Early lane departure warning systems prove their worth

by John G. Smith

TAMPA, Fla. – The parting wish of “keep it between the lines” has been shared by generations of truckers, but a new generation of lane departure warning systems could eventually make the saying redundant.

Several U.S. fleets have reported initial success with systems made by companies (including California-based Iteris) which use video cameras and software to track the outer edges of a lane.

The systems are able to track solid and dashed lines, as well as the shoulder of the road or tracks in the snow, said Richard Bishop, a consultant who focuses on intelligent vehicle systems.

“It’s essentially what we do with our eyes and our brain when we’re driving … but the driver always keeps control. This is a warning-only system.”

Drivers can be warned with everything from the simulated sound of a rumble strip (the most common) to a beep or vibrating seat.

“They do exactly what they told us they would do,” said John Serich, corporate director of maintenance for Falcon Transport, a flatbed and truckload van carrier in Youngstown, Ohio, that is testing the equipment in 13 trucks.

The systems aren’t perfect, but false alarms appear to be few and far between.

“The only issue our test fleet brought forward was audible activity in construction zones and wet weather conditions,” said Mike Jeffress of Arkansas-based Maverick Transportation, which has been testing 200 of the units over the past year. While drivers have the chance to override the systems in these areas, they tend to become accustomed to the warnings.

“It is not all rumble-free, let us say, but we’ve had very little feedback so far,” he said. “It’s pretty much a maintenance-free item the best we can see.”

Tom Rule, vice-president of operations at Logex Transportation, which has systems installed in 117 trucks, said there tend to be no more than one or two false alarms per day. Some of the only changes his fleet has required have involved the addition of resistors that limit the sound of the warning heard by drivers in the bunk, and altered software that can reset systems that have been turned off for 15 minutes at a time.

In general, the systems need to automatically shut off signals when the vehicle speeds drop below 55 km/h, because lane markings in parking lots don’t tend to be very clear.

However, fleets involved in the tests complain that the systems could offer better reports about such things as the number of times a truck leaves its lane in a fixed period of time.

Typically, the equipment can be installed in three to five hours, Serich said, but he suggested it also needs to be designed for a quick switch from one truck to another.

Supporters of the systems say the equipment could play a key role in reducing single-truck accidents.

The U.S. records one rollover for every 1.6 million km of truck travel, Rule said. “Fifty-eight per cent of fatal injuries to the truck driver occur in rollover crashes…every accident that I’ve had to investigate, I usually find a driver who has been fatigued.”

Back in 1996, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that it wanted to cut the number of truck-related deaths in half within 10 years, although that goal has since been updated to a 41 per cent reduction within 12 years.

Legislators could eventually mandate the equipment, much like the way they forced the industry to use everything from seat belts to collapsible steering wheels, Rule added.

“For us to get to the point we all want to be, we’re going to have to find out how we can use these technologies to drive down these accidents.”

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