Stability systems: Is the CTA initiative a moot point?

The CTA is forging ahead with its attempt to have stability systems made standard on all new Class 8 trucks sold in Canada. Frankly, I think it’s a policy that has a lot of merit.
But I hope the CTA isn’t spending too much time and resources on this initiative – it probably won’t have to. I was at the Heavy-Duty Aftermarket Week festivities in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago and NHTSA associate administrator for rule-making Stephen Kratzke hinted the organization is already well on its way to coming up with stability system requirements of its own.
Apparently, NHTSA administrator Nicole Nason is a huge fan of stability systems. She helped usher in the American requirement for the technology on light-duty vehicles, and then asked her underlings ‘What about trucks?’ Right away, testing began on anti-rollover technology for heavy-duty vehicles and that testing is still under way today. It’s almost certain NHTSA will adopt a requirement for anti-rollover systems on heavy-duty vehicles and it will likely be in place within a few years.
Fleets and owner/operators really shouldn’t fear this technology. The bottom line is, it works very well and it has the potential to save lives and reduce accident-related costs. Most of the concerns I hear from drivers center around two issues, and I’d like to address both of them here:
First is the added complexity these systems add to the vehicle. I think many owner/operators and drivers fear the word “sensor”, and really, who can blame them? More sensors means a higher probability of failure, no? Well, I’ve posed this question to the manufacturers. As you likely know, there are two types of stability systems out there (excluding trailer stability systems). You have roll-stability, which is effective at mitigating most rollover situations. Roll-stability systems use the existing ABS wheel sensors – there are very few additional components. Meritor WABCO’s Mark Melletat, says the company’s roll stability system “doesn’t involve a lot of extra components. You take your ABS ECU and you build upon it.” He adds there’s very little in the way of additional componentry and that existing ABS sensor failures are rare.
Then you have electronic stability systems, which are much more advanced and are better at coping with factors such as slippery road conditions and jack-knife scenarios. Electronic stability systems are more complex – they require additional sensors that measure such things as yaw and steer-angle. It’s worth noting, Kratzke said that so far NHTSA testing seems to indicate roll stability systems alone may well be enough to meet the agency’s requirements.
At any rate, sensor failure is likely not a valid reason to shy away from roll-stability systems. Melletat points out his company has more than 50,000 units on the road, and ABS sensor failures are basically a non-issue.
Now for the second myth I often hear about stability systems; that drivers will be more careless knowing the system is there to bail them out. I dismiss this argument out of hand. No professional driver is going to take a corner just a little bit faster than normal because he’s got a fandangling new anti-rollover system on his truck. Not even a bad driver is going to take that risk. It’s counter-intuitive.
What it does do, is provide a little extra room for error for the good driver who makes a mistake or suffers a lapse in judgement. We’ve all done it at one time or another – taken a corner a little too fast or misjudged an angle. Some of us do it more than others. You may never require an intervention from the system, but if you do, you’ll be glad it was there. Trucking can be an unforgiving profession. Here’s an opportunity to increase your margin of error for those rare times you do make a mistake. Don’t tell me drivers are going to take corners a little faster just because they can. I don’t buy it.
Obviously, I’m a big fan of this technology. I’m a big fan of safety technology in general – provided it does what it says it will do and doesn’t create additional risks. I’m also cognizant that profit margins are thin in this business and increased costs are not easily passed on to customers. But in the grand scheme of things, this technology is not overly-expensive. Roll stability systems run about $700-$800. Full electronic stability systems are a little more than double that. Should they become standard, economies of scale will drive the price down further.
As Fred Andersky, electronics manager with Bendix recently told me, “It’s like insurance. You hope you never need it but if you do, you’re glad you have it.” It’s insurance at a pretty cheap price. If it gives you peace of mind, who can complain about that?

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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