Adoption of advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technology, while increasingly common in passenger and commercial vehicles, has not yet migrated to the transit bus market. That situation could change. One reason is interest from the federal government.
Last fall, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced a $6.5 million research funding opportunity for innovative transit bus automation demonstration projects that will improve safety and efficiency. FTA emphasized its commitment to supporting the use of technology that improves safety for transit riders and workers.
If driver-assist safety technologies come to transit buses, then it’s important to keep something in mind — namely, a major factor to successful ADAS adoption is driver education. Transit authority training of operators on the technology will be as critical for transit buses as it is across the rest of the commercial vehicle landscape, from tractor trailers to school buses.
Drivers of large trucks and other commercial vehicles may not always receive as much training as needed on ADAS technologies. When drivers are educated on the systems, they are better able to understand, accept, and utilize the technology.
Mitigating Potential Collisions
Let’s focus on large trucks for the moment. Part of reducing large truck crash numbers — and the resulting injuries, fatalities, and property damage — is making technology changes that help drivers potentially mitigate those crashes in the first place. Driver-assist safety systems, which include forward collision mitigation, have demonstrated the ability to help fleets and drivers do that.
The systems, however, are no substitute for drivers executing safe driving practices. Drivers and fleets that spec driver assistance systems on their vehicles require training on how the technologies work and what to expect. This point is true for all commercial vehicles and would be true for transit buses, too. These safety systems should be viewed as supplemental to a fleet’s overall safety program.
When it comes to ADAS technology, we can’t emphasize the following point enough: Safety technologies, complement safe driving practices. No commercial vehicle safety technology replaces a skilled, alert driver exercising safe driving techniques and proactive, comprehensive driver training. Responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle remains with the driver at all times.
Likewise, fleets are responsible for driver and technician training. The role for companies like Bendix is to support a fleet’s driver training programs by providing supplemental information and education upon request.
Commercial vehicles are more complex today. More devices are delivering more information to the driver through a variety of auditory alerts, lights, dash notifications, and — when applicable —intervention. If the driver doesn’t understand why a system is doing something, then it can create potential distraction.
That’s why comprehensive driver training on vehicle technologies is more important than ever. But how we educate is also important. At Bendix, we look at supporting the fleets’ driver training programs from a three-pronged perspective: Review the technology, experience the technology, and reference the technology.
Reviewing the technology entails presenting it so that drivers can understand why the technology does what it does; understand when the technology does it; and have the proper awareness and use to help mitigate system alerts or interventions.
This step also starts the process of addressing driver expectations about these technologies and their performance. I have the privilege of talking with many drivers as part of Bendix’s demos and other training programs. What I’ve learned is that drivers may sometimes expect these systems to be infallible and always working in all conditions.
Remember that today’s vehicle systems are driver-assistance, not driver-replacement, technologies. They are not fully autonomous. In fact, on SAE International’s five-level automation scale (SAE J3016 Levels of Driving Automation) — where Level 0 is no technology and Level 5 is fully driverless under all conditions and on all roadways — the majority of driver assistance systems on vehicles today are Level 1.
Once again, the technologies can aid — but not replace — the driver, who remains fully responsible for operating the vehicle. As part of educating drivers, tempering expectations regarding system performance is critical.
Experiencing the technology is based on the notion that it’s not enough to just talk about the technologies in presentations, show videos, or take a ride on the road. Drivers also need to see the technology up close to better understand how it works and what its limitations are. And for that process to happen safely, you need to get on a test track. That’s why driver education on the systems is part of our regional demos and a vital opportunity to experience firsthand both riding with and, in some cases, driving with the technology in various real-life situations.
Over the years, we’ve found that the demo engages the driver more than any presentation. Our demo driver explaining each maneuver when underway, as well as the system response to each scenario, helps answer questions before they get asked. And when given the opportunity to take the wheel in the demo, a driver often reacts before the technology engages. This reaction can indicate the driver is actively managing the situation and not letting the technology become active.
Experiencing the technology in this way forges a better understanding of it, which leads to better acceptance of it and respect for it. Better acceptance means fewer complaints and may lead to safer drivers.
Referencing the technology is important because being able to connect back to the education — as well as other supporting materials — helps reinforce the lessons learned and updates the driver as the technology evolves.
Bendix makes a lot of educational tools available in a variety of forms — from service data sheets and FAQs, all the way to driver perspective training videos and operator’s manuals. The baseline understanding of the technology that drivers gain will also help them communicate more effectively with technicians if the need arises.
For the foreseeable future, the commercial vehicle industry — including transit buses — will continue to need highly-trained drivers. Training for these professionals should not only be on important driving skills but also on the technologies riding with them.