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The Future of Haulage – Has Technology Fulfilled its Promise?

The haulage industry is changing rapidly; what was new yesterday will be old hat tomorrow. How do predictions about the future of haulage stand up to reality?

Over the past few months I have written several articles about technological innovations and how they can be expected to have an impact on the future of haulage in the UK. Then, when trawling through the internet one evening, I found an article written by Ken Kelley in February 1994 which dealt with changes in truck technology. I read Ken’s piece  with fascination and decided to see how far technology has advanced in the 22 years since 1994.


In 1994, Ken said that electronics was the next hot item for truckers. He mentioned automatic diagnostics to predict faults and identification of faulty components; variable power drive chains that “know” when you need extra power and provide it; remote controlled mirrors; safety features that alert the driver if he or she falls asleep, and more.

In 2016, much of what Ken predicted for the future of haulage has become reality – I wonder if the reality has far exceeded his predictions. New engines and gearboxes provide drivers with increased power when and where they need it and cloud-based diagnostic systems interface with the truck to provide not only predictive fault identification but also real-time fixes. As for safety – well, automatic braking to avoid collisions, lane stray functions, reverse cameras with lane guides and remote controlled mirrors ensure that there is no more leaning out of the cab.

Automatic Gearboxes

In the 1990s for many different reasons many truck drivers preferred manual gears – even though a manual lorry was often a complex and cumbersome monster to tame. Today, automatic gears are the norm but they still offer the driver a great deal of control over their shifts while providing excellent drive capabilities. When linked to modern engines, these make trucks more powerful and controllable than ever, as well as being more economical.


Ken also predicted the dawn of the mobile communications era. True, he may not have seen the coming of the smartphone which has the computing power of a 1990s mainframe and global communication capabilities. But he did envisage a satellite-based communications system that enables haulage companies to track their vehicles. Did anyone say GPS?

Then there is on the road entertainment. Ken spoke of AM/FM radios with tape players, compact discs and two way radios. In 2016 its MP3, DVD players and, instead of the two-way radio, the mobile phone.

Intelligent Roads

He also talked about the advent of “Intelligent Roads” as being part of the future of haulage. It’s true that we still don’t have intelligent roads as such (they are on their way), but CCTV systems, buried traffic counters and more have enabled a greater monitoring of roads, which in turn leads to greater control of traffic. Just look at the UK’s Smart Motorway system.

But some aspects of Ken’s “Intelligent Roads” are in use today. Mobile phones with GPS let drivers select routes, inform them of traffic jams and road works, warn of traffic cameras and a lot more. Headlights that turn on automatically when darkness begins to fall and turn on hi-beam when there are no lights or oncoming traffic. Steering compensation systems, anti-skid systems – the list is endless, with new technologies being announced every day.

What is the Future of Haulage?

With new technologies appearing every day, and the ever-increasing desire to improve safety, lower costs and delivery times, the future is sure to hold many changes for the haulage industry. Already we are seeing a move away from fossil fuels to alternative fuels. The driverless car is just around the corner – according to Tesla it’s already here –and the driverless truck won’t be far away.

So, what’s my prediction for the year 2036? Wait until 2037 then I’ll let you know.

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Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange offers a valuable service providing information on the issues affecting the future of haulage and other news from the industry. Matching delivery work with available vehicles, over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.

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