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Beware The UFOs (Unrestrained Flying Objects)

ORLANDO, Fla. - Mike Jeffress knew that he was staring at a safety problem when he discovered a TV mounted on the floor behind a passenger seat. The driver of the truck in question was obviously tryin...


KEEP IT CLEAN: A clean bunk is a safe bunk. A bunk with floor-to-ceiling cabinets, padded surfaces and secured appliances is even safer.
KEEP IT CLEAN: A clean bunk is a safe bunk. A bunk with floor-to-ceiling cabinets, padded surfaces and secured appliances is even safer.

ORLANDO, Fla. –Mike Jeffress knew that he was staring at a safety problem when he discovered a TV mounted on the floor behind a passenger seat. The driver of the truck in question was obviously trying to watch TV while sitting behind the wheel, suggests the past chairman of the Technology and Maintenance Council.

The urge to watch Too Fast, Too Furious in the middle of a highway can obviously be dangerous to a driver’s well-being, but a quick look inside many cabs can identify a variety of other safety-related threats as well.

The secret to a secure environment will begin by securing the gear that can become a projectile at the time of an accident.

The nets, doors and tie-down rings fixed to the cabinets in today’s sleepers offer an important measure of security when they are properly used, agrees Tom Palencher, marketing product manager with Volvo Trucks North America.

“But if you get something heavy and are only using little tie-down straps, that won’t hold up in an accident. You’re going to need something more than bungee cords.”

It is a matter of physics. A 50-lb refrigerator in the sleeper will produce up to 750 lbs of intertial force in a 15 mph crash. At 30 mph, the same refrigerator has four times the potential energy.

“We know that hard braking events occur on a regular basis,” says Kevin Tribett, manager of highway safety for LifeGuard Technologies. “Safe drivers prepare for the possibility.”

Objects sitting on bunks and cabinets are also the most dangerous because they will have an unobstructed path to the driver’s head or torso. And loose objects on the floor could easily wedge themselves under the pedals.

Granted, the threats are not limited to UFOs (Unrestrained Flying Objects).

Truck buyers should look at the material around the bunk itself, Palencher notes.

“Is the stuff around there soft enough that it’s not going to cause head injuries?” Cabinets made of soft composite materials will help to limit injuries in the event anyone comes into contact with them.

The proper choice and use of inverters can also help to protect against cab fires, adds Bruce Purkey of Purkey’s Electrical Consulting.

“These units will pull a lot of current. You must use the circuit very close to the battery,” he says, noting how the related fuse should also be located within 10 inches of the power source.

The required amperage for that fuse can usually be determined by dividing the inverter’s wattage by 10. (A 1,500-watt inverter, for example, should have a 150-amp fuse). If fuses with excessive amperages are used, the wiring could catch on fire.

Cables also need to be sized accordingly. A Number 2 wire, for example, should be used if the inverter is six feet from the battery. There is no size that fits every application, and any unnecessary cable will lead to a voltage drop. When routing the inverter’s wires, it is also best to use a mounting plate with strain relief and the grommets that will protect against chafing. And the inverter itself should be connected to a clean chassis ground.

“Drivers don’t realize how much power they take out of the batteries. They have to know what they can use and what’s safe to use,” Purkey adds.

They should be forgiven. Some of the related numbers can be confusing, after all. A microwave that offers 800 watts of cooking power may actually draw as much as 1,600 watts at high power. Users of this equipment will need to remember to cook their supper at a lower setting.

Drivers will also need to remember to limit themselves to one device per outlet on the inverter.

In addition to that, they also need to realize that there is a distinct difference between a cigarette lighter and a power source. While the openings look the same, the power source has a higher rating and the cigarette lighter is designed for intermittent use.

Many other safety-related enhancements can be made when the truck is first purchased. Visibility, for example, can be improved with the addition of a down-view mirror to protect against blind spots. Controls mounted on a steering wheel will help to ensure that eyes remain on the road. And cabinets that run from floor to ceiling will offer a welcome barrier between the driver and any loose objects in the sleeper.

Any dashboard should also mount controls within easy reach, but fleets should also be careful about choosing designs that are simply too overwhelming to watch, Palencher adds.

Even when wearing restraints, a driver is also going to come in contact with the dashboard during a full frontal accident.

That means instrument panels should offer some protection for the knees. Palencher also questioned those who spec’ toggle switches on the dash.

“If a driver hits that, it’s going to sort of be like acupuncture,” he says.

The impact may even be guaranteed. While those who wear seat belts are twice as likely to survive an accident, a mere 65% of truck drivers use the restraints, Tribett says. This compares to the 85% of car drivers who buckle up.

It proves that a commitment to safety involves everything from vehicle spec’s to driver attitudes.


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