Introducing our Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Dan Sholler

Authors: Stefanie Butland, Karthik Ram

We are pleased to welcome our Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Dan Sholler. Dan is an expert in qualitative research (yes, you read that correctly) and studies digital infrastructure creation, growth, and maintenance efforts. Through this research interest, he was drawn to the open science community and its ongoing development of tools and communities to support sustainable, reproducible, high-quality research. With rOpenSci, he intends to investigate what drives scientists to engage with or resist open science tools and communities.

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Welcome Dr. Sholler … I am studying the use of new technology among truck drivers. The new trucks are fitted with technology such as Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) that record the time spent driving versus at rest. This has safety implications and is mandated by the government. In recent years, electronic job boards have become popular as a way to find a shipper and transport the goods. And automated trucks of the future will still require drivers to be present for the final delivery and in the event of a technological failure.

I would like to know if this subject has been researched. Some of the less enthusiastic drivers are not in favor of these changes.

Thank you!

First, what a great research context. To directly answer your question: I haven’t seen too much academic work documenting drivers’ perceptions and uses of ELD, assistive/autonomous driving, or online job boards, though I would imagine it exists given the sheer size of the industry. The studies and media stories I’ve seen on the topic only look at the impact of the technologies on the supply chain, safety, labor and employment, or the economy in general.

The drivers’ perspectives seem to be largely absent, except maybe in some of the stuff on labor and employment (e.g., analyses of potential job losses due to self-driving technology). It seems that research on acceptance and resistance have been limited to gauging the general public’s perceptions, rather than directly investigating the perceptions of affected occupational groups like truck drivers.

I can’t help but ask: What do you think contributes to the resistance you’re seeing among the less enthusiastic drivers?

My understanding of the ELD technology (and I’m sure it varies quite a bit) is that it can be used for at least two purposes: to track cargo/deliveries and to manage driver hours. If that’s the case, the perception of being micro-managed might outweigh perceived benefits of the ELD (e.g., less paperwork in the cabin, more rest). Plus, I’m prone to believe that people resist policy-mandated technologies/technology uses, even when they seem beneficial to the organization and/or its employees.

To be sure, those are guesses based on accounts of technology implementations in other industries. I can’t help but think that truck drivers might be reluctant to engage with (and, in turn, help develop) early forms of these technologies when the question “Will drivers be replaced?” keeps dominating the public discussion. Not to mention, major changes to the everyday practice of an occupation tend to challenge “what it means to be” a member of that occupation. In the case of self-driving tech and other tools, truckers might resist changes for fear of being second-mate on board their rigs. Anyway, just some thoughts! I’d love to hear what you think.

Thank you very much for your response! I am still reviewing it as there is
much that you have said in a few words.

Truck drivers are an independent lot, especially the ones who have stuck
around for a while and have become more opinionated. Truck driving is a
tough life at times, and one must develop a passion for an independent and
sometimes lonely existence where one must rely on past experiences and on
the job ‘know-how’ to get by.

In the past few years, the ‘auto-shift’ transmission has become more
popular among the big fleets. It is easier to attract new talent when one
can skip the arduous task of learning 'double clutching’​ when shifting
gears manually. The new transmissions are safer for new drivers also, in
that, the chance of slipping into neutral when downshifting on a downhill
grade are minimized. When speaking to experienced drivers, almost all (who
have perfected and take pride in their gear shifting abilities) will say
that they would not trust automatic gear shifting, and will want to remain
in control of their vehicle. That is, until they actually drive an
auto-shift transmission vehicle and can verify that the new technology is

The auto-shift transmission is actually a mechanical gear driven
transmission that is shifted by the use of air pressure actuated servos
inside the transmission. It is a sophisticated computer controlled device
that takes into consideration the speed, load, grade, and many other
factors to optimize safety and fuel economy.

I am looking for statistical algorithms or processes that can be useful in
identifying driver attitudes toward technology and safety (much like the
federal government is currently doing).

Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

Interesting-- thanks for these thoughts. I was going to ask if there were any non-IT tools that truck drivers resist. I say “non-IT” a bit loosely; what I really mean are technologies that do not involve using a GUI. You answered my question with the note about auto-shift. I’m always curious about that because there seems to be something about “computer work” that particular occupations find annoying or disruptive, whereas use of other types of technologies are easier to swallow.

Thanks again, and good luck with your work!