Independent Shops: Accident Avoidance

My organization, the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA) and our parent the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) joined with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) recently to brief members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Ways and Means committees, the Senate Commerce and Finance committees, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on proposed legislation for tax incentives for safety equipment for commercial vehicles.

While tax incentives for business have sometimes been labeled as “corporate welfare,” this is a very different situation. Member companies of HDMA and MEMA and others have been developing and proving the effectiveness of several areas of advanced technology designed to make our roads safer and, most importantly, save lives on our nation’s highways.

For many years the numbers of highway deaths resulting from collisions involving large trucks have been approximately 5,000 per year; over 25,000 from 2001-2005. There are strong indications that those numbers have reduced recently, but it is still nearly 5,000 human lives per year lost.

There are systems that are in use today that can greatly reduce those numbers. Products such as vehicle stability systems, collision warning systems, lane departure warning systems and brake stroke monitoring systems that are in use today.

Vehicle stability systems are designed to work with sensors on the truck that interface via an electronic control system with the individual wheel’s brakes. By applying individual location braking, out of control or even rollover situations can be greatly reduced. These systems actually take control of the throttle and braking on a truck and assist the driver in averting a crash. Statistical data proves a major reduction in accidents related to these conditions, with the systems in use.

Collision Warning Systems track “targets” like a radar heads-up display. In some systems, the driver is audibly warned of an impending crash. In other systems, a warning is sounded and the system also applies braking and throttle reduction. Both have millions of miles of proven reductions in side and rear collisions.

Lane departure warning systems are also a proven technology in the reduction of side collision and road-run-off accidents. The system electronically acquires and tracks the lane, center-line and/or side markers on the road. When the vehicle begins to drift from its desired track an audible alarm alerts the driver of the problem. Again, millions of miles of test data show major reductions in accidents.

Brake stroke monitoring systems are an electronic replacement for a driver or technician crawling under each of the truck’s brake ends and visually inspecting the brake adjustment. A minor amount out of tolerance greatly affects braking performance of the truck. A visual inspection is no match for a system that electronically monitors this spec’. The electronic system keeps full track, whether or not the truck is covered with mud, ice or snow. This is another system with a large amount of supporting data on effectiveness in accident reduction.

Why don’t more fleets and individual truck owners use these systems? Cost competitiveness seems to be the main reason; these systems aren’t required by law and not all truck operators would opt for the investment. A few thousand dollars per vehicle can translate in to a big increase in cost per mile.

In cooperation with organizations like CVSA and others, HDMA and parent MEMA have been instrumental in developing a tax incentive package to encourage early adoption of these proven technologies. Introduced and sponsored by Representative Mike Thompson of California’s 1st Congressional District, HR 3820 would provide tax credits of up to $3,500 per vehicle for the installation of these systems. It is generally felt that this would remove much of the cost barrier for these systems and rapidly integrate them in to our nation’s truck fleet.

Why don’t we just pass a law that says you have to run these systems on trucks? It sounds good, but we all remember the last time that was tried; it took forever to wade through the arguments against it. Now that the systems are available, with proven results, it is in all of our best interests to implement them as efficiently as possible. This important legislation will accomplish that. Let your congressional representatives know.