Road-friendly rigs put Nevada truckers in luxury seats

Thirty years ago, truck tractors on our roads really put a beating on their drivers.

There were no airbag suspension systems. No air-ride seats. The hours behind the wheel were long and erratic, and then there was always the weather. Ice and snow in the winter. Searing heat in the summer.

Today, truck manufacturing firms are turning out new driver- and road-friendly tractor cabs that will not only meet tough federal emission standards, but perhaps help companies convince a new generation of drivers to sign up and drive for them.

One example is Peterbilt's Model 579. Its new cab is among the widest on the road and has been engineered to provide better fuel mileage through aerodynamics, thus hoping to offset weight gains on its new trucks caused by continuing EPA engine emission regulations.

"We are using NevCal Trucking to test this new tractor," says Peterbilt's Mike Altimus who is the general manager of the company's Sparks sales and service operation. "Ed Meyer's company drives daily into California, into the Bay Area, and his operation offers us the opportunity to get his feedback."

NevCal's entire fleet consists of Peterbilt trucks. "We were asked initially to test with new Peterbilt engines developed by its parent company, Paccar," says NevCal's Meyer. "Now we are testing this completely new aerodynamic cab. It is a bit wider and is supposed to add 3 percent to our overall fuel mileage.

"We've only had it for about a month, but the driver has commented about how quiet it is," Meyer says. "The unit we have does not have the ultra shift, which shifts automatically. We believe the computer can out-shift the driver, and when the driver is running in heavy traffic, that's one less thing to worry about.

"But this cab is super quiet, and because this unit does not have the ultra shift, our driver was having a hard time determining when to shift, so he had to roll down the window to hear," Meyer laughs. The test period for the new cab is six months and Meyer says this is the cab that will be used through 2017.

The Model 579 also boasts of ergonomic design changes that provide better line-of-sight to gauges. Access to the sleeper has been improved, says Altimus, and it also includes better climate controls, a flat-panel TV mount and maximized storage space.

Meyer says his company also made the decision several years ago to incorporate electronic on-board recorders.

"We went with a company called Peoplenet," he says. "Through this computerized system, we are able to track drivers, track fuel and our drivers are not just sitting there filling out paper logs."

Paul Enos, the Nevada Motor Transport Association chief executive, says many carriers still fill out the old paper log books. Some are reluctant to spend the money to install the recorders, called EOBRs, because it does add to the cost. Enos believes ultimately that most carriers will eventually wind up with such systems.

The driver has a computerized consol, and by punching in his driver number, the computer measures his hours of service to be certain he does not go beyond the 11 hours of drive time that is permitted, nor over the 14 hours total time.

"The EOBR does all that for you," Enos says. "It also helps prevent citations that are often caused by a driver record-keeping error. More importantly, it provides the carrier with real-time information that benefits both the driver and the carrier."

Meyer says the biggest benefit for the carrier is the gathering of safety information.

"If a driver is driving safely, we can get this information in real time," he says. "We can see which drivers are good, which drivers need more training and which engines perform better for our fleet. Right now, most of our engines we are running are Cummins, but we are also using a few Paccar MX. I think it is going to be a toss-up to see which engines will perform better on our new trucks."

A few years ago, NevCal went to a five-year cycle with its trucks, buying new trucks every year and selling older model trucks at auction.

"Right now, we are selling CARB (California Air Resources Board) compliant trucks at auction and the average age of our new trucks today is about two to three years,"Meyer says. "I am paying $140,000 for a new truck today, and I have one on order we are going to try out upon delivery. It has a lane departure warning system. That will be interesting."


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