Author: Sean M. Lyden

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Confronting the Human Dilemma in a Brave New Self-Driving World

In his speech at the AutoMobili-D Conference in Detroit this past January, John Krafcik, the CEO at Waymo – formerly the Google self-driving car program – cited this compelling statistic: “Each year, more than 1.2 million people die on the roads around the world.”

He then put that number in context: “That’s equivalent to a 737 [airliner] falling from the sky every hour of every day all year long.”

Krafcik’s point is clear. Society would never tolerate having a major airline crash every day; so, how can it accept the same number of people dying in automotive crashes? If self-driving systems could prevent the vast majority of fatalities on the road, wouldn’t it be a moral imperative for society to adopt that technology?

That’s the argument that Krafcik, several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and most automotive executives have been making in recent months as they present a vision of a “crash-less” society made possible by fully autonomous vehicles. After all, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of crashes can be tied to human error. Remove the driver, eliminate human error – right?

But despite bold predictions by industry executives and analysts that fully autonomous vehicles will be available for sale in the U.S. within the next four years, human psychological barriers could put the brakes on societal adoption of this technology.


Fear of Autonomy
Consider this: Although autonomous vehicles offer the promise of significantly greater safety than their human-driven counterparts, U.S. drivers don’t believe it – at least not from an emotional and practical standpoint.

That’s based on the findings in a recent report from AAA, where three‐quarters of U.S. drivers said they would be afraid to ride in a self‐driving vehicle. And the majority – 54 percent – of those drivers said they would feel less safe sharing the road with fully autonomous vehicles while they drive a regular vehicle.

You might think, OK, that makes sense when you factor in older generations that may be more apprehensive about new technology, but what about millennials? Certainly, younger people would be much more open to riding in self-driving vehicles.

Yet according to the AAA study, 73 percent of millennials also indicated they were likely to be afraid to ride in a self-driving car, compared to 75 percent for Generation X and 85 percent for baby boomers – not that big of a difference.

So, how is the industry responding to counteract this fear?

Companies like Waymo, ride-hailing giant Uber and Boston-based nuTonomy have recently launched programs that offer self-driving rides to select passengers in limited locations around the world. The idea is to get people used to riding in these vehicles and to share their experiences with family, friends and colleagues, with the hopes of not only reducing fear but also increasing market demand for self-driving rides.

Collective Good vs. Self-Protection: The Double Standard
But then there’s also the issue of machine morality and how society will write the rules of the road for autonomous vehicles. When software assumes more and more of a human driver’s responsibility for decision-making, what moral model will govern those decisions?

Imagine this scenario: A self-driving vehicle is approaching a traffic situation where there will be an unavoidable crash. The car must decide between killing 10 pedestrians or its own passenger. What would you say would be the right moral choice?

According to a study titled “The Social Dilemma of Autonomous Vehicles” by scholars Jean-Francois Bonnefon, Azim Shariff and Iyad Rahwan, 76 percent of study participants said that it would be “more moral” for the autonomous vehicle to sacrifice one passenger than kill 10 pedestrians.

This is based on the moral philosophy of utilitarianism, where a morally good action is one that helps the greatest number of people – in this case, allowing the vehicle to sacrifice the one passenger to save 10 pedestrians.

But what if you’re the passenger of the self-driving car?

Now, that’s a different story. According to the study, you’re more likely to prefer a vehicle that will protect your life, not sacrifice it. “It appears that people praise utilitarian, self-sacrificing [autonomous vehicles] and welcome them on the road, without actually wanting to buy one for themselves,” the report states.

This is a prime example of what the researchers call a “social dilemma,” where people may have a strong consensus on what’s best for society as a whole but will still prefer to act in their own self-interest. And this double standard could have huge implications in terms of impeding the development of regulations that will make autonomous vehicles commercially available.

To encourage more public discussion on this issue on a global scale, one of the study’s authors, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Iyad Rahwan, launched Moral Machine ( It’s an online platform that invites the public to get involved with building a crowd-sourced picture of human opinion on how machines should make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas and discussing potential scenarios of moral consequence.

The Bottom Line
The emergence of self-driving systems could have a significant impact on utility fleet operations – by improving worker safety, boosting productivity and achieving the highest possible utilization rate from all your fleet assets. But there are human factors that go beyond technology development that could slow the market availability of these systems. Watch this space closely as technology companies, automakers and governments grapple with these societal issues to pave the way to a brave new self-driving world.

The Future of Utility Fleets is Here … Are You Ready?

As a utility fleet professional, you have to wear numerous hats – engineer, purchasing agent, manager, IT person, recruiter, counselor, accountant, salesperson – and are constantly bombarded with “fires” to put out, leaving you with little time to think about your future.

But as you read about and see the rapid change going on in the industry, you’re realizing that you need the time to start thinking about how to adapt. Emerging technologies like self-driving systems, the internet of things, connected vehicles, artificial intelligence and drones are already here and just beginning to make an impact on how fleets – and fleet professionals – do business, setting the stage for major industry disruption in the next three to five years.

And as more and more older fleet workers and technicians get ready for retirement, there’s a looming shortage of younger workers who are willing and qualified to fill the gap, raising the stakes for utility fleets as they compete for technical talent and expertise.

So, what if there was a three-day boot camp during which you could set aside everything else and focus your energy and attention on learning and thinking about the strategies, tactics and leadership tools that can help you successfully navigate the challenges ahead?

Now there is, and its name is Utility Fleet Conference 2017.

UFC 2017 is an intensive three-day fleet education event from October 2-4, 2017, produced by Utility Fleet Professional magazine ( and co-located at the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition ( in Louisville, Ky.

If you’re a fleet professional working for an investor-owned utility, public utility, cooperative or utility contractor, UFC 2017 is designed specifically for you. That’s because it brings together leading minds from across North America for fleet-focused education and networking, where you can dive deep into the best practices, strategies and trends that address the unique needs and challenges of utility fleets, especially in today’s rapidly changing environment.

And since UFC 2017 is co-located with ICUEE, which attracts more than 17,000 attendees and 950-plus exhibitors, you gain access to an exclusive forum for checking out the latest equipment and meeting and learning from industry experts and peers who can help you take your fleet’s performance – and your career – to the next level.

If this conference interests you, visit to learn more and view the full agenda. And if you register before June 30, you’ll save $100.

Hope to see you in Louisville!

Sean M. Lyden


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Todd Carlson, principal manager for fleet asset management at Southern California Edison (, one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, serving nearly 15 million customers in Central, Coastal and Southern California, with about 6,100 assets, including trailers, in its fleet.

#1. Learn from other utility fleet professionals.
“Leverage your peers in the industry to benchmark how they configure and utilize their utility trucks. And study their best practices and alternative work methods for crews. This way, you can shorten your own learning curve and put your fleet in the best position to succeed.”

#2. Avoid excessive customization.
“While most utility trucks are custom-configured for the buyer and their work methods, new fleet managers should be aware of all the costs of excessive or unique customizations not typically offered by OEMs. These costs can include longer lead times, engineering issues, trade-offs and unintended outcomes.”

#3. Track fleet performance so you can make smart business decisions.
“A good telematics solution can help you capture performance data – such as days utilized, idle time, boom utilization and driver performance – to equip you with the insight you need to make informed business decisions about your fleet.”


3 Takeaways from Southern California Edison’s Fleet Electrification Initiative

Conventional wisdom says that as fuel prices drop, so does market demand for alternative-fuel vehicles – such as those powered by compressed natural gas, propane autogas and plug-in electric systems. That’s because the lower the price of gasoline and diesel, the longer it takes to recoup the premium for alt-fuel technologies through fuel-cost savings.

Yet despite fuel prices in the low two-dollar range per gallon as of press time, a growing number of electric utilities in the U.S. are making substantial investments to green their fleets – specifically in plug-in electric vehicle (EV) systems.

A major driver of this trend has been Edison Electric Institute’s (EEI) Transportation Electrification Initiative, which in late 2014 garnered commitments from more than 70 investor-owned electric utilities to devote at least 5 percent of their annual fleet acquisition budgets to purchase plug-in EVs and equipment.

But for one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, Southern California Edison (SCE), the push for fleet electrification began nearly two decades ago, in 2000. And today, SCE ( operates 644 electrified units, comprising 11 percent of its total fleet. Last year, the utility invested 18.7 percent of its fleet spend in EVs, nearly quadruple the EEI annual target.

UFP recently spoke with Todd Carlson, principal manager for fleet asset management at SCE, to get more details about their fleet electrification initiative and uncover some of the lessons that Carlson and his team have learned in the process. Here are three takeaways that emerged from our conversation.

1. Look for smart opportunities for electrification.
While EVs are not a good fit for all fleet applications right now, there are opportunities for fleet electrification that offer a compelling business case, if you know where to look.

“We seek to electrify everything we possibly can in our fleet,” Carlson said. “Now obviously, we’re not going to electrify our helicopters or some of the real heavy-energy-intensive vehicles. We don’t have plans to electrify our 150-ton cranes. But we do seek to electrify everything we possibly can when it makes good business sense to do so.”

So, where does fleet electrification make good business sense?

Carlson shared one example that may not be on a lot of fleet managers’ radar: corporate security vehicles.

At SCE’s five-building complex in Rosemead, Calif., security guards were using gasoline-powered Ford Transit Connect vehicles to do around-the-clock patrols around the campus.

“We were in a position where there was so much idling and wear and tear on the engine, that the vehicles were constantly down,” Carlson said. “And since this was a very low-mileage, high-idle application, we were having to do more engine replacements and other maintenance to those vehicles. So, we built a business case that showed that it would be more cost-effective to replace the two gas-powered Transit Connects with four battery-electric Toyota RAV4s.”

How could doubling the number of vehicles – with more expensive EVs – be more cost-effective?

“First, since we went from two to four vehicles, we could extend a longer-term lease payment structure,” Carlson explained. “Instead of basically consuming the vehicle over a four-year period, we could expect a life expectancy of seven years because we had double the number of vehicles. And while one vehicle is charging, they’re using the other one.”

But what about the economics of operating the electric RAV4s compared to the gas-powered vehicle? What makes the EV a better investment in this instance?

“When we factor in the lower cost of maintenance [for the EV], the lower cost over the life of the vehicle and the cost of the electricity versus gas, it is actually a lower-cost solution for us to use two electric vehicles in place of one gas-powered vehicle that runs virtually 24/7,” Carlson said.

And Carlson noted there have been driver acceptance and health benefits from the switch to the EVs. “The guards who use EVs absolutely love those vehicles because they don’t have to deal with an engine running all day long that causes constant engine vibration in the vehicle and creates exhaust that they breathe in.”

2. Understand that the business case for ePTO trucks goes beyond financial payback.
SCE operates about 64 medium- and heavy-duty trucks with electric power takeoff (ePTO) systems that power the onboard equipment, such as an aerial platform, without the need to idle the engine. And while SCE has seen direct economic benefits from these trucks in terms of fuel-cost savings, lower maintenance costs and longer asset life, the substantial reduction of exhaust fumes and equipment noise is paying dividends in improved health and safety for the operators, Carlson said.

“The crews love these trucks because they don’t have to deal with fumes and noise – where they’re shouting over the engine noise of the large truck to talk to one another,” Carlson said. “You can talk in a normal voice from the ground to the operator up in the bucket, while he’s up working on the wires. And that’s a big deal with it comes to keeping our crews safe.”

What has SCE seen in terms of payback from fuel-cost savings with ePTO trucks?

Carlson said that the direct financial payback is still “borderline,” but “it’s close enough that we continue to lean into it to say, ‘We’re going to learn more about these trucks and keep doing it.’ Our hope is that this technology continues to move forward and the price keeps coming down, so that we will get a great payback on this type of system.”

3. Eliminate the “hassle factor” of EVs for users.
Carlson said that the biggest challenges SCE has experienced with fleet electrification have to do with take-home vehicles and range anxiety – both examples of the hassle factor.

“If you’re planning to charge the vehicle overnight, you need to have a solution for how that vehicle is going to charge,” Carlson said. “Is the employee expected to plug that vehicle into their own electric outlet at their home? If it’s a hybrid-electric troubleman truck that gets taken home, how will it get charged? If you park it in front of the house and you’re needing to run extension cords out to charge the truck, you’re going to be dealing with potential trip hazards or something else that makes it even more challenging. Charging at home for take-home vehicles can be a bit of a funny question to deal with.”

How has SCE addressed this issue?

“We use our telematics system to identify the trouble truck operators who regularly parked their vehicles at the service centers – where they would be able to safely charge the vehicles – as the target users of new trouble trucks equipped with the plug-in electric systems.”

To tackle the challenge of overcoming range anxiety – the fear of not having enough battery power to make it to a destination – SCE has focused on striking the optimal balance between the driver’s daily job requirements and a vehicle’s range capabilities.

“The solution may be either going with a plug-in hybrid unit that has the range extension of the gasoline engine or identifying a fully electrified product that has a large enough battery capacity to satisfy the 98th percentile of the driver’s daily missions,” Carlson said.

Carlson continued: “You can clearly borrow a vehicle, take from a loaner pool, rent a vehicle or find an alternate vehicle if you need to go on that long trip that the battery electric range doesn’t support. But that adds a hassle factor in logistics to the driver that they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have in a gas vehicle. So, you need to make sure you limit the hassle factor for the electric vehicles in the vast majority of situations for that driver.”

Next Steps
What advice does Carlson have for fleet managers who are considering expanding their own fleet electrification efforts?

“I would encourage them to lean into it because of the benefits of transportation electrification,” he said. “The driving experience with the quality products on the market is very high. And the users, once they drive electric vehicles, tend to always want to stick with those vehicles moving forward. I think that if fleet managers do the business case realistically and appropriately, then they’ll see that their maintenance costs are typically less with the electrified vehicles and the life of the vehicle is often expected to be increased.”


What’s New in Truck Bodies for Utility Fleets

Some of the industry’s leading truck body manufacturers are developing new products that equip your crews to get more work done, with less strain and greater safety. They’re incorporating more advanced lightweight materials in their product designs so you can reduce fuel costs or increase a truck’s legal payload without bumping up to a larger vehicle. And they’re offering more electrified options so you can cut engine idle – and your fleet’s carbon footprint.

Who are these body companies and what are some of the products and design enhancements they’ve recently brought to market to help you achieve your business objectives? Here are five new developments to watch.

What’s New: HyPower IM

Introduced last fall, the HyPower IM is a plug-in electric power takeoff (ePTO) efficiency system that manages the chassis engine for the greater horsepower required to operate the boom. It does this by automatically switching from plug-in battery-stored power when the truck is idling to engine-supplied power when hydraulic controls are engaged.

“Throughout an eight-hour workday, on a typical trouble truck, the aerial’s hydraulic controls are engaged about one hour total run time. By allowing the hydraulic system to switch to engine power during those brief intervals, HyPower IM is still able to provide emissions efficiencies plus optimum hydraulic control function,” said Tyler Henderson, product development manager with Terex. “The transition is seamless. Operators will experience no lag time in hydraulic responsiveness.”

HyPower IM also enables the truck cab to be heated or cooled without running the engine, using the truck’s heating and cooling vents. A 4-kWh package is required for the cab comfort feature, while a 1-kWh package is sufficient for most trouble truck applications.

HyPower IM is currently available for Class 5 chassis, such as Ford, Dodge and GM trucks, used with Terex Hi-Ranger telescopic aerial devices, including the LT, LTM and TL series aerial devices.

What’s New: Utility Maintenance Truck

Last year, Dejana introduced a new Utility Maintenance Truck designed for conventional cutaway van and medium-duty truck chassis-cabs as an alternative to traditional step vans, like the “bread trucks” that are built on stripped chassis.

The company says that the Utility Maintenance Truck offers low rear-entry step-in height that’s on par with most step vans, while providing more interior work and walk space. The company also says that a conventional chassis-cab for the Utility Maintenance Truck offers a quieter ride – with less rattling and noise from the cargo area – than a stripped chassis used for traditional step vans.

Dejana’s spec includes custom interior shelving, drawers and workstations; curbside front generator compartment with exterior access; a Cummins-Onan 5000-watt gas generator; drop-down rear step bumper; Rosco rearview camera system; Coleman 13500-BTU air-conditioning and heating unit for the rear work area; complete workbench on the street-side interior with aluminum drawers and cabinets; and a workbench with electric outlets and 12-volt charging stations.

What’s New: UltimateFX Composite Understructure for Service Bodies

BrandFX’s lightweight composite service bodies just got lighter, helping utility fleets increase payload capacity, improve fuel economy and reduce vehicle wear and tear.

How? In January, BrandFX announced the development of a new all-composite service truck body understructure: the UltimateFX. Traditionally, the understructure – which serves as the skeleton for the service body – has been built of conventional steel to ensure strength and durability. But with UltimateFX, utility fleets can reduce the weight of their trucks without sacrificing strength. That’s because, according to the company, the new composite understructure is lighter than aluminum and as strong as steel.

The UltimateFX understructure is designed for BrandFX’s Everlast service bodies, which are available for 40-inch, 60-inch and 84-inch cab-to-axle chassis, in either single or dual rear-wheel truck configurations.

What’s New: Fiberglass Mobile Service Crane Truck

In February, Altec introduced its new fiberglass mobile service crane truck for companies looking to perform their own service work. Modeled after the existing mobile service truck used by Altec Service Group, the truck features an integrated steel crane support structure, master body locking system, boom support and fiberglass shelving. The company says that the fiberglass truck body is strong and lightweight because it’s designed with Altec’s patented, integrated core material.

Options on the mobile service crane truck include electric-over-hydraulic controls, aluminum sliding bed cover, a mechanic’s work platform and drawer kits.

What’s New: Walk-In Van with Hybrid-Electric Auxiliary Power for Underground Utility Maintenance

Last summer, Utilimaster introduced its new walk-in van, featuring hybrid-electric auxiliary power, designed for underground utility maintenance. The vehicle incorporates two key pieces of technology designed to make utility worksites greener, quieter and more comfortable for workers. The Odyne plug-in hybrid battery technology feeds auxiliary power to utility maintenance equipment, while an onboard air exchange system provides workers in underground vaults with cooled or heated fresh air from the vehicle.

The company says that the Odyne system enables utility maintenance personnel to operate tools and other equipment with batteries that provide up to 28 continuous kilowatt hours of power, without the need for a separate diesel generator. The hybrid battery-powered system also eliminates the need for frequent engine restarts to charge batteries, resulting in a quieter worksite and extended work hours.

“This plug-in hybrid system fits right into the green initiatives that have become standard practice at many utility companies,” John Forbes, president of Utilimaster, said in a statement. “Compared to diesel-/gas-powered generators, powering equipment with an electric system reduces greenhouse gases by 50 percent or more. Fuel and maintenance cost savings are significant, too – up to $10,000 per year.”


The State of Electrified Pickup Trucks in the North American Market

While a growing number of utility fleets are purchasing electrified passenger cars – like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf – and bucket trucks with plug-in electric power takeoff capabilities, one vehicle segment still seems out of reach for electrification for most fleets: light-duty pickup trucks.

But there have been some new developments in this space that could have important implications for utility fleets. Workhorse Group says that it will unveil a concept electric truck this May at the ACT Expo in Long Beach, Calif. Earlier this year, Ford announced that it would offer a plug-in hybrid-electric version of the F-150 pickup. And XL Hybrids recently introduced a plug-in hybrid system designed for half-ton pickups.

So, what exactly are the prospects for electrified pickup trucks in North America? What are some of the key challenges to widespread fleet adoption? And when can we expect electrified pickups to become more cost-competitive with conventional-fueled trucks?

UFP recently spoke with Scott Shepard, senior research analyst with global market research and consulting firm Navigant Research (, to get his outlook.

UFP: Usually when fuel prices are low, there’s less interest in alternative-fuel vehicles. But we’re seeing a different trend with EVs, when you consider that about 400,000 people have paid deposits for the upcoming Tesla Model 3 and there’s a lot of buzz around the new Chevrolet Bolt and other electric passenger vehicles. On a macro level, what do you think is driving this interest in EVs despite current fuel prices?

Scott Shepard: With plug-in vehicles, the plug allows some conveniences that the conventional vehicle cannot allow – meaning that, with plug-in hybrids, you don’t have to go to the gas station that much anymore. Whether it saves you money or not, you can do most of your refueling at home. Therefore, electric vehicles are able to sidestep that whole refueling aspect.

Also, you can get some cheap electricity rates, depending on what utility service territory you’re in and how your vehicle is aggregated in the demand response program. That’s not for a majority of the market, but there is the potential there to make your energy costs so low that lower gas prices don’t register for you.

UFP: Yet in the pickup truck segment, electrification seems to be hitting a wall. Why is that?

SS: When you do the math on pickup trucks, the battery price point that would make the plug-in hybrid or the battery-electric-powered truck competitive against a conventional competitor is still below where battery prices are today.

The price points we look at suggest that you’re really not going to be within a competitive range within a few more years. When we plot out where the current technologies stand against each other, the plug-in hybrid truck and the battery-electric-powered truck have certain capability requirements that require stronger or more energy-dense batteries or larger batteries. They not only need to get you the range that you would expect from an electric passenger car, but you need to have that range competitive with your standard truck – to get to 200 to 300 miles. It’s a big cost, and it’s not easily overcome yet.

UFP: When do you see the price point of plug-in electric pickups becoming more acceptable for wider-spread adoption in utility fleets?

SS: I don’t see anything coming to the market really in the next two to three years, and even that is maybe a little bit aggressive to say three years. The reason is that whenever anyone comes to the market with an idea or a prototype that is a digital rendering, I add about three years to that expected deployment date. It takes a long time for these ideas to actually find good footing.

For these trucks to become more mainstream, it’s not going to start for a while. The rationale behind that is largely the added-on power and range requirements that these vehicles have to meet to even come to market. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. I think you’re looking out to 2025 or even 2030 before you get to the point where batteries are providing the same number of miles as an internal combustion engine. Then you’ve hit the point where this option is actually viable.

At Navigant, we estimate 2016 light truck/SUV-class PHEV sales in North America were 11,500, with sales looking to double in 2017, 2018 and 2019. And our baseline projection places this class/technology sales figure at just under 300,000 by 2025.

UFP: In his “Master Plan, Part Deux,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote that Tesla was going to include an electric pickup in their product mix. What are your thoughts on that?

SS: Given their timeline for new vehicle development, I would estimate that product would be about six to seven years out. [The pickup truck segment] is definitely a market that needs a vehicle – it represents nearly 30 percent of the U.S. market. So even if you’re just scratching the surface of this market, that’s huge. And nobody’s really figured out the right way to do it yet.

I think the right way to do it is probably to do it through some plug-in hybrid arrangement. And I think that’s going to come eventually from one of the established OEMs, like GM or Ford, maybe even Chrysler. Yes, if Tesla does it, that’s great. But I don’t think they’ll see near the amount of success that they’ve seen with their other vehicles.

Self-Driving Systems Present Opportunities and Challenges for Fleets Today, Not Just in the Future

In early February, I moderated a panel of OEM reps from Ford Motor Co. and Daimler Trucks North America on the topic of “Connectivity, Autonomy and the Future of Mobility in Fleet” at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show. As I reflected on our discussion, this was my biggest takeaway: The emergence of self-driving systems is not just a trend to watch in the next five to 10 years; there’s a lot going on right now that utility fleets should be thinking about.

For example, the new 2018 Ford F-150 pickup, expected to go on sale this fall, will feature an available Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Warning system and an advanced adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality that uses radars and cameras to maintain a set distance behind a vehicle – and even follow that vehicle down to a complete stop.

Then there’s the new 2018 Freightliner Class 8 Cascadia, set to release this summer, which offers a full suite of semiautonomous technologies, including adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation with automatic braking. But perhaps the most interesting system is the fourth-generation Intelligent Powertrain Management that’s available on models equipped with Detroit Diesel powertrains. It operates like a predictive cruise control system, using GPS connectivity that enables the truck to anticipate upcoming road terrain and automatically adjust transmission shifting, engine acceleration and braking in a way that maximizes fuel economy as the vehicle approaches each hill, climbs it and coasts on the other side.

The bottom line is that, on some level, autonomous vehicles are already here – from cars and light-duty pickups all the way up to Class 8 tractors. But I’m curious: How are these developments impacting your fleet operations today?

Now that more and more OEMs are offering semiautonomous systems as factory options, does this mean that you should automatically spec those technologies in the name of safety? Or, is the upfront cost to include those options still too steep for the budget?

What are your company’s policies when it comes to operating vehicles with self-driving capabilities? If a driver gets annoyed with the beeps or vibration alerts on the truck’s collision mitigation system and decides to disable it, how is that issue addressed? If a crash occurs after the system was disabled, what does that mean for your company’s risk exposure?

While fully self-driving vehicles are likely a decade away, now is the time to think through the opportunities and challenges of autonomy and develop best practices that help you navigate your fleet in this brave new self-driving world.

Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences with me at

Sean M. Lyden


What Utility Fleets Can Do to Curb Distracted Driving Incidents

Your company has clearly communicated its distracted driving policy to all employees. And the safety department is doing its part by screening at-risk drivers, providing consistent driver training and building awareness throughout the organization of the dangers of distracted driving. But when employees are out on the road, how can management ensure that drivers actually comply with the policy – to protect their own lives, the public and your utility’s reputation and bottom line?

That’s where your fleet department can make a difference. How? By equipping vehicles with technologies that counteract a driver’s impulse to read a text message or scroll through social media feeds on their phone while driving – even when they know it’s the wrong thing to do.

All It Takes is One Time
No one is immune. Even the best, most conscientious drivers can succumb to the temptation to look at their smartphone while driving, at least every now and then.

Think about it. You’re driving a service truck through a residential area when you hear your phone buzzing in the console, notifying you of a text message. Because you know better, your initial instinct is to ignore the sound and keep focused on the road ahead. But then a few seconds later you hear the phone buzz again … and again.

Now you’re curious. Who could that be?

It’s been a long day, and you’re exhausted. You start justifying to yourself: I’m going pretty slow right now and there’s not much traffic; it won’t hurt to take a quick look.

You take your eyes off the road for what you think will only be a second. But by the time you look up from your phone, you see that a boy on a bicycle has darted out from behind a vehicle parked along the street, right in front of your truck. You slam on the brakes, but there’s not enough time to stop before your truck hits him.

You could be a great driver, day in and day out, but one lapse in judgment and everything changes for you – and for the victim’s family and your employer. And because the truck displays your utility’s logo on it, the press coverage causes a public relations firestorm, while your employer is sure to face a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

Addicted to Distraction
A survey commissioned by AT&T and Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, found that while over 90 percent of drivers say they know texting and driving is dangerous, many rationalize their texting-and-driving behavior – a classic sign of addiction. And three in four people surveyed admitted to at least glancing at their phones while behind the wheel.

So, if drivers know that texting, checking email or scrolling through social media feeds while driving is hazardous – and illegal in most states – why do far too many drivers still do it? What makes the temptation so hard to resist?

According to Dr. Greenfield, the answer comes down to addiction. “We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, email or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy,” Greenfield said in a statement announcing the AT&T study. “If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we’re driving, a simple text can turn deadly.”

Amy Dobrikova, president of Intelligent Fleet Solutions (, a fleet consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla., refers to distracted driving as “the new DUI,” not only because it impairs your ability to drive but also because it’s the result of an addiction that causes you to think, “I can handle this,” much like a drunk driver, when engaging in risky driving behavior.

How Fleet Can Help
What can you do in fleet to help curb distracted driving incidents in your company?

“As a fleet manager, one area I have influence over [when it comes to reducing distracted driving incidents] is specifying new vehicles with available driver-assist technologies, such as reverse sensors and cameras, adaptive cruise control and hands-free Bluetooth connectivity for communications,” said Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority in Fairfax, Va. “As technology advances become more mainstream, we’ll be able to bring additional driver aids, like collision avoidance systems, blind-spot detection and lane-keeping assist.”

The idea here is that even if the driver gets distracted, the vehicle won’t. That’s because it’s equipped with technology that can respond and avoid imminent danger, usually much faster than a human driver could.

But while automated driving technologies offer the promise of curbing the consequences of distracted driving, they aren’t yet foolproof, as the highly publicized fatal collision earlier this year involving a Tesla Model S on Autopilot demonstrated. It has been widely reported that the driver was distracted and never took over control of the vehicle to apply the brakes before it slammed into the side of a box truck.

“There are many advances in technology being applied to vehicles that are helping fleets achieve improvements in safety and in most every other area imaginable,” Collins said. “Yet, as with any new technology, there can be a bit of trepidation with an operator’s fear of losing control, and the risk of unintended circumstances, where operators think, ‘I’ll just rely on the technology to do it all for me.’”

But what if you could equip the vehicle in a way that prevents drivers from being tempted to pick up the phone in the first place?

For example, Dobrikova recommends installing technology that disables certain functions of the phone while the vehicle is in motion, taking the possibility of phone distraction completely out of the hands of drivers.

“I always like to say that people are human, and no matter what policy is out there, people are going to break the rules,” she said. “I like having solutions that prevent the problem to begin with.”

The product Dobrikova is using with some of her fleet clients is DrivePROTECT from Cellcontrol (, a Baton Rouge, La.-based firm that develops technology to stop distracted driving in passenger and commercial vehicles.

“A device is placed inside the vehicle behind the rearview mirror, which senses the vehicle’s acceleration,” Dobrikova explained. “While the vehicle is moving, the system sends a Bluetooth signal to the phone to go into safe mode. But when they’re at a stoplight or a stop sign, drivers can still access their phone.”

Dobrikova said that fleet or safety administrators can customize the Cellcontrol system to allow for certain types of calls or apps to run – such as for navigation or music – while shutting down all other functions. “This way, if the fleet wants to be able to say, ‘Dispatch needs to call you at any time,’ you can set up the system to allow dispatch to call. Or, if you want drivers to have a route optimization app that they need to open, but they don’t need to be on Facebook, you can set it up that way as well. The fleet can decide what the parameters will be and what they’re going to allow for the phone usage.”

The Bottom Line
It’s one thing to have a strict distracted driving policy; it’s entirely another to ensure that drivers actually comply with that policy when they’re out in the field. That requires accountability – and technology can help. As Dobrikova put it, “I’m sure everybody will admit to being distracted on their phone at least one time in their life. If we eliminate that risk and are held accountable, we can prevent distracted driving from happening in the first place.”


Distracted Driving By the Numbers
• Text messaging increases your crash risk by 23 times. -Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI)
• Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting, which is roughly equivalent to covering the length of a football field blindfolded when traveling 55 mph. -VTTI
• Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. -National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
• Engaging in visual-manual subtasks associated with the use of hand-held phones and other mobile devices – such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting – increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times. -VTTI
• In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers and approximately 424,000 people were injured. -NHTSA


Eversource Energy’s New Approach to Change Management in Fleet

About a year ago, the fleet team at Eversource Energy ( launched an initiative to standardize vehicle and equipment specifications across their three-state service area that includes Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Their objective: Cut fleet costs by limiting vehicle configurations to specific job descriptions. This would enable the fleet to strengthen its buying power (by purchasing a higher volume of same-spec units); streamline parts inventories across all their locations (by operating more equipment from fewer OEMs); and benefit from shorter order-to-delivery cycles (by ordering from fewer vendors).

“If you’re a lineworker, the function of a material-handling truck is going to be the same whether you’re in New Hampshire, Connecticut or Massachusetts,” said Steve Driscoll, vice president of operation services for Eversource, which is New England’s largest electric and gas utility, with about 6,500 fleet assets, including trailers. “In the past, we allowed for differences and customization in equipment, based on an operator’s personal preferences. We recognized the need for going to a standard vehicle across the board to be more efficient and reduce costs.”

But the Eversource team also recognized that many of their end users might not like the change. After all, operators had become accustomed to having their vehicles a certain way for years. And they would likely feel resentment toward fleet, especially if no one clearly explained the why behind the changes.

Effective Change Management
So, to help ease the transition, Eversource decided to take a new approach to introducing new vehicle and equipment models to operators. Beginning earlier this year, the Eversource fleet team began conducting comprehensive in-service events, each lasting about two to three hours, with classroom instruction and hands-on demonstrations.

The events are led by each of the key vendor partners involved with the build-out of the truck, including the chassis manufacturer, body manufacturer and equipment upfitters. The utility’s insurance agency, Liberty Mutual, also sends an expert, who typically opens the event by teaching safe driving and equipment operation practices during the classroom portion of the agenda.

“We recognized that this change toward fleet standardization was significant, and we would need to address the change directly with those who would be affected by it,” Driscoll said. “We couldn’t simply have new trucks dropped off – as in, ‘Here’s your new truck’ – without explaining the changes. So, it’s helpful to have all the manufacturers there because they bring a lot of credibility in helping explain some of the benefits that come with the new specs.”

In the past, if an aerial platform truck was being delivered, only the aerial device manufacturer would conduct a brief in-servicing overview for the operators. “There was no involvement of the chassis manufacturer, no involvement of any of the other upfitters involved with the truck. They would come in, go over the owner’s manual and briefly demonstrate the platform operation,” Driscoll said. And in some cases, depending on the vehicle, “it would just be in-serviced by the mechanics in the garage, with a ‘come by and pick up your new vehicle’ approach.”

But now, Eversource puts on a full-scale in-service event whenever they introduce a new vehicle. “You’re taking the time to explain the whys behind the way things are, and I think this has been very helpful with our people accepting the changes,” Driscoll said.

A ‘360-Degree’ In-Service Event
By the end of 2016, Eversource will have conducted over 30 of these comprehensive in-service events – about two to three per month – with anywhere from five to 30 people in attendance, depending on the location and the vehicle being introduced.

What’s on the agenda?

Driscoll said the event starts right after the attendees’ departmental morning meeting. “We try to get the event started early in the morning so the crews can get out to the field.”

The first part consists of a 30- to 40-minute conference room session, with a welcome and introduction by Eversource leadership, a presentation by Liberty Mutual on safe driving techniques and an overview by the vehicle manufacturer. “If it’s Altec, for example, they’ll go over some of the highlights and what’s new in the equipment from previous years,” Driscoll said.

“I’ll do a ‘walk-around’ on PowerPoint,” said Adam Engel, senior account manager at Altec Industries (, who has participated in several in-servicing events with Eversource this year. “And whatever the option we’re going over – whether it’s a ladder rack, a cross-arm holder, a chainsaw box – the goal is to make sure [attendees] understand that there’s a function to each piece of equipment that was put on the vehicle.”

After the indoor session is over, the attendees take a quick break and head outside.

“We have a couple of the vehicles outside pre-staged to go through,” Driscoll said. “We’ll do a walk-around on the vehicle with the attendees, with the chassis manufacturer explaining all the options inside the cab. Then we’ll go through the body with the body manufacturers.”

If the truck is equipped with an aerial device, the manufacturer’s representative demonstrates the operation and the characteristics of the aerial itself. “We’re going to start by highlighting everything inside the cab that pertains to the equipment, such as all of the switches and anything that we’ve added inside the chassis that the operators might not be familiar with,” Engel said.

Then there’s an opportunity for hands-on driving for the participants. “We’ll have an area set up with cones, where Liberty Mutual will take each driver through a course to practice backing, using the mirrors or backup camera, and so forth,” Driscoll said. “Depending on the type of vehicle, we take people over the road so they can get the feel of towing a machine behind that specific vehicle.”

To minimize downtime for operators, the Eversource fleet team and vendor partners bring the in-service event to the area where the operators will be using the new vehicles. “We want to have an efficient session and be cognizant of their time – to get people back out doing what they need to do in the field as soon as possible,” Driscoll said.

What makes an Eversource in-servicing event different than typical new vehicle deliveries?

“Eversource’s in-depth and interactive in-service is unique in the industry,” Engel said. “With [an Eversource event], it’s a comprehensive, 360-degree model. You’ve got somebody who has ownership on each piece of this vehicle, who has the expertise to answer questions specific to their part of the truck. Altec is proud to be a part of Eversource’s in-service events, and we recognize the importance they bring with enhancing safety and streamlining the delivery process.”

Moving Forward
Driscoll said the company expects to continue the pace of two to three in-service events per month for the foreseeable future, indicating that the events have been helping smooth the transition to the new standardized specs.

“If you don’t take time to explain things when in-servicing a vehicle, you run the risk that there will be friction with drivers because of all the changes, and that can taint the perception of the fleet,” Driscoll said. “As the asset owner, we’re very sensitive to that. We want drivers to know that when we invest in fleet, we do it in a thoughtful way and understand how they’ll be using these trucks. These in-service events help us communicate that message directly.”


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Michael Rorison, director of fleet operations at Eversource Energy (, New England’s largest energy provider. The utility serves more than 3.6 million electric and natural gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with about 6,500 assets, including trailers, in its fleet.

#1. Build strong relationships with your team and your customers.
“This is the hardest thing and one of the most important things you can do. The relationships you build today will play a major role in your success as a fleet manager. Employee engagement through developing relationships and team-building initiatives will help you retain good, productive employees. And your relationships with drivers will help them better understand the value of a vehicle’s safety features, with greater appreciation for how those features help the organization achieve its overall safety goals.”

#2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
“The key to successful communication is to listen to all stakeholders who are involved and impacted by your business plan to ensure it supports your customers’ needs. And you must be able to clearly convey everything to your team. Consistent communication with team members and customers can solve or prevent most issues before they escalate into time-consuming crises.”

#3. Be a planner.
“Do you have a strategy that supports your organization’s business plan? And are you prepared for the inevitable crisis? Make planning a part of your standard operating procedure, with daily targets and goals to keep you on track. This way, you can reduce the number of ‘fires’ you need to put out on a daily basis, while putting yourself in a position to handle the inevitable crisis more effectively when it does happen.”

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