The New York Times recently reported on the use of computers by truck drivers while on the road. Truck drivers remain adamant that their use of computers are not a distraction and provide less of a hindrance than the use of cell phones or Blackberrys.
“We think that’s overkill,” Clayton Boyce, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, said of a federal bill that would force states to ban texting while driving if they want to keep receiving federal highway money. Mr. Boyce, who said the industry does not condone texting while driving, said computers used by truckers require less concentration than phones. The trucks “have a screen that has maybe two or four or six lines” of text, he said. “And they’re not reading the screen every second.” Banning the use of such devices, he added, “won’t improve safety.”
Safety experts have an opposing view and are determined to include computers in trucks in the texting ban. 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.”
But Robert D. Foss, a senior researcher at the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina, said the dispatch computers and texting devices present the same potential for distraction.
“It’s hard to accept the assertion: ‘We’re just different,’ ” he said. “You know full well this is motivated by economic considerations.”
There appears to be a strong lobby by both the trucking industry and safety experts and advocates. The statistics do not lie and based on the Virginia Tech report, computers are just as distracting as texting. It will be interesting to see if the in cab computers will be included in any proposed legislation involving the ban on texting and driving.