How Trailers are Transforming to Help Meet the Demands of the Driver Shortage

During the heyday of trucking popularity in the 1970s, truckers were viewed as modern-day American cowboys who had traded in their horses for big rigs. Films like “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Convoy” and “White Line Fever” portrayed truckers as renegades for a cause with a swaggering machismo and an insatiable wanderlust.

Towards the end of the 20th century, however, the cowboy cool persona began to lose its luster as the profession developed a reputation for brutal hours, weeks away from home and a sedentary and lonely lifestyle that is less-than-desirable for drivers who want to spend nights and weekends at home with their families.

Factors like these coupled with the accelerated pace of freight volumes due to an increase in on-demand deliveries and the rapid rise of e-commerce, have caused a crippling driver shortage in the trucking industry. According to a 2017 report by the American Trucking Association (ATA), the industry needs to hire almost 900,000 more drivers to meet rising demands, and that number has only continued to grow.1

To combat this shortage, companies are using techniques like setting up strategic warehouse systems throughout their distribution areas, allowing for shorter driving routes and more home time for drivers. Companies are also using creative recruiting techniques to reach segments of the population that the industry has struggled to reach in the past, such as women and minorities.

In addition to fleets’ efforts, trailer design and technology is transforming to help meet the demands of the driver shortage, becoming safer, more efficient and easier to use regardless of driver size, build or strength. Check out three ways trailers are evolving to help open the profession to a broader range of potential drivers.


The trailer industry has historically been slower to embrace new technologies than other industries, but Great Dane is working fervently to bridge that gap by investing in new, data-driven technologies that will provide fleets with insights to help them optimize driver and asset utilization. For instance, Great Dane’s FleetPulse telematics system uses a series of sensors strategically placed throughout the trailer to monitor critical components like tire inflation, cargo weight, lights out, open and closed doors and more. This data can help fleets transition away from mileage-based maintenance to predictive maintenance, where the sensors on the trailer essentially tell the fleet when a part needs to be replaced or maintenance needs to be performed, optimizing trailer uptime and reducing the risk of unexpected maintenance issues. FleetPulse features like cargo weight and GPS tracking can provide fleets with a greater awareness of where their equipment is and how well their assets and drivers are being utilized. By analyzing this data, fleets can plan more efficient routes and make better usage of drivers’ time.

Trailers Just Got Smarter

Great Dane is also involved in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SuperTruck II program and level 2 truck platooning research. The SuperTruck program focuses on research and development to increase fuel economy by requiring the truck and trailer units to operate as a system to achieve greater savings through aerodynamics and weight reduction.

Great Dane has also worked with Texas A&M Transportation Institute on a platooning project. Level 2 truck platooning is an extension of cooperative adaptive cruise control that uses automated lateral and longitudinal vehicle control, while maintaining a tight formation of vehicles with short following distances. A platoon is led by a manually-driven truck and the drivers of the following truck(s) can disengage from driving tasks and monitor the system performance. A study of two-truck platooning by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) found that the experience of platooning can be less fatiguing and stressful for the driver of the second truck. The study also found that trucks engaged in platooning saw a fuel economy increase of around 4 percent and that the bulk of the required technology is currently available and already being purchased by many fleets.2 While there are still several issues to overcome in regard to legislation and public perception, platooning is likely to be introduced in some fashion in the near future.3

The Next Level of Truck Platooning


Navigating a tractor-trailer across a highway or around a city and then loading and unloading that trailer can be a challenging and often dangerous job. Great Dane and its suppliers are working constantly to develop new and innovative trailer solutions to help make the job of a truck driver easier and much safer. For instance, Great Dane and JOST have partnered to build a prototype trailer that can couple automatically with tractors without driver intervention. Auto-coupling means an automatic connection for pneumatic brakes and electrical systems. It enables fifth-wheel coupling with remote control and display as well as electrically-powered landing gear with auto deploy and retract systems. The full automation of the manual coupling process will ensure greater safety and efficiency by eliminating human error and the chance for injury. While this system is currently in the prototype phase, the foundation work is being done today, and Great Dane has a roadmap for introducing and supporting the auto-coupling technology.

Watch: JOST Auto-Coupling Technology in Action

To increase safety for drivers and pedestrians around areas like parking lots and loading docks, Great Dane and Grote partnered to create the ReverseAlert 4-in-1 Back-up Alarm System. The system features Grote’s integrated lamp that combines all stop, tail, turn and back-up functions into one industry-standard size lamp. The alarm turns on when the wheels move backwards, sounding a loud horn and activating the lamp. Great Dane and Grote also offer several other safe lighting solutions inside and outside of the trailer, such as perimeter and motion sensor dome lights. The perimeter lights are made with TIR lens optics to maximize the efficiency of the LEDs and ensure every lumen possible is projected in the workspace in and around the trailer. The Grote motion sensor dome lights have a passive infrared (PIR) sensor that shuts off the light to save energy when no one is working around it, and then automatically turns on when movement is detected. This creates a safer workspace that provides light as needed immediately when someone enters the area. Multiple motion dome lamp systems can be integrated together so that all the dome lights in the trailer communicate with each other and operate in unison when any of the lights in the system detect movement.

Enhanced Lighting Inside and Out

Spec’ing the right brakes for your application is essential to the safety of your drivers and those on the road with them. While drum brakes have been the tried and true brake of choice in the North American trailer industry, advancements in air disc brake technology can offer improved stopping distance and reduced maintenance costs in the long run. Disc brakes enhance safety by providing shorter stopping distances than drum brakes and improving trailer in-line braking stability. The stopping distance for disc brakes can be 25 to 30 feet less than drum brakes, depending on tires, speed, conditions and the braking system on the tractor. The stopping power is noticeably greater when the tractor and trailer are equipped with air disc brakes, particularly when the vehicle is traveling at increased speeds, thus helping to prevent costly accidents on the road. While disc brakes typically have a higher upfront cost than drum brakes, they can have a lower total cost of ownership thanks to factors like longer service intervals, the virtual elimination of rust jacking and a reduced chance of CSA brake violations for brakes out of adjustment, which can put the trailer out of service. A Great Dane sales professional can help you determine if air disc brakes are the right system for your application. Great Dane continues to work with disc brake providers to offer this option competitively as more fleets move to this style of foundation brake.

Putting the Brakes On


When your equipment is running efficiently, your driver can work efficiently. New innovations in electrification, such as regenerative braking and solar power, are allowing for better fuel economy, reduced emissions and more uptime for your equipment and drivers.

Great Dane is working with wheel end and axle component partners to deliver an auxiliary power system designed for commercial trucks, tractors and trailers. The electric hub or axle applies the power captured from its regenerative braking system directly to the wheels, allowing the hybrid system to lower the required torque on the engine and that results in fuel savings. In addition, the regenerative braking system could also reduce carbon emissions and improve tire life by limiting uneven tire wear and drag, thus providing more uptime for your equipment.

Why Waste Braking Energy When You Can Harness It?

To help fleets comply with the increasing zero-emissions regulations, Great Dane offers its Johnson AE Series all-electric refrigeration system, which utilizes cold plate technology and battery power to provide consistent BTU capacity for most refrigerated applications without the need to burn diesel to refrigerate. Expanding upon this system, Great Dane recently partnered with eNow Inc, Emerson and Challenge Dairy Products Inc. to develop and deploy a new refrigeration system that uses two forms of energy storage: cold plates and a unique lightweight high-capacity auxiliary battery system. The cold plates and auxiliary batteries are initially charged from utility power delivered to the vehicle when it is plugged in at its home base overnight. Roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels provide additional power when the unit truck is in operation. The auxiliary battery is charged exclusively by solar and utility power – no diesel power necessary. This all-electric system provides a reliable alternative to diesel power units for fleets looking to meet their cold chain demands efficiently and at a low operating cost.

The Future of Refrigeration

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the driver shortage and the concept of self-driving vehicles is still far from reality, Great Dane is working hard to provide innovative trailer solutions to help make drivers and their equipment safer and more efficient, so they can get the job done.




[1] Why Millenials Should Start Considering Truck Driving. (2018). Retrieved from:

[2] Two-Truck Platooning. (2016). Retrieved from:

[3] Truck Platoons on the Horizon. (2018). Retrieved from: