Keeping it Safe on the Road

New technologies help keep your trucks running safely and efficiently.


Fleets might not be able to afford safety instructors riding shotgun with each driver, but when seconds count, increasing their reaction time and eliminating blind spots can make all the difference.

Reducing accidents is a major goal for fleets, and it is no surprise why. A 2006 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) report found that the cost of crashes involving trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or more averaged around $91,000 per incident, with that number rising to around $3.6 million if a fatality is involved. According to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), trucking carriers pay out about $10 billion a year because of accidents—many of which could be avoided with a bit of technological assistance. That’s where collision warning and adaptive cruise control come in.

Whether alerting a driver to objects around the truck, helping keep a safe cruising distance from traffic or taking over the brakes to avoid a collision, these systems are slowly but surely catching on as fleet officials look to reduce costs and improve safety.

CURTAILING COLLISIONS

Driver error is involved in 93 percent of all accidents, with the majority caused by inattention, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. FMSCA general engineer Amy Houser says collision warning systems can significantly reduce or at least minimize the severity of accidents by giving drivers an extra second or two to react. These work by utilizing radar sensors and a variety of in-cab visual and audio signals to alert drivers of impending collisions.

“We found it could help improve the incidences of rear-end collisions by about 20 percent,” she says. “One carrier says there were incidents that could have been a lot worse if their driver didn’t have the collision warning system.”

Houser says fleets—mostly larger carriers—have purchased about 80,000 of the devices and generally see a return on investment within 12-18 months. The systems have improved dramatically since their inception, says ATRI president Dan Murray.

“What’s changed (are) the algorithms—‘Here’s when I’m going to alert you, and here’s where I’m smart enough now to know it’s not a car or anything of significance,’” Murray says. “There is much more sophistication now in terms of allowing the carrier to manage the parameters of the system—user-friendly changes that have made it more palatable to drivers.”

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) systems maintain a minimum distance from a lead vehicle in the same lane, using aspects of both collision warning and conventional cruise control systems. When the truck travels at more than a minimum speed, ACC controls the engine throttle and sometimes the engine brake and automatic transmission to maintain that distance, which the driver can adjust.

Houser says fleets have purchased around 11,000 collisions warning systems with adaptive cruise control. Murray says while he has heard anecdotally about the benefits of combining the systems, ACC remains a relatively new, unproven technology.

“It’s not clear in terms of empirical, objective data, exactly what the additional safety benefit is from having adaptive cruise control on top of the collision warning system,” Murray says.

CUTTING COSTS

Despite the initial costs of the systems than can reach several thousand dollars each, these technologies can provide an instant return on investment for fleets simply by preventing accidents or reducing their severity. Murray says out-of-pocket accident costs for carriers are extremely high because of rising deductibles.

“You’ll have a $50,000 to $75,000 deductible for the medium carriers and the big guys are up in the half a million to $3 million (range),” he says. “(Small carriers) will have a $5,000 to $10,000 deductible, so a moderate-to-severe crash is going to be covered—but you can only pull that off a couple times before your premium reflects the safety history.”

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