What are the drivers of safety technology in heavy trucks?

While governmental regulations and new vehicle technologies can help make commercial vehicles safer, there must always be qualified and safe drivers behind the wheel.

That was the overall message of the panelists that participated in a roundtable discuss on How Regulations and Customer Demand are Driving Safety Technology Forward, held during last week's Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference in Dallas, Texas. This fourth annual event brings together thought leaders from all segments of the trucking industry to share real-world insights on the state of the industry and discuss measures to take to ensure future business growth and development.

One of the panelists, Reggie Dupre, CEO, Dupre Logistics, said while technological innovations and government regulations are a good thing, perhaps more important is putting the right people behind the wheel and rewarding them for good, safe work. For safety strategies to be most effective they must start with a visions and there must be a commitment by all employees.

Dupre noted that his company employs technology that gives drivers immediate feedback and "tracks" their performance, allowing management to identify which drivers need some safety coaching. This enables proactive action to prevent accidents.

To improve safety and performance, it is important to communicate the results to the people behind the wheel, he added.

Bottom line impact

Panelist Scott Burkhart, vice president and general manager of controls and modules, Bendix Commercial Vehicle, said data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reveals that on-highway large truck crashes are a $76 billion problem annually. He estimated that litigations costs from a big rig involved in an accident to be $10 million for a fatality accident, $1 million for an injury accident and $100,000 for property damage.

The costs of these incidents - both financially and in the lives they affect - going up rapidly for fleets, Burkhart said. Consequently, more and more fleets are seeing that proven onboard safety technologies - including full stability, collision mitigation, lane departure warning and data systems - can help reduce the number and severity of accidents.

Bendix takes two approaches to safety technologies for heavy trucks: active - driver alerts and if necessary interventions like braking; and supporting - only driver alerts to give the driver more time to react.

Burkhart said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to issue a final ruling next year requiring stability control on commercial vehicles (would take effect in 2016), and noted that the agency is engaged in studies that may lead to a regulation requiring collision mitigation systems.

Bendix is working on its next generation of safety technologies in which cameras and radar will work together for improved collision mitigation and avoidance systems, he said.

Safety culture

Safety is not only a manufacturer responsibility, it must also include a mixt of technology and training, said Tim Lafon, director of regulatory affairs for Volvo Trucks North America, who also served on the safety panel. He noted that in 2005 Volvo, among the world leaders in vehicle safety, became the first heavy duty truck manufacturer in North America to make full electronic stability technology standard equipment on its product offering.

The Volvo Enhanced Stability Technology provides protection against truck rollovers and jackknifes, enhancing a driver's ability to avoid accidents, he said.

Other safety technologies installed on its trucks, added Lafon, include Volvo's Adaptive Cruise Control - which includes stationary object detection with audible and visual warnings, lane departure warning, right-hand blind spot detection and tire pressure monitoring system.

Among the companies other safety firsts: 1995 - antilock brakes became standard equipment on Volvo trucks in the U.S.; 1992 - airbags were introduced; 1986 - first heavy duty truck manufacturer to install 3-point safety belts; 1979 - introduced collapsible safety steering wheel on its trucks; and 1974 - safety belts became standard equipment.

Research findings

Also on the panel was Rebecca Brewster, president and CEO of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), a leader in transportation-related research. She said ATRI has had a positive feedback from FMCSA on the possibility of offering incentives, including the lowering of Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/default.aspx scores, in certain areas if safety technology is installed.

She noted that research shows that large carriers are twice as likely to invest in safety technologies compared to smaller one. One of the hurdles to greater adoption is the cost of safety technology.

"Companies whose drivers are involved in spec'ing their trucks have better success with safety," added Brewster.