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Electric shocks for truckies not such a dumb idea

IS electric shock treatment for fatigued truck drivers really the solution to the horror road toll?

It might sound a little drastic, but it’s not that far from a sensible idea.

NSW Transport Minister Melinda Pavey raised the topic this week while talking about the tragic spate of fatal crashes involving truck drivers.

Technology to detect fatigue in truck drivers has been around for several years and the device the Minister was referring to is a clever one that has been trialled in the mining industry. A camera monitors a driver’s eye movements, looks for telltale signs of fatigue and then delivers a vibration (not really an electric shock) through the seat to alert the driver. In the UK a wristband vibrates to warn of fatigue.

Several vehicle makers have similar technology on their cars and trucks and it shows great promise, although it’s still in its infancy.

The real safety silver bullet, though, is autonomous emergency braking, technology that is becoming increasingly common in cars, even budget-priced hatchbacks.

AEB uses cameras and radar to scan the road ahead and identify potential accidents. If it senses a collision it will warn the driver. If the driver isn’t paying attention it will slam on the brakes.

It’s effective because it takes a drowsy or distracted driver out of the equation.

Ironically, the minister was launching a new AEB testing facility when it was sidetracked by her electric shock comments.

Perhaps it was a diversionary tactic to disguise the fact that Australia trails Europe in mandating this lifesaving technology on our deadliest vehicles. AEB has been mandated in Europe since 2013 — and lane departure warning since 2015 — but neither are even on the drawing board in Australia.

Mercedes-Benz trucks in Australia are fitted with AEB, along with similar drowsy driver tech. In the case of Benz, the truck monitors a driver’s steering inputs and delivers a vibration through the steering wheel if they detect lazy driving. They also have a lane departure warning, which sets off an alarm if the truck crosses the centre line or roadside markers.

Many luxury cars can steer themselves back into a lane if the driver strays. Some will even gradually bring the car to a halt if they can’t detect steering inputs.

Problem is, none of this technology was readily available 12 years ago, and the average age of our truck fleet is 12 years. That could change quickly, though, as AEB can be retrofitted to trucks. It’s expensive to install, though, and transport companies working on razor-thin margins are unlikely to adopt it unless forced, or encouraged to.

So while it’s refreshing to see a minister looking outside the square to fix the disastrous road toll, it would be better still if they bit the bullet and made lifesaving AEB mandatory.

Richard Blackburn is the editor of News Corp’s Motoring liftout.

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