Why is it that when the trucking industry makes the headlines, for all the wrong reasons, it happens in bunches? Whether it be wheel separations or fatal crashes involving trucks, it seems these things happen in threes or fours, and it magnifies the scorn heaped on the industry from the mainstream media, the public, and of late, even from law enforcement.
We can’t ignore the series of fatal crashes that heavy trucks were involved in over the past few weeks. (see pg. 35). I think the media and even the police were too quick to lay blame, before all the facts were evident, but nonetheless, these incidents gave the trucking industry a black eye and we can’t dispute our involvement. The loss of life was devastating, regardless of who was at fault.
As Canadian Trucking Alliance chief David Bradley has said many times over the years, ours is an industry that shares its workplace with the public. As such, we have a tremendous responsibility to those we share the road with to hold ourselves to a higher standard and to defend our well-earned reputation as operating the safest vehicles on the road.
What’s frustrating to me when I hear of these fatal crashes, is that many of them didn’t have to happen. I’m not talking specifically of any one crash that recently made headlines – I don’t have all the details, so I’m not commenting on any specific wreck. However, truck crashes in general can mostly be prevented by employing readily available safety systems.
We have at our disposal safety technologies that are proven to be effective, and aren’t cost-prohibitive when you consider their ability to reduce crash and insurance costs. Encouragingly, many of these systems are being standardized by truck OEMs.
Disc brakes are one example of a way to effectively shorten stopping distances and to lessen the impact in a rear-end collision, if not avoid it altogether. Better yet, forward-looking collision mitigation systems can identify a moving or stationary vehicle and apply the brakes faster than any human driver can, again preventing or mitigating the impact.
Rear-end collisions involving tractor-trailers have devastating consequences, yet many of them can be avoided by deploying these technologies. I’ve sat in trucks and experienced the capabilities of these systems first-hand, and I’m surprised more fleets aren’t spec’ing them. Sure, they add to the cost of the vehicle, which is already incredibly expensive, but not by more than 1-2%. I applaud truck OEMs such as Volvo that are making these collision mitigation systems standard.
Electronic stability control helps to greatly reduce the likelihood of rollovers, potentially saving many lives. The government has seen the benefits and while I generally prefer to see these systems gain traction on their own merit, it’s hard to argue against impending government regulations that will require the installation of stability control on new tractor-trailers.
Going a step further, lane departure warning systems can alert a tired or distracted driver who is straying from his lane. Daimler recently announced it’s working to commercialize a lane-keeping assist system that will take control of the steering when necessary to keep the truck in its lane. Combined with forward-looking collision mitigation system, a truck could be safely brought to a stop even when the driver suffers a medical incident and is unable to control the vehicle.
These are incredible technologies, capable of saving many lives and greatly reducing truck crashes. The tragedy is that they’re not being widely enough deployed, despite the reasonable costs and tremendous potential to save lives and money. Sooner or later government, like it did with stability control systems, will step in and require the adoption of all these technologies.
It behooves the trucking industry to voluntarily deploy these life-saving technologies before government steps in and forces it to.