Keeping the driving force happy
Driver fatigue is a very real problem in the transport industry, resulting in a high incidence of accidents. CLAIRE RENCKEN speaks to some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to find out how they are making haulage more comfortable and safer
Ensuring that drivers remain alert and comfortable is a key objective for any OEM. Take Scania, for example: from the moment the driver enters the cab, until he leaves it when the job is done, a Scania truck aims to provide many (major and minor) benefits for him.
“It’s of course a multifaceted task that comprises everything from offering leading driver comfort to an outstanding, truly supportive machine-to-man interface,” explains Alexander Taftman, product and marketing director for Scania South Africa.
He continues: “Entering the cabin is easy via Scania’s practical boarding steps. And the bed (if it’s a sleeper cab) offers the best possible conditions for a good night’s rest. Something that is easily forgotten is how the truck itself works; if a driver always has sufficient power at hand and feels in control of what’s happening, he will be less likely to become stressed and exhausted. That is one of the reasons why Scania’s engines always offer class-leading, low-rev torque.”
Apart from comfortable seats, fully adjustable steering wheels, low noise levels and excellent overview, the interface between the driver and the truck is the crucial factor. Scania puts a lot of effort into creating the best possible way to execute the driver’s intentions. The manufacturer’s Opticruise for instance, is manoeuvered by an intuitive single lever that is very easy to operate.
Other vital functions are controlled by intuitively positioned buttons at the steering wheel and allow the driver to focus on the traffic. Scania trucks can also be equipped with support systems like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and advanced emergency brake systems, that further unburden the driver. Basic ergonomic functions, such as easy-to-reach stowage spaces, are also standard.
The engineers at Hyundai Truck & Bus place huge emphasis on cab design. Danie de Beer, general manager: commercial vehicles at Hyundai Automotive South Africa, explains: “Our engineers recognised long ago that driver comfort and well-being are serious considerations for customers when acquiring vehicles. With the carnage on South African roads, this is an even bigger factor here than in the rest of the world.”
The Hyundai engineers build certain features into all their trucks. The main feature is an oil-filled cab mounting (to ensure a softer, more comfortable ride), which creates the effect of a “semi-floating” cab.
Hyundai customers now also have the option of having an air-conditioner as standard equipment. De Beer elaborates: “The issue of air-conditioners in trucks will forever be a debatable one. Customers see rising fuel bills, but drivers appreciate the added comfort.”
He continues: “Because medium-sized trucks do not have air compressors for the braking system, an air seat is not an option, but a spring is built into the centre of the seat for added comfort. Uncomfortable cabs not only lead to fatigue, but also medical problems like chronic back and joint pain. It is thus of the utmost importance that a truck’s cab is well suspended from the chassis to minimise such ailments, especially given the road conditions here in South Africa.”
Furthermore, the well laid out Hyundai cabs ensure that all controls are within easy reach of the driver and visibility is excellent. The cabs are roomy, with a fully adjustable driver seat and steering column. The latter also collapses in the event of a head-on collision to minimise injury.
“An often overlooked and underappreciated feature in a cab, is the arm rests fitted to the doors. Truck steering wheels are usually in a fairly flat position, which leads to tired shoulders and neck pain caused by tension from hanging on to the steering wheel. An arm rest mounted on the door alleviates the tension and concentration levels can be better maintained,” says de Beer.
He points out that one of the biggest challenges when it comes to selling safe, comfortable vehicles is the price barrier. “To build these features into a vehicle naturally costs money, and to convince some customers of the long-term benefits is sometimes hard. It is time for truck owners to put themselves, literally, in the driver’s seat and understand how potentially expensive driver fatigue can be. Drivers love being in their ‘office’ when it’s a safe and comfortable one.”
In Europe, OEMs have also recognised that more than half of truck drivers have problems with back, neck and shoulder pain, according to a study by Volvo Trucks. New Volvo dynamic steering makes it possible to control a truck with minimal effort – and reduces the risk of injury for the driver. This technology was brought to South Africa in October last year when it was launched on Volvo Trucks’ FH-range.
Volvo Trucks incentivises fuel-efficient driving
Registration has now opened for the Drivers’ Fuel Challenge 2014 – Volvo Trucks’ global competition for fuel-efficient driving. It is open to all professional truck drivers, irrespective of brand. The final will take place in Sweden on September 19.
The Challenge has been arranged annually in different forms – global and regional – since 2009. Its popularity has grown since its inception and the most recent global competition in 2011 attracted around 3 600 participants from 22 countries. This is the first time that a South African driver has a guaranteed spot in the world final in Sweden.
“Fuel cost is a heavy burden for most haulage companies. However, an improved driving style can result in considerable cost savings. With the Drivers’ Fuel Challenge we want to highlight this fact and encourage truck drivers to adopt a more fuel-efficient way of driving,” says Philip Phasha, project manager for this year’s challenge in South Africa.
Participants will not only be tested in actual fuel consumption, but also in driver behaviour such as anticipation, braking, and engine and gearbox utilisation. It will all be done in realistic conditions in which the drivers have to maintain productivity and where they also need to show that they drive the truck in a safe and responsible way.
The South African rounds will take place on May 24 in Cape Town, June 7 in Durban and June 14 in Johannesburg. The national competition will be held in Johannesburg on June 21.