Pete Cochrane

A Different Point of View

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Driving home for Christmas

I’ve been debating whether to write this post for a few days now. Christmas and the New Year looms nearer and as usual and for some unknown reason stupidity abounds on our roads and escalates as we get nearer to the festive season. I can’t understand why anybody wants to take such risks to save a few minutes and potentially plunge themselves or family and friends into a lifetime of grief and regret. This post is a bit long and may not be for friends on my page that have suffered loss in an RTA.
In my early twenties and just starting out in my truck career, I was involved in a bad truck accident when I hit the back of another truck stopped on a dual carriageway in the dark with no lights on. Without going into too much detail I became trapped in the cab as the drivers seat had pushed my legs under the steel dash. In hindsight what I perceived as smoke was probably steam from the radiator but the thought of burning to death was very present. I remember a Policeman standing on the back of the other truck telling me that if it had been in a British truck and not a Volvo, I would not have survived. Luckily I rang Jacqueline from the hospital and told her I had been in a bad accident as a driver had called into her Auntie’s shop and asked which one of Alderson’s drivers had been killed this morning.
Move forward to the 1990s and one of my own trucks and its driver were involved in a fatal accident. Again without going into too much detail, it was the start of some of the blackest days to comprehend that I can remember. The truck was impounded until the accident investigators had checked it over, which is usual for a fatal RTA. I went to the accident investigation and apart from the two investigators checking the truck one other policeman was standing there. After the investigators had finished, they gave my truck the okay and even commented on how well looked after it was. The other policeman then came over and said he was glad they had found no problem with the truck as he was there to arrest me if they had, and he could see I was greatly troubled. Immediately the truck was released, I had it recovered to Scania and asked for every part of the truck to be tested against manufacturers spec to try and get some little piece of closure for what had happened. It didn’t, but the testing was so comprehensive that the police used the data as well as theirs in court. Even though as a business I was cleared of negligence, it has never given me closure and only time has dulled its memory.
Move on to 2015 and my youngest brother Andy was killed in an RTA in Dorset and while I was unloading my truck in an RDC in Scotland. It’s hard to take in a phone call telling you your brother has been killed and then drive back home with the truck. There is far too much time to think when you’re a truck driver and you spend most of your time on your own.
Something that has stuck with me for many years that happened in my early career, is another accident in which thankfully I was not involved except for being the first truck to arrive at the scene behind two or three cars. I was travelling in very heavy deep snow and this car overtook me drifting and generally fooling around as he did it. I remember thinking he must be an idiot driving like that. Ten minutes later I arrived at the scene of the accident. It seems he had lost control of his car, gone into a hedge and bounced back out right into the path of a fully laden artic tipper. There was no mobile phones in those days and it was going to be a while before the emergency services were alerted and arrived at the scene. In the meantime other people at the scene were getting the passenger of the wrecked car into another vehicle to take him to hospital. The driver was not so lucky, he was still alive but it was hard to tell where he finished and the dash of the car started. I was in my early twenties and had never witnessed anything like this before. The other people there seemed to be on top of the job so I just went back to my truck out of the way. I will never forget what I saw that day either, but I also remember thinking that somebody somewhere is waiting for him to come home and it’s never going to happen for the sake of a few minutes delay and a bit of stupidity.
One of my drivers came across a car that had hit a truck head on and overturned while driving in Germany. He could hear children screaming in the back of the car and it was quite obvious the parents were dead. The vehicle was leaking petrol, yet without a thought for himself got the two children out and away from the scene. He told me that once the emergency services arrived and taken charge, he was asked to get the truck out of the way. He went to the nearest services and had a shower as he was covered in blood and petrol, then he put his clothes in a bin. I don’t think he ever got over that experience right up to his death a long time later.
The emergency services experience these accidents a lot, but I can’t see that they ever get used to it. Some of my friends on here are either in or ex-members of the emergency services and all I can say is thank you for being there. I also have a friend on here who served in the navy and survived his warship being sunk during the Falklands conflict, and others on here that are ex-army and have endured conflict protecting our interests. Military personnel sign up with the possibility of experiencing dangerous conflicts and we should all thank them for their service. I can only imagine some of the sights they will have seen and wonder how they manage them in their heads. I’m not sure if these experiences have affected my mental health as I usually keep them locked away as much as I can, and I’ve only written this article to try and bring awareness to the grief that driving without consideration for heavy trucks and other road users bring to the survivors of such accidents. The dead aren’t suffering anymore, but the survivors have to deal with it for the rest of their days.
We are just truck drivers doing our job to make sure supermarket shelves are full and Santa’s presents are delivered on time, so you and your family can have a great festive season. My trucking colleagues and I also want to go home to our families for Christmas yet many of us will be working in some capacity or other to keep the food supply chain going over the festive period.
Tomorrow (Monday) I am being trained to drive one of our new Mercedes Actros trucks (never too old to learn) with advanced safety features. On Tuesday I start driving one of the latest trucks from Volvo that has probably the most comprehensive set of safety features on any truck. It warns me if I’m too close to the vehicle in front, or if I’m tired, or to warn me of vehicles in my blindspots, or I go over a white line without indicating. It also has collision avoidance assistance, and a camera facing forward with one on either side looking backwards that record everything that happens to a hard drive in case of an accident or incident. The one thing this truck or any of our other advanced safety equipped trucks can do, is change physics. If you pull into my braking distance and put your brakes on (a favourite pastime of car drivers coming up to a motorway exit) in front of one of these trucks, it will try its hardest to stop and avoid hitting you. However, while it can detect a stationary vehicle in the carriageway and brake accordingly in that distance, it can’t do it when the distance has been reduced by a car or other truck drivers erratic manoeuvre.
Please think carefully when driving and consider the size of the vehicle you are overtaking and how much distance he or her needs to either slow down or get out of your way before you pull in. If this document makes one person think a little bit more carefully about how they drive I will be happy. I hope we all have a merry Christmas and a happy new year, but I fear that will not be the case for everyone if current driving habits don’t change.

Robot Transport

So by the 2030’s all minion run production processes, and that also includes the road transport industry will be run by robots or driverless trucks. So I wonder if in the next thirteen years our road infrastructure will improve sufficiently to support driverless vehicles? Furthermore, will pre-launch testing include such things as what a driverless truck would do if a fully laden truck had a front wheel blowout while descending a hill or what it would do in the event of a breakdown while driving on a motorway or in a city, or even what it would do if it’s planned route was impossible due to roadworks?
All are valid questions among countless more including what happens when a sensor fails together with any redundant systems that may be fitted. I’ve been lucky enough to drive a lot of the latest technology fitted to heavy trucks including topographic data input, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, proximity control and collision avoidance systems, and while all these system are brilliant bits of kit for the driver, but they are by no means infallible.
I envisage queues at depots where trucks become confused or stop and I also think that the first family that gets wiped out by a driverless truck will cause a radical disagreement on blame, with the onus being contested by the operator, vehicle manufacturer and the programmers. Who will actually be found guilty and whether they will serve a prison sentence remains to be seen.
In the meantime the transport industry bemoans the fact that no new drivers are coming into the industry, and I wonder why anyone would want to come into a thankless industry when future employment prospects look so bleak.
I am certainly not worried about being replaced by a robot in the next decade, more to the point, I think the road transport industry should be worried about not having a robot ready to drive my truck for when I decide that I have had enough of watching an industry that gave me everything continue on it’s misguided course of self-destruction.
Watch this space for a future post on driverless trucks and the potential implications of their inevitable and possibly sooner than you think appearance.

Writing Content

Writing content for this blog is not an easy task I have found out. I am a firm believer in giving as accurate a picture of a given subject as possible, without short changing the reader with an incomplete point of view. This means unfortunately that sometimes new content may not happen every week, but might result in some weeks where two new articles appear. I have a lot of subject matter under construction and hopefully you the reader, will find it thought provoking and entertaining. The world is changing very quickly, and in my humble opinion not for the better. A few world leaders that should possess thoughtful and progressive interactions with other countries, seem to want to take random and dangerous action against other countries that don’t have the same views. This makes the future look very bleak on a global scale, plus Brexit is happening whether we like it or not. It doesn’t matter if we wanted to stay or go, a democratic decision was made and we have to go with the result.
So in this changing World, we as individuals have to find a way of being better at what we do, or even invent or do things that nobody else has done. In other words we must conquer the world through innovation and entrepreneurship. I hope in a small way I can help you see things from a different point of view, because some of the skills I have picked up over the years, have taught me that no problem is insurmountable, you just need to reframe it.

Telematics Stress – A Modern Problem.

Telematics Data
Telematics Data

With all the current media attention on mental health, I wonder if anyone has considered the mental health of truck drivers? We are under stress from bad driving by other road users, tight delivery schedules, constant fear of the Police and VOSA even when you always drive for a one hundred percent legal operation, safety, security and now to add to this little list of stressful sources, we suffer a constant barrage of telematics league tables and must try harder letters and comments.

This is an industry wide problem that has not been sufficiently scrutinised to understand the effects on a driver. In my experience telematics data is tolerated for a short while by drivers before they lose interest because no matter what they do, they can’t get to the top of the league table. I have arrived at this conclusion after listening to drivers I work with and also many other drivers from numerous companies during conversations while tipping or loading at places.

Maybe a more productive way of gaining acceptance for telematics data and any subsequent improvements would be to incorporate a module in an annual CPC training event covering the various headings within telematics and how each of them affect a drivers score. Furthermore, instead of using league tables as a means of measurement, encourage drivers to use individual telematics data as a tool for personal improvement.

Personally, the league tables mean nothing to me as the results depend on the load weight, trailer size, weather and route at the very least. The person I want to drive better than the most is ME! For years I have recorded my trip data every day. This includes the trailer number and type, weather conditions, load, time taken, speed, MPG, fuel used and route. If you build up a consistent record over a period of time, a pattern emerges and anomalies such as if the truck is sick or the trailer doesn’t run as freely as another does becomes clearer. I consider that as a professional driver it is my duty to improve wherever I can. I learn every day even after nearly forty years as a truck driver, and will continue to do so, as it is a vital part of gaining and building on experience. Failures are only failures if you don’t learn from mistakes, and we all make mistakes no matter how much experience we have. That is why challenging yourself by keeping a record of your performance is so valuable and something all drivers should be encouraged to do.

The industry is a wash with training and often results unintentionally in most cases, of putting unnecessary pressure or stress upon drivers to perform based upon telematics data, but another aspect to consider is whether your data has a close relationship with exactly what your vehicle is doing. If it isn’t set up correctly, its possible you are being unnecessarily hard on a driver or drivers. It’s worth remembering that your truck has cost you a lot of money and drivers are your businesses most valuable asset as they are entrusted with your truck and also the people that come face to face with your customers. A vital reason to try and keep them happy.

The human race is made up of intensely competitive beings and no matter how many drivers say they are not interested in telematics data, nearly all are to some degree. Usually the negativity to the data seems to be related to their position on a league table and I suspect from questions that I am asked, is because they don’t know how to improve their score.

If more emphasis was given to encouraging drivers to compete against their own scores and comprehensive training given to demonstrate how data changes depending on the driving style used, I believe a fleet wide improvement would be a result.

The modern phenomena of measuring everything to within an inch of its life, creates an unpleasant feeling of always being watched by big brother, and depending on the character or personality of the person policing a persons performance, can lead to resentment and a feeling of distrust to a driver by a company with a knock on effect of poorer performance than they are capable of.

It’s not difficult with the right motivation to improve fuel economy by one percent and in a lot of cases to improve even further than that. Imagine what you could save over a year by finding a way that motivates your drivers to improve without them feeling oppressed?

Maybe the only way is to measure the results!

Volvo FH04-500 Tractor Unit

The very impressive Volvo FH04-500
The Volvo FH04-500

Tested 08/04/2017-12/04/2017

I feel I have let this truck and Volvo down in my fuel values during this test, mainly because I drive an FH460 all the time and this truck is the same office but with a very different heart. I truly believe that had I driven it without having driven an FH before, my fuel would have been better. This is because it coasts forever and also because I do the same run every day and I am driving it to the same power off points as I would the 460 when in fact I could come off the power much sooner, in fact much, much sooner! As a result my brake count is way more than I should have done. The Volvo FH04 500 is doing exactly what I expected in comparison to the 460 version. The extra 40hp makes just that little difference when it’s on cruise control by having a bit more torque. You can see on the dash real time fuel data that it is more economical when it needs fuel. Places where you would see 1.9mpg you now see 2.5mpg as the low figures and a much better cruising fuel figure sooner.

The whole vehicle is less stressed at 500hp and does as I said run on forever, I believe this is due to the fact that it is on top of the power requirement instead of pulling the load up to the power requirement. A bit difficult to explain what I mean but would be easy to demonstrate. Power delivery is very smooth and as with all new heavy trucks its built to be on cruise control as much as possible, especially the higher horsepower trucks, and not just on motorways but whenever its safe to do so.

The cab is exactly the same as the 460 except this particular vehicle it had an electric sun blind and better seat coverings. Unfortunately I have the same little grumbles about it, namely the space in front of the passenger seat is very cramped compared to the Scania, and I can’t help thinking that if I was using this truck on long haul European work like I used to, then I would have been a bit uncomfortable if I was parked up for extended periods. Next is the fact that it is a dirty truck compared to either the new Next Generation Scania or its predecessor the Scania Streamline, and gets very dirty mirrors that really impact your rear viewing capabilities quite quickly in damp weather. On a positive note, the Volvo is a brilliant truck on smart motorways or average speed camera controlled roadworks compared to the Scania’s. This is because on the Volvo you can press the Eco button on the steering wheel and bring the speed down to 1mph instead of the default 3mph for economic operations, then set the cruise control at 49mph and let the truck get on with it. It will not exceed 50mph and it will not fall away speed wise either as the Scania’s seem’s to. The only thing you have to remember is to press the Eco button and set the value back to 3mph for the best economic running when the speed restriction ends.

Interpretation of the Dynafleet data needs to be correct as quite often while you are on cruise, the vehicle goes into coasting mode in exactly the same way as you would have done it by dropping it out of cruise. The difference is in the data on Dynafleet because as the coasting value seems to reflect coasting when you coast off cruise and is the total value of coasting above and below 89kph OFF CRUISE. If it coasts in cruise, the overspeed value increases but the coasting value doesn’t! If the Eco button is in the default 3mph setting, the truck shouldn’t exceed 59mph on cruise and the overspeed is referring to coasting between 56mph and 59mph. Therefore the true coasting value should be the total of the two values as long as the cruise control usage value is high. It took me a while to work that one out! There is something more to this observation that is important but escapes me at the moment, but I will add an addendum when I remember.

Overall in the five days of testing, I have had a double-deck fridge fully loaded, square and round edged fridges, extreme variations in traffic and weather including worsening high winds on some days and a routing cock up that added an hour and a half onto a normal runtime. So a consistent test as planned has not worked out. As usual I have recorded everything daily as I do with my regular truck and other demo units. Plus as is usual with a test truck a physical fuel fill test. Dash fuel figures range between 8.8mpg and 9.8mpg which is either better or consistent with my usual FH460 figures (This vehicle had only 16000 kms on it when I started testing, so is still not run in properly yet), Physical fuel on three of the days was 9.35mpg, 9.59 mpg and 9.38mpg respectively. From experience of other manufacturers test vehicles this is fairly good. Physical fuel checks confirm the accuracy of dash and telemetry data. Adblue use seems consistent with the FH460 values with this vehicle.

On the final day of testing the 500 really showed how good it is. Through no fault of the Volvo I was held up with a breakdown which resulted in me leaving my last drop quarter of an hour later than my due loading time three quarters of an hour away. Making progress while keeping to the national speed limits across country is no problem for the 500 and I arrived at my loading point bang on the time I had given them. With the high winds I had been experiencing all day and severe congestion on the Scottish road system, the Volvo was showing only 8.3mpg which to be fair was still better than the 460 would have achieved but not what I was happy with. Even worse was the fact I had no time to try and get the figure to improve, or so I thought. As soon as I was loaded with the cargo of 16 pallets of Milk, I left Bridge of Allan via Stirling to join the M80 at Stirling services before tackling a very congested M73 and even worse M74 at Raith. Wherever possible I had it on the limiter and it never broke stroke. Even better by the time I got back to Penrith, the fuel figure had improved to 9MPG, a figure that the 460 would never have done under the same conditions. Stunningly impressive is the only way I can describe it.

In conclusion, all I can tell you is that whenever I test a truck, I evaluate it as if I was buying it for myself and apply the same comparison techniques I used when I owned my own truck operation. The main things I am looking for in a truck are comfort, reliability and above all else a good balance of power and economy. I have never been a subscriber of just buying high power trucks other than unless the job requires them, and in my humble opinion 500 hp is about as much as you need pulling a fridge.
I can’t believe I am going to write this next bit, but here goes. I have tested a lot of the best trucks meeting our requirements including the superb Next Generation Scania R450, but if I was given the choice between the Next Generation Scania R450 and the Volvo FH04 500 I have just been testing, then I would have picked the Volvo. Anybody that knows me, also knows that I am a dyed in the wool Scania fan and would not say this lightly, but in the absence of not having tested the S500 Next Generation Scania, I would without doubt have picked the Volvo 500. It is a truly awesome truck and if you are buying one or just driving one, you will not be disappointed.