Editorial Comment: An uncrashable truck – is it possible?
August 1, 2005
One of the most exciting things about the trucking industry is the continuous evolution of the truck itself. Manufacturers have taken great strides towards improving truck safety thanks to the develop...
One of the most exciting things about the trucking industry is the continuous evolution of the truck itself. Manufacturers have taken great strides towards improving truck safety thanks to the development of technologies such as more durable cabs, ABS braking systems and driver airbags just to name a few.
However, on a recent trip to the Freightliner proving grounds in South Bend, Ind., I realized this could just be the tip of the iceberg. In fact, it’s not impossible to imagine an uncrashable truck being developed within our lifetime.
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but you can’t blame me for being optimistic after taking a ride in a Freightliner technology truck showcasing some new safety technologies still under development.
First and foremost was the new electronic stability control (ESC) system Freightliner developed along with Meritor-WABCO (see pg. 44 for story). The system detects when a truck is in danger of rolling over and if necessary takes preventive action. This can include reducing throttle input, activating the engine brake or even applying the service brakes (different braking pressures can be applied to each wheel to provide the required stopping force).
A Freightliner engineer demonstrated this technology to us in South Bend and he appeared to be trying his hardest to put us on our lid, but the system intervened and prevented what would be a sure rollover in any other truck. Fifty per cent of truck driver fatalities result from rollovers and here’s a piece of technology that can all but eliminate them.
This technology truck was also equipped with adaptive cruise control (ACC) and we also had a chance to try it out.
A brave soul in a Dodge Durango drove at highway speeds ahead of us and slammed his brakes on in front of us. The Freightliner we were in detected the vehicle in front of us and applied our engine brake and service brakes bringing the truck to a stop without the driver so much as stepping on the brake pedal.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates more than 150 motorists are killed each year when rear-ended by a truck and here is a technology that can all but eliminate those types of crashes.
These two systems alone can eliminate the majority of truck crashes, but they’re not foolproof. For instance, Freightliner’s Tony Moore told me a driver can still flip a truck over when using the ESC system but he has to do something pretty stupid to beat the system (for instance taking a 25 mph corner at 75 mph just may do it).
But get this…there’s word some companies are experimenting with GPS technology that can detect the dimensions of a corner in advance and prevent a driver from approaching that corner above a safe speed.
Essentially such a system (which is still a long way from being perfected) would make it impossible for a driver to drive in a manner that would cause a rollover. Amazingly, this technology just may be the final piece of the puzzle in developing the world’s first uncrashable truck.
Now if only we could find a way to stop four-wheelers from running into big trucks.