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Accident Avoidance Technologies Discussed at ATA Conference

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Here's a formula you may remember: 1996-50-10. The U.S.-based Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) made it famous in 1996 when it said it wanted to reduce truck-related fatalities by 50 per cent over 10 years.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Here’s a formula you may remember: 1996-50-10. The U.S.-based Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) made it famous in 1996 when it said it wanted to reduce truck-related fatalities by 50 per cent over 10 years.

It was an ambitious target that was revised in 2001to 1996-41-12.

In order to meet that latest target, it’s clear technology will have to play a significant role.

This was a subject for one panel at the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) management conference.

The ATA panel consisted of providers of accident avoidance technology as well as a forward-thinking end user who will pay what it takes to ensure his professional drivers stop getting killed in their trucks.

Lane departure warning systems

Bill Patrolia of Iteris (a provider of lane departure warning systems) was the first to take to the microphone. He pointed out that in 2001, 44 per cent of accidents were the result of vehicles going off the road.

The Iteris system can help in this regard as it monitors the lane markings and emits a loud rumble-strip noise when the truck strays from its lane.

It’s especially effective when driving in fog or rain when the lane markings are difficult to see (it doesn’t work too well when they’re covered in snow, Patrolia admitted).

“It provides rumble strip functionality everywhere there are lane markings,” he explained.

The system is overridden when a trucker uses his turn signal, so drivers don’t have to worry about frequent false alarms.

In fact, that is a side benefit of the system – drivers who don’t always use their signal lights are forced to do so by the Iteris lane departure warning system.

“It makes you want to use your turn signals because it’s not a nice noise,” said Patrolia.

The system has become a standard specification for six fleets (it’s a factory option on Freightliners and can be retrofitted on trucks from other OEMs) and is currently installed on 600 U.S. trucks.

Impressively, 96 per cent of the drivers who use the system say they feel it can prevent accidents and 70 per cent of survey respondents said they felt it made them safer, better drivers.

Roll stability

Kevin Romanchok, product line director with Bendix CVS, was also on hand to talk about roll stability and electronic stability programs (ESP).

These systems can recognize a dangerous situation and help prevent rollovers by notifying the driver and also applying varying braking pressure on each axle to help avoid a rollover. Since 58 per cent of fatal accidents involving truck drivers are attributed to rollovers, ESP is a good investment.

Romanchok warned that drivers shouldn’t become too complacent even if they have an ESP in place.

“Drivers are still the key, these are meant to be supplemental systems,” he explained. “The system educates the driver but stability systems have their limits. They can’t address all situations (such as driver fatigue).”

Romanchok went on to say the rate of development of these safety systems has picked up in recent years and the cost is also decreasing. Accident avoidance products are also more robust than ever before and they are becoming more passive than active in nature.

Are they worth the money?

Naturally, companies such as Iteris and Bendix are excited about the safety improvements offered by their products. But they all cost money. Is the end result worth the investment?

Tom Rule, vice-president of HazMat carrier Logex, says there’s no question about it.

His fleet made the decision to protect its drivers no matter what the cost and he’s found it’s actually improving the carrier’s bottom line.

“We just said we’re going to do everything we can to stop the rollovers of our vehicles,” he said. “We said enough is enough. We’re really going to get to business here and we’re going to prevent killing our drivers.”

While Logex has employed many different accident avoidance tools (including automated transmissions which allow drivers to keep two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road), he went out on a limb and said Iteris’ lane departure warning system has been the most effective based on feedback from drivers.

The carrier has also done everything possible to lower the center of gravity on its trucks. Rule encourages carriers to work with their OEMs to spec’ the safest vehicles.

He added the chance of a rollover can be reduced by 50 per cent by simply spec’ing trucks with a lower tractor profile.

Rule also had plenty of praise for Eaton’s radar-based VORAD system.

“I think it’s one of those technologies that really helps avoid accidents,” he said.

While it may sound like Rule is easily impressible, he has tried many other technologies that didn’t excite him.

His fleet experimented with a camera system that could provide up to eight different camera views at one time on a monitor inside the truck cab.

That particular system provided too much for the driver to comprehend and actually acted as a distraction.

Since all accident avoidance systems cost money, has Logex’s investment been worthwhile?

“It costs a lot of money to have accidents,” Rule pointed out. For that reason alone, spending money on accident avoidance technologies makes sense.

Since the average accident involving a commercial truck has been pegged at US$23,000, how can even the bean-counters have a problem with that?

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