Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Should lorry drivers operate keyboards while driving?

Should lorry drivers be allowed to use computers while driving? Heck, that’s a darn difficult one to answer...

Crisscrossing the country, hundreds of thousands of long-haul truckers use computers in their cabs to get directions and stay in close contact with dispatchers, saving precious minutes that might otherwise be spent at the side of the road.

The trucking industry says these devices can be used safely, posing less of a distraction than BlackBerrys, iPhones and similar gadgets, and therefore should be exempted from legislation that would ban texting while driving.

“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.

Some truckers say they feel pressure to use their computers even while driving in order to meet tight delivery schedules. “We’re supposed to pull over, but nobody ever does,” said Kurt Long, 46, a veteran trucker based in Wagoner, Okla., who hauls flour, sugar and other dry goods.

The trucking industry has invested heavily in technology to wire vehicles. Satellite systems mounted on trucks let companies track drivers, send new orders, distribute companywide messages and transmit training exercises. Drivers can also use them to send and receive e-mail and browse the Internet.

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.

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.