Manufacturers have turned their collective attention to factors of accommodation and long haul drivers, given the trend, are going to be the main beneficiaries.
The interface between human and machine in modern trucks has never been more advanced.
But what’s it like on long haul duty when the vehicle is not in operation while the driver rests?
There has been strong competition among the world’s truck manufacturers to provide the most technically advanced vehicles with high tech engines and transmissions and an ever-expanding array of electronics-based systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and electronic stability control which come under the banner of ‘driver support’ systems.
Despite the hype, high level autonomous vehicles, whether fully autonomous or in part, are still many years into the future, meaning the human factor will remain necessary to the fundamental operating system for long haul trucks.
Just as the electronics contribute to the efficiency and safety of the vehicle, the driver remains a key part of the overall package and the environment in which they work and rest has to be suitable for purpose and flexible in its application.
There has been significant evolution in the design and function of truck cabs from the perspective of being both work places and living spaces.
If you ask most professional drivers bigger is not necessarily better, but it certainly helps.
Fridge/freezers, microwave ovens and televisions were once considered gimmicks but these types of options are now expected, as is climate controlled air-conditioning, USB power outlets and some form of desk or table surface to make completing entries in log books easier than balancing on the knees or the steering wheel.
The health and wellbeing of long distance truck drivers has become a topical issue due to the negative effects of the sedentary lifestyle of spending 12-14 hours a day sitting behind the wheel and the scarcity of appropriate rest area facilities.
Australian vehicle dimension regulations work against extra-large size sleepers favoured so much by operators in North America and the competitive nature of the road transport industry and the constant drive to maximise efficiency means that no long distance operator is going to compromise on load capacity by sacrificing freight volume for a longer cab if they don’t have to.
The Kenworth K200 with its optional 1090mm wide King single bunk has ruled the cab-over sleeper stakes for many years and lately a number of challengers are emerging.
It’s not just the big cab-over from Kenworth that offers comfort and space for a resting driver as following on from the introduction of the 2.1 metre wide cab T610 bonneted models in early 2017, Kenworth has progressively released a number of application-engineered T610 cab configurations, including a day cab, 860mm aero, 760mm mid-roof, and most recently the 600mm aero sleeper which took up the mathematical challenge by providing room for both a good sized sleeper behind and a bullbar up front in combination with full-length 34 pallet trailer sets and still staying within the 26m B-double envelope.
Earlier this year a 1400mm (55 inches in old money) Australian designed and engineered aero roof sleeper option was added to the Kenworth T610 option sheet.
It will suit a variety of applications from single trailers to roadtrains.
Offering enhanced driver comfort, space and flexibility in its factory fit-out, the most spacious sleeper in the Kenworth range comes with even more interior space and in-cab standing room than its 50 inch predecessor.
The 1400mm sleeper comes with a 790mm wide innerspring mattress, and the option of a king single, which is 300mm wider again than the standard at 1090mm.
The additional upper bunk option is 100mm wider than in the 50 inch (1270mm) sleeper.
Both the single and dual bunk configurations feature separate clean and wet storage areas under the lower bunk, provision for a stand up fridge and a shelf cavity for appliances such as a microwave.
The Aero roof allows freedom of movement with full height standing room between the seats and contributes to the overall aerodynamics to maximise fuel efficiency.
Volvo has become a real contender in the big cab market by developing the latest XXL version of the FH16.
The extended cab revealed at the 2019 Brisbane Truck Show has been created by moving the rear wall back by 250mm to create 13 per cent more total interior volume than the previous XXL and yet it still manages a BBC (bumper to back of cab) length of 2475mm.
The interior is cathedral-like with a maximum height of 2200mm. Volvo’s reputation for safety continues in this larger cab which meets the latest European Cab Strength regulations ECE R29-03.
The bunk is 250mm wider and 130mm longer than provided in a regular Volvo FH.
The custom innerspring mattress has a pillow on top of every spring unit which assists in adapting to the shape of the body and, from this correspondent’s own experience, provides a remarkable level of comfort.
The angle of the mattress can be raised or lowered electrically to suit drivers who prefer to recline rather than lay flat.
This adjustable bunk feature also corrects any levelling issues should the truck be parked in an off-camber area.
It’s difficult to sleep if your feet are higher than your head.
The Mack Anthem entered the North American market at the beginning of this year and five units are currently undergoing extensive testing in Australia prior to it becoming generally available here some time in 2020.
The new Anthem cab provides Mack with the one feature that it has been missing with the likes of its Super-Liner and Titan: a high roof cab which provides easy walk through access to the bunk area.
The driver need only tilt the steering wheel to be able to stand at their full height and move around the cab without stooping to get to the bunk.
The modular manufacturing process used by Mack will enable a variety of sleeper berth sizes to suit the local regulations.
The impending disappearance of the Freightliner Argosy from the new truck market takes with it one of the true innovations of cab access – the fold out stair case.
Kenworth did come up with a home grown version for the K200 but other than for a few show trucks the option doesn’t seem to have found much favour.
As the Argosy is replaced by the bonneted Cascadia customers of Daimler trucks will soon only have the choice of a Mercedes-Benz Actros if they wish to stay with the cab over engine configuration.
Mercedes-Benz presented its Actros ‘SoloStar’ Concept at this year’s Brisbane Truck Show which includes a bed with an 850mm wide symmetrical innerspring mattress and a lounge-style seat on the passenger side which transforms the cab interior to a flat floor bedsitter of generous proportions, allowing a resting driver the option of laying down in the bunk or stretching out on the recliner.
Mercedes-Benz seem serious about taking this from concept to an available option if there is enough support indicated from the Australian market.
MAN has introduced a high roof version of the TGX cab which is only available in conjunction with the D38 engine package and its floor to ceiling height of 2030mm makes it one of the larger European cabs.
Launched in Australia this year it is identified by the additional fixed windows above the doors. Inside, new goose neck lights in the bunk area make reading while resting much easier.
For a comprehensive insight into the big MAN see the August edition of Prime Mover.
Scania’s New Generation Trucks (NGT) became available in Australia early in 2018 after a decade of development and around $3 billion AUD in investment.
Moving the driving position closer to the windscreen and ‘A’ pillar has created more space for the bunk area as well as improving safety and vision from the driver’s seat.
The range of adjustment of the driver’s seat has been increased so that drivers between 150cm and 200cm should be able to achieve a comfortable driving position and optional rotating driver and passenger seats are available to enhance the ‘up market office’ ambience of the cab. In addition to its perfectly flat floor the new long haul, high roof ‘S’ cab can accommodate two 800mm bunks with the lower bunk extendable to 1000mm.
Additional insulation has also been incorporated to assist in keeping the temperature steady and reducing noise transfer to contribute to better sleeping accommodation.
This article isn’t meant to be a comprehensive matrix of cabin dimensions and accessories.
The intent is to shed some light on the latest developments of truck drivers’ living quarters here and abroad.