It takes a specific personality to make a good trucker. The job requires long haul journeys that take the driver away from home, sometimes for months at a time, while enduring long periods of isolation. According to Alex Debogorski from the popular History Channel show, “Ice Road Truckers,” the people who succeed in this career tend to be highly independent and individualistic. It makes sense. A driver spending a large amount of time alone on the road needs to have a certain amount of self-sufficiency and resourcefulness.

But the job can also be dangerous. Regulations and new technologies in recent years have done a lot to make trucking safer for drivers, so the yearly death toll is not nearly as high as it once was. Debogorski recounts with grim humor a group of fellow truckers taking bets on who would be the next of their number to die back in the 1970s. While still one of the deadliest jobs a person can have today, advanced technologies have drastically improved driver safety.

Going down a safer road

A September 2017 study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that four new technologies: lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, air disc brakes, and video-based onboard safety monitoring systems could together prevent up to 63,000 truck related crashes every year. Other technologies already in place replace traditional logbooks to enhance efficiency and encourage good driver conduct. While these technologies contribute to driver safety and efficient fleet management, they can also come with an uncomfortable adjustment period for truckers used to the freedom of the old way of doing things.

While still one of the deadliest jobs a person can have today, advanced technologies have drastically improved driver safety.

Telematics and GPS monitoring systems allow management to monitor a truck’s location and speed, when it shuts down, when it idles and when it starts up. Electric logging devices (ELDs), which are now mandatory for almost all trucks in the United States, were designed to replace paper logbooks, providing more accurate information in real time. These devices automatically record a driver’s record of duty status and hours of service and give immediate notifications of violations, accident and theft. These technology systems benefit driver safety, increase efficiency and drive down operational and fuel costs. But for the drivers themselves, it can feel like being under constant scrutiny.

Big brother

“Everybody wants their finger on the driver’s pulse,” Debogorski says, describing the new ELD systems. “We’ve got people keeping track of the exact time when they leave one place and the eight hours to the other. They say, ‘Oh where’ve you been? You’re going too fast. You’re going too slow.’ They want us within one kilometer of the speed limit whether it’s 25 or 30 kilometers an hour.” With manual logbooks, truckers have a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to making their own schedules, as long as the delivery is made on time. But when the logbooks are automated with ELDs, if a tired driver decides to stop early for a rest, it could look like he’s simply sleeping on the job.

Getting home safely

But, Debogorski agrees that life as a trucker is far safer now than it was back in the 1970s when it was normal and expected that at least a few of his colleagues would lose their lives every year. Debogorski compares it to the death rate among coal miners in the 1920s in the United States — progress tends toward making the world safer. And for the trucking industry, technology has a lot to do with it. Debogorski mentions crash resistance, which are common safety features in cars but not so common in trucks. “I think modern technology is starting to move in the direction of the driver being more protected in an accident,” he says, though he still finds the notion of driverless trucks a little “spooky.”

In the end, making the workplace safer is something everyone can agree on.