Drivers are the front-line soldiers in any fleet's campaign to be as CSA-compliant as possible. Like troops commanded by any general who hopes to win a battle, truck drivers out on the road need to be equipped as fully as possible by fleet managers to win the best possible safety rating under the new federal scoring criteria.

And truckers by now should be expecting fleets to back them up with both vehicle spec'ing and retrofitting of safety-enhancing technology — both to ensure their employers remain in business and to make sure they can retain their individual ability to keep driving for a living. It follows logically that anything a fleet can do to make a truck safer — including making it plain old easier and more comfortable to drive — will ultimately benefit the driver side of its CSA scores.

Of course, no fleet can afford to install every possible safety feature available — either an OE or aftermarket fitment — at once on its trucks. But a savvy fleet owner will take pains to learn about all the safety options as well as the “creature comfort” features available and will pick and choose those he or she determines will deliver the biggest safety bang for the buck.

Bear in mind that CSA rests on a two-fold Safety Measurement System (SMS) consisting of the Carrier SMS (CSMS) and Driver SMS (DSMS). The system scores safety performance for seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) and at least four of these — unsafe driving, fatigued driving, cargo-related and crash indicator — can be directly impacted by how safe a truck is for the driver to operate.

According to FMCSA, aggressive driving (including such actions as running red lights and frequent lane changes) is the leading cause of crashes. That means the “easy answer to CSA” is safe driving, contends Open Road Drivers Plan, a div. of Multi Service, which offers the Open Road Drivers Plan, a legal referral service for drivers, as a safety and retention tool for fleets. “The fact remains, though, that mistakes happen and violations will occur,” the firm notes in a CSA white paper.

NEW BEST FRIEND

While Open Road Drivers Plan points out that a driver's CDL will not be revoked solely based on roadside inspection data, it does caution that “the DSMS will be used as a tool by law enforcement to pinpoint the performance of individual drivers when conducting safety investigations.”

In plain English, this means a paper trail — or an electronic one, for that matter — may be a driver's “new best friend,” says Open Road Drivers Plan. “Because a clean inspection counts toward a carrier's SMS score in the same way violations count against a carrier's score, it is important to maintain copies of all inspection reports you receive. Violation and crash histories within the SMS may be argued through a system called DataQs, which was set up by FMCSA to allow carriers and drivers to challenge information in the database.”

So, moving to electronic driver logs may be considered a key safety-improvement measure as it will ensure accurate records as well as remove the anxiety from drivers of having to deal with even more paperwork while on the road.

Per the DSMS, there are both lesser “gateway” and more serious “red flag” violations that can pull down a driver's score. The former includes violations such as speeding, reckless driving, lack of seat belt use, and poor tire condition, and can be addressed through safety measures spec'd into trucks. Therefore, equipment that limits top speed or sounds an alarm when a seat belt is not secured (as in a car) is worth considering. Tires, of course, can be protected at least in terms of inflation via inflation monitoring and/or full onboard inflation systems.

As for the latter, more severe red-flaggers, arguably only “driver fatigue” — which includes HOS violations as well as operating a commercial vehicle when “ill” — can be addressed by how trucks are equipped for driver comfort and safe operation.

Driver fatigue can be reduced, thanks to a whole slew of spec choices. This is a CSA arena in which the fleet manager must put himself behind the wheel, so to speak, to think long and hard about what features are needed in a truck to make the driver's job less tiring, more productive and, above all else, safer.

Everything from the traditional suspects (seats and mirrors) to high-tech solutions (adaptive cruise control [ACC] and collision-mitigation systems) should at least be on the table for discussion and evaluation.

FMCSA OFFERS HELP

Fortunately, FMCSA itself has already developed a series of product guides to assist fleet managers as well as drivers to learn more about available safety systems. These guides address only “commercial off-the-shelf systems,” notes the agency, and can be accessed online at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/facts-research/art-productguides.aspx.

The FMCSA product guides cover these eight high-tech safety systems:

  • Onboard truck brake-stroke monitoring

  • Collision-mitigation systems

  • Collision-warning systems with ACC

  • Lane-departure warning systems

  • Rear-object detection systems

  • Side-collision warning systems

  • Vehicle-stability systems

  • Tire-pressure monitoring systems

Far from just issuing guides to existing safety products, FMCSA recently revealed it has “initiated additional research to improve in-vehicle alertness monitoring.”

A study is being conducted through FMCSA's Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program that will result in developing a device to improve alertness monitoring, says the agency. FMCSA “anticipates the integration and/or selection of these research efforts will produce a device that works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with all drivers. The goal is to develop a fully functional device that will monitor and warn as well as educate drivers when they have become too impaired to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely.”

This would indeed be a significant development and, if it proves out, may not only drive down CSA scores, but also help mitigate the approximately 4,400 annual roadway fatalities caused by drowsy driving as determined by a study on traffic safety conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

With CSA now a reality, it should be no surprise that when Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) announced its latest sponsorship of America's Road Team — the driver outreach program organized by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) — executives of the OEM as well as ATA president & CEO Bill Graves made a point of emphasizing the high-tech safety features spec'd into the team's Volvo tractor.

According to VTNA, these include an “intelligent” transmission system that boosts driver productivity while reducing driver fatigue; a full electronic-stability program that “assists the driver in maintaining control during emergency maneuvers and braking events, dramatically reducing the likelihood of a rollover, jackknife or loss of control”; and a system that “integrates the latest in advanced collision avoidance technology with a truck's cruise control.”

Indeed, at a dedication ceremony for the truck, ATA's Graves said “…our [Road Team] drivers will be able to show how the technology in trucks today is providing additional safety and greater peace of mind.”