Truck News


Safe Tech, Safe Trips

We were obviously turning the corner too fast, but that was the point. Meritor Wabco's test driver headed into the "ramp" at 33 mph and cranked the wheel. The downrigger attached to the side of the tr...

We were obviously turning the corner too fast, but that was the point. Meritor Wabco’s test driver headed into the “ramp” at 33 mph and cranked the wheel. The downrigger attached to the side of the trailer began to tilt towards the pavement like the training wheels on a bike.

Once the wheels touched the surface of the runway-turned- test-track, the trailer had obviously passed the point of no return. It was a rollover.

The second trip into the curve offered a different experience when the roll stability system was engaged. The equipment automatically measured wheel speeds, lateral acceleration and pressure in the air suspension, and then applied the brakes to bring the trailer under control.

The downrigger never made contact with the ground.

Technology promises to have an undeniable impact on the safety of trucks that travel North America’s highways. The addition of emerging systems such as Meritor Wabco’s Roll Stability Support, for example, offer added stability for loads with a high centre of gravity. Lane Departure Warning Systems sound their warnings as drivers stray over the painted line. And various sensors can be used to measure following distances.

The equipment can also offer a relatively quick payback to the fleets that install it.

“There’s very promising data -particularly return on investment data,” says Dan Murray, the American Transportation Research Institute’s vice-president of research. Using some conservative figures, researchers have shown that buyers can certainly recover their costs.

Granted, the returns can vary widely depending on the exposure to heavy traffic and the value of insurance deductibles. But a Lane Departure Warning System returns between $1.37 and $6.55 on every dollar invested into the equipment, according to research by the American Transportation Research Institute. Roll Stability Control offers a payback of $1.66 to $9.36. And a Forward Collision Warning System offers a return on investment between $1.33 and $7.22. (All figures are US dollars).

These figures consider everything from crash costs to insurance rates and pending changes to safety ratings.

There is no question that this equipment can work. Field tests are proving that. But researchers are now trying to determine if they can build a safer truck by integrating several of the equipment options.

The major field test of these Integrated Vehicle Based Safety Systems (IVBSS) began this February under the watch of the University of Michigan Transport Research Institute. It is looking at the combination of a Lane Change/Merge System, Forward Crash Warning System and Lane Departure Warning System.

It is part of a 54-month, $32.2-million evaluation that is considering systems for light and heavy vehicles alike, with Eaton, International Trucks, Conway and Battelle included in the truck research. The latest step is a 10-month Field Operational Test that will gather enough data from 10 trucks to simulate eight years on the road.

“We’re familiar with these technologies independent of each other. We never tested them together,” says Bob Petrancosta, vice-president of safety at ConWay Freight. “One of the reasons we’ve never tested all three together is, quite frankly, it’s cost-prohibitive.”

In the test vehicles, the Lane Change/ Merge Systems flash a yellow light if there is an obstacle in the truck’s blind spot, show a red light if the driver activates the turn signal in that direction, and sound an alarm if a turn begins. A Forward Crash Warning System, meanwhile, displays a warning if the truck is within two seconds of an object, and sounds an alarm if it anticipates a collision. The Lane Departure Warning System sounds the alarm if the vehicle strays over the painted line.

Petrancosta saw the value of a Lane Departure Warning System when he watched the videotape of one of Conway’s drivers who was nodding off behind the wheel. The alarm sounded, the driver corrected the steering and there was no other event during the remainder of the trip.

A “lot of effort” has gone into eliminating false alarms, adds Dr. Zhijun (Zwick) Tang, an Eaton engineer involved in the product. That’s why there is no audible alarm when a turn signal is activated before a turn actually begins. Meanwhile, Lane Departure Warning Systems are accounting for various lane markings in construction zones.

Some jobs seem like they are earned by drawing a short straw. Consider the Meritor Wabco employee who stood on the brakes of his rental car in front of a moving tractor- trailer.

As the distance between the vehicles began to close, the warnings in the cab began to sound. Then the prototype Autonomous Emergency Braking System automatically began to apply the engine brake and foundation brakes.

The tractor-trailer came to a safe stop without any intervention by the driver.

The systems also continue to be refined. The combination of a video camera and radar on a Forward Crash Warning System, for example, will detect parked vehicles as well as those that change speeds.

Don’t expect traditional mirrors to disappear any time soon, says Chris Flanigan of the FMCSA’s office of analysis, research and technology. But some of the new technology could still be mandated as well.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is already requiring Roll Stability Systems on passenger cars by 2010.

There are other signs that the US federal government may offer further financial support for those who want to install the new safety systems on trucks. The real push may come with the introduction of a Bill in the US Congress, which suggested incentives to offset the cost of such equipment. With 23 authors, it is expected to have some traction in the year to come.

Now picture a system that ties stability controls into a GPS unit, muses Alan Korn of Meritor Wabco. If a driver heads into a 30 mph curve at twice that speed, the vehicle will roll over. But imagine a system that identifies the curve before it emerges and begins to slow the vehicle before it even faces the threat.

“It seems far-fetched,” he says of the future possibilities, “but when you think about it, it’s not.”

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