when it comes to outfitting truck interiors, contends Erik Johnson, on-highway marketing director for Kenworth.

He points out that KW’s newest highway tractor, the T680, was “designed after we spent a couple of years discussing with drivers their likes and dislikes of their current trucks.”

Johnson adds that the OEM did not stop at conducting research with their trucks’ ultimate users, but then brought in an expert—who holds a PhD in ergonomics—“to scientifically relate [to engineers] what the drivers discussed about seats, pedal positions, HVAC controls, etc., in the cab.” He says an overarching design goal for the truck was to make the cab/sleeper environment “more comfortable and less fatiguing to help make it safer for the driver.

“The design mantra for the T680 was drive-work-live,” Johnson adds. “We worked to build not just a truck for driving or a tool for working, but also one that provides a comfortable, safe place for the driver to live while on the road.”

Jerry Warmkessel, Mack’s highway marketing manager, says that lately many fleets visiting the Mack Customer Center to kick tires on new trucks are “bringing their drivers and their techs along with them—and they are definitely valuing their input” on truck specs. He says getting driver input on cab and sleeper features especially is a smart move given the ballooning driver shortage.

“Trucking is now dealing with a 200,000-person driver shortage, and it is estimated that figure will grow to 500,000 within five years,” Warmkessel states. “That fact alone makes what goes into the cab and sleeper more important than ever.”

“What we’ve been hearing more and more from truck buyers over the last couple of years is they want to spec trucks in ways that they can help the driver be more fuel-efficient, more productive and safer,” says Rhonda Zielinski, director of on-highway vehicle strategy for Navistar.

She relates that given how much has changed in truck design of late, the main avenue fleets can pursue to have positive impacts on the driver’s experience on the job is via spec’ing new technologies coupled with becoming better educated on all the features and options available to make trucks more effective work-home spaces for drivers.