Near where I used to work, there was a truck stop that threw a great breakfast. One day when I was driving in, not from home, but from a summer camp where my now-ex-wife was working as camp nurse, I was running early so I swung in for a real breakfast.
That’s when I realized how times were changing in the trucking industry. Fully half the truckers had their laptops fired up downloading or uploading manifests.
The New York Times reports that it has now reached the point that many truck tractors, in addition to being fitted with GPS’s (old news) are also fitted with miniature computer screens and keyboards for communicating with headquarters. And truckers, just like the rest of us, carry cellphones.
And the trucking companies fear that laws against cellphone use and text messaging while driving will cut into their style. They are trying to get themselves exempted from anti-text message/cellphone use regulations. Pulling off the road to text message or phone can add 15 minutes to a trip.
After videotaping truckers behind the wheel, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that those who used on-board computers faced a 10 times greater risk of crashing, nearly crashing or wandering from their lane than truckers who did not use those devices.
That figure is lower than the 23 times greater risk when truckers texted, compared with drivers simply focused on the road, according to the same study. However, the Virginia researchers said that truckers tend to use on-board computers more often than they text.
The study found that truckers using on-board computers take their eyes off the road for an average of four seconds, enough time at highway speeds to cover roughly the length of a football field.
Richard J. Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia institute, said videotape monitoring of 200 truckers driving about three million miles showed many of them using the devices, even bypassing messages on the screen warning them not to use the devices while driving.
“Is this any different than texting?” Mr. Hanowski said. “With either one, the risks are very high.”