Test Time

How to spec' to keep your drivers and vehicles safer.

There was a time when 'buckle up' was the most salient safety advice available. Not anymore. Luckily, the market is flooded with devices to improve driver safety, although it is sometimes difficult to determine where to begin outfitting a vehicle for optimizing accident prevention. This process, a convolution of mandates and standards, coupled with application-specific devices and components, can make for a confusing implementation program. Still, there are some options that you may not realize are absolutely critical to your fleet's safety.

Ask the Experts

David Zuby, VP of vehicle research for the Insurance Institue for Highway Safety (IIHS) has some recommendations for a proactive fleet to get on the right track in spec'ing. The IIHS is an independent non-profit organization that researches crash data in an effort to lower the rate of roadway fatalities.

"There are some people—even in the safety industry—who put, what I would say is, too much emphasis on crash avoidance, thinking that someday in the future, all crashes can be avoided," Zuby says. "I would say that's probably unlikely, so that's why I would recommend not trading off crash protection to get crash avoidance features. Especially since there are choices on the market that offer both."

NHTSA Takes OEMs to Task

Crash protection features—such as front and side airbags, safety belts and body design—seem like a no-brainer: who doesn't have this covered? Turns out, not all new vehicles are equipped with side curtain airbags, a feature that can reduce side-impact vehicle fatalities dramatically.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the US Department of Transportation, is intimately involved in the process of ensuring the government mandate crash protection and crash avoidance features in new vehicles. While side airbags are not currently required, NHTSA has recommended that certain side impact standards be adopted by automakers. The way these automakers meet the requirements does not currently demand a specific technology, such as side airbags, although side airbags are something IIHS suggests are "very effective in preventing injuries and deaths," according to Zuby.

NHTSA has been getting a lot of media attention in regards to their most recent campaign. Their latest efforts have been in spearheading an effort to require OEMs to build electronic stability control (ESC) systems into their new passenger vehicles by 2012.

According to a recent press release, NHTSA claims required ESC could save over 10,000 lives every year, mostly in single-vehicle accidents with the likelihood of rollover. According to their report, "NHTSA estimates that the installation of ESC will reduce single-vehicle crashes of passenger cars by 34 percent and single-vehicle crashes of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) by 59 percent, with a much greater reduction of rollover crashes."

The IIHS includes ESC in its advisements as well. "Generally, we would recommend choosing cars that offer both crash protection, and features that may help drivers prevent crashes, like ESC," Zuby says. "There are a lot of cars out there that offer both good crash protection and electronic stability control, so I would say that you don't want to trade one for the other."

Control Yourself

Paul Mercurio, marketing manager, chassis systems division for the Robert Bosch Corporation, sees ESC as one of the most important elements in a solid safety program.

"It's very beneficial in protecting the driver and the passengers in a panic situation," Mercurio explains. "Most likely these things are going to occur when you're driving down the road and you least expect it, and something pulls out in front of you; something falls off a truck—something that causes you to make a much more severe maneuver than you would expect to do."

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