By Finch Fulton
Locomation’s Vice President of Policy and Strategy
Note: The following is excerpted from our recently posted Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment.
From the beginning, our leaders have developed Locomation’s Autonomous Relay ConvoySM (ARC) technology to specifically address the real pain points of the freight transportation system. The trucking industry is plagued with major issues that it has been working to overcome for years: safety, driver shortages caused by high turnover and inequity, wasted time, and unnecessary fuel usage and emissions output.
Among these problems, safety is of greatest concern. Trucking is the 4th most dangerous occupation in the United States. In recent years, there have been about 500,000 police-reported crashes involving large trucks (gross vehicle weight rating Class 3–8) annually. Over 100,000 of these crashes resulted in at least one injury, and nearly 4,500 resulted in at least one fatality. For 2019, in 33% of the fatal crashes involving a large truck, driver factors such as speeding, impairment (fatigue, alcohol, illness, etc.) and inattentiveness were reported for the truck driver. With Locomation, routes are organized to ensure drivers don’t have incentives to speed, speed limiters and driver monitoring systems are present on the trucks, and drivers are able to get the appropriate rest in the sleeper berth.
Locomation’s ARC solution also impacts equity. Today, only about 7% of truck drivers are women. Only 44% of women drivers reported feeling safe at rest stops, fueling stations, and service facilities based on a recent Women in Trucking survey. Industry efforts to increase the number of women in trucking haven’t been successful yet, but by organizing routes to get drivers home every 24 hours, these safety concerns can be mitigated.
Locomation’s concern for driver safety goes beyond the truck itself. Suicide rates for long-haul truckers are among the top five for professions in the country. Surveyed truckers were found to have significant issues affecting their mental health, such as loneliness (27.9%), depression (26.9%), chronic sleep disturbances (20.6%), anxiety (14.5%), and other emotional problems (13%). High stress is one of the two primary causes of the high rates of driver turnover fleets see today, along with the older age of the driving population. The most common stressors were financial, with 66% of drivers saying they did not have enough savings to cover 60 days of expenses. That study also found that high levels of stress were associated with a 50% higher chance of a driver experiencing a preventable crash.
One of the key things that drives the truck drivers’ frustration—and despair—is the wasted time, miles, and opportunities that come from disorganized routes and decentralized loads.
Today, drivers are typically paid by the miles they move their loads. According to the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2021 Operational Cost of Trucking Report, drivers waste over 20% of their miles moving to pick up the next load, also known as dead-head routes.
By focusing on key routes identified as part of our Autonomous Relay Network, building a relay-hub model, and organizing loads with our Digital Transportation System, we separate local and long-haul driving and achieve huge efficiencies in both. This process brings carriers immediate benefits while optimizing their operating model for autonomy. Unpaid detention time, or time spent waiting for loads, is estimated to cost drivers up to 20 hours a week. The separation between local and line haul activity creates a larger window for load pick-ups and drop-offs to ease potential detention time.
In addition, this can help carriers avoid time spent parked running their air conditioning in a Texas summer or heat in a Michigan winter due to limitations on their driving time. Trucks idle between five to eight hours per day, over 300 days per year. Reducing or removing idling would save up to 48,000 lbs of CO2 per year, 2,400 gallons of fuel, and up to $6,000 a year in reduced fuel cost per convoy per year.
This will have significant impacts. In the long-haul trucking industry in North America, fuel consumption typically accounts for 25–40% of total costs. Improvements in long-haul fuel economy that can be realized with automation have the potential to directly lead to both economic benefits and emission reductions. Transportation makes up 28% of total GHG emissions in the U.S. More than one-third of that amount comes from freight transportation, especially from medium and heavy trucks, which accounted for 24% of U.S. transportation sector GHG emissions despite making up only 9% of total vehicle travel.
According to a comprehensive, independent, third-party environmental impact evaluation, Locomation’s ARC system will dramatically reduce the GHG footprint, fuel consumption, and operating costs of transporting goods by truck. Based on this, the evaluation found that compared to traditional Class 8 trucks, trucks equipped with Locomation’s technology would:
- reduce the GHG footprint of freight transportation up to 22%;
- cut operating costs up to 19%;
- decrease fuel consumption up to 21%;
- lower photochemical ozone formation up to 22%; and
- reduce the GHG abatement cost, or dollars per tonne of avoided GHG emissions, below any of the alternatives considered.
ARC technology is the best opportunity for long-haul trucking to reduce its carbon footprint in America until such a time as electrification is available and economically viable on 1000+ mile routes, which may not be achievable until close to 2030. Even a conservative adoption of the ARC system would yield savings equivalent to the amount of CO2 emitted from two million passenger vehicles annually.
Imagine a future for trucking where drivers had no incentive to speed, where their routes were designed to get them home every night, where they generated double the revenue by going twice the distance, hauling twice the cargo. Where wasted time, miles and emissions were significantly reduced, improving efficiency overall. We see this future coming soon, and we aren’t waiting to work with the leading industry partners to start this transition.
And, it matters that we get the transition right. It matters that we create solutions that work for real, human drivers. It matters that we make them part of the evolution of autonomy so that we can make these solutions work for them, not instead of them. Solve for the biggest issues facing the human drivers, and you can start to solve for the biggest problems facing the industry today. Solve for the biggest issues today and you can prepare to solve for the biggest issues in the future.
We want that future and we are deeply committed to making it happen.