Technology can help prevent rear-end crashes, so what are we waiting for?

It didn’t have to happen. Those are the first thoughts that enter my mind any time I read about a fatal rear-end crash involving a tractor-trailer. And there have been too many of them, of late.

There are technologies available to present those types of crashes, by detecting stopped vehicles ahead and applying the brakes if the driver fails to do so. I’ve experienced these advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) first-hand, but mostly in controlled environments such as a track.

Their reaction time is faster than a human’s and they’re generally able to bring the truck to a complete stop before even kissing the bumper of the vehicle ahead.

My experience with them on-highway has been limited to a few hundred miles. Only once – on a very early version of these systems – did I experience a false intervention. The camera or radar seemed to be fooled by a shadow or a roadside object. Either way, the brakes were briefly applied without reason.

It wasn’t enough to create a dangerous situation, but it sure was enough to give me a start. I’m told by those who have many more miles using collision mitigation that unwanted interventions continue to be a problem.

However, when these systems work, they are without doubt life-savers. Especially in the event of the type of accident I described above – with a truck plowing into stopped vehicles on the highway. There have been growing calls to make ADAS with active braking mandatory on new trucks.

(Photo: Kenworth)

Before that happens, we need to ensure the systems are reliable and perform at a high level of consistency and effectiveness. When we get there, if we’re not there already, it will be difficult to oppose such a mandate. But if the systems work as advertised, I’m hopeful we can beat a mandate; that one won’t be necessary.

Left to our own to solve the problem, we have not yet proven an ability to eliminate these types of crashes; the rear-enders that ADAS with active braking can so effectively reduce or mitigate. If we haven’t figured it out yet, will we ever?

We preach the dangers of distracted driving, staying attentive behind the wheel. We push fatigue management training on drivers. We always tell them to adjust their speed to the conditions. Yet, still, we pile into stopped traffic. And when we do, the consequences are severe, usually for the passenger car occupants who had the misfortune of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is what I’d like to see: collision mitigation systems become so reliable that driver complaints become a thing of the past. And then, for industry to voluntarily adopt these technologies and for drivers to accept them knowing they are there as an added layer of protection. The vast majority of truck drivers will never need the assistance of such technology. But we all can have a bad day – or a bad moment.

Hopefully, long before the slow gears of government churn out a mandate, the technology will be perfected and will be omnipresent in new trucks. Rear-end collisions involving heavy trucks will cease to exist, because they’re the easiest form of crash to reduce or eliminate with technology and also one of the deadliest. It just can’t come soon enough.

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • The results can be very bad many trucks have ended up on the roof or in the ditch. Snow storms or car cutting the truck off low bridges in new York city. Can trigger the braking system as can certain construction zones. We need better training for new truck drivers.

  • If the drivers of today were taught to drive on the roads and highway’s properly there wouldn’t be as many rear collisions . The more technology goes into the truck the more the drivers depend on it most drivers today don’t have a clue about driving at a safe distance between other vehicles. And all I hear is more so called safety equipment. Make a class A license harder to get make sure the person is truly qualified to drive the rig not gadgets.

  • We have the technology for everything we’re missing the main point. Anti skid, collision mitigation, ELD wow such toys? As a consultant for many years here’s a secret I’ll share. Client A northern Ontario B Trains both fuel and flat deck. All trucks under 3 years we hire drivers with good records and we road test. Fairly clean abstracts with experience we outfit every truck with forward facing camera. Great maintenance and 4 safety meetings per year with good safety bonus. Drivers are laid well. Low turn over out drivers have collision mitigation built in there called eyes connected to a functional brain no at fault accidents in 2 years why all the electronic stuff really ???

    • Mark, you are exactly right. I was going to express an opinion, but I would only be repeating what you have said. Thank you.

    • I could not have said better myself. We still need non Hazmat companies to take and train new truck drivers. In Ontario small fleets can not get insurance to take on new drivers. I know the fleet you work with. This should be the standard of treatment and care for the trucking industry. If I did not have trench foot and be working with a nonprofit group I would love to work for a company like yours.

  • We also have technology called cell signal scramble when the cell phone is moving at more the 15km/hr, but no big business gets a big wine on when that is mentioned, because that would mean lost revenue for those who pull the puppet strings in government! And my question is, why are these systems always tested in California?? A climate acceptable for electronics! Curious what happens to the truck when its on black ice on a down hill, with 140000lbs rolling and the electronics throw the binders on??