06:24 PM

Crash Worthy

Working to make highways safer has always been a key goal of the trucking industry. Recently, two very prominent industry associations took a very public stance, calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to consider setting crashworthiness standards for commercial vehicles similar to those in place for cars and light-duty trucks.

Calling it a high priority, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) told NHTSA they "believe there may be opportunities to enhance the survivability of professional truck drivers if appropriate, research-based, uniform standards are developed."

ATA and OOIDA highlighted the need to improve cab structure and occupant restraints such as safety belts and airbags, among other safety-related features. They also mentioned the need to strengthen windshields and doors to prevent occupant ejections, and to install more forgiving interior surfaces.

While the federal agency considers this request, a number of safety systems for trucks are already helping fleets and drivers avoid accidents, saving dollars, equipment and lives in the process.

Among them are anti-lock braking, automatic traction control and stability control systems that use electronic control units to transparently assist the driver. The systems continually monitor conditions that can lead to an accident. They reduce the risk of vehicle instability through selective application of tractor and trailer brakes, and the reduction of speed through engine control and application of the engine brake.

The growth in specs for stability solutions shows that fleets are continuing to recognize the benefits of these technologies. A study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses postcrash data to show how stability controls can provide safety benefits.

Among its conclusions are the following:

• If all existing five-axle tractor-trailers operating on U.S. roads were fitted with roll stability control systems, 3,489 crashes, 106 fatalities and 4,384 injuries could potentially be prevented.

• Annual savings from rollovers prevented by roll stability control systems are estimated at $1.409 billion; savings from loss-of-control crashes prevented are estimated at $47 million.

Another type of technology that is gaining in acceptance is designed to actively intervene to help maintain safe following distances. Adaptive cruise control and forward-looking radar systems monitor the distance, speed and deceleration of a vehicle ahead. In some cases, when they detect a potential collision developing, the systems send audible and visual warnings to the driver. If the driver does not respond, these systems can automatically decelerate the vehicle by reducing engine torque and applying engine and foundation brakes.

While safety technologies do not replace the need for alert drivers practicing safe driving habits, today's state-of-the-art safety systems are making highways safer than ever. Proactive efforts to improve the crashworthiness of commercial vehicles can only ultimately help even further.