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Safety spec’s that save – money and lives

CALGARY, Alta. - With the media often portraying both trucks and trucking in an exaggerated, negative light, each new rollover or head-on collision seems to threaten the public's already tarnished vie...


CALGARY, Alta. – With the media often portraying both trucks and trucking in an exaggerated, negative light, each new rollover or head-on collision seems to threaten the public’s already tarnished view of the industry. That’s why having each truck equipped with the best safety equipment possible ranks so highly on any fleets’ list. Truck West approached fleets from across the country to find out which safety devices delivered the best return on investment and which they found lacking.

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Vic Wintzes, maintenance management consultant with VW Transportation Services, makes recommendations on many things relating to safety – from safety devices or products to safety processes or procedures to be used for day-to-day operations.

Though Wintzes doesn’t favour any one particular safety device, he said that having equipment which is easy for drivers to identify, access and adjust is best.

“In regards to safety devices, there are numerous devices and they all have a certain return on investment,” he said. “But if you were to ask me to pin it down to the most important area that (benefits the fleet) in terms of cost and reducing their exposure and liability, I would say training or having a proper daily inspection procedure or fleet maintenance procedure in place for each of the vehicles.”

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Stephen Evans is vice-president of loss control and regulatory compliance for H&R Transport, which he said simply means “in other words, anything that goes wrong is my problem.”

One of the pieces of safety technology that has impressed him most recently is the anti-rollover system developed by Bendix. Though the device is only available on Volvo trucks at this stage and H&R has no Volvos in its fleet, the company has already gone through the testing with Bendix.

“I was very impressed with the abilities of the equipment to assess the problem well before the driver and to make the corrections needed to minimize the driver getting into a tight spot,” he said.

“From my point of view, I think they have one of the highest potentials for reducing accidents than I’ve seen for quite awhile.”

In general, however, Evans said he hasn’t come across many safety technologies that stick out in his mind. He said even though safety features like convex mirrors, CB radios, desktop controls, modules on the engine and even anti-lock brakes have become standard on most trucks, he still hasn’t seen a big reduction in accidents.

“I’m not sure up until this point that there’s been any device that grabbed my attention, that obviously did a lot to reduce accidents,” he said.

“I hate to be so negative, but there’s been lots and lots of things the industry has done to try and minimize the number of accidents, but personally I haven’t seen a significant difference. I could be proven wrong. Those are all important things. I don’t want to give the impression they shouldn’t be done.”

Evans said H&R has two main types of accidents: minor parking lot-type mishaps and accidents relating to adverse road conditions or animals. But he hasn’t seen effective technology to help combat either type of accident.

Evans wishes that an existing technology by Eaton VORAD could be used to help with their problem of hitting deer and moose.

“The Eaton VORAD system is designed to look ahead and to help drivers with their following distances. For instance, if (a truck driver) is approaching a vehicle that’s quite a bit slower than themselves, it will give them a warning and will eventually take over and reduce the speed and closing distance,” he said.

“That’s great technology but we don’t find that we have too many tailgating incidents. What we do have though is a lot of deer and moose hits. If there was an ability for that technology to be used to help reduce the animal hits, that would be huge. We suffer literally dozens and dozens of animal hits a year. It’s a huge cost. I think with a moose, you’re looking at $30,000-40,000 for repair costs. We have a fair number of animal hits and at this point, there’s no real way to reduce those. If there was technology available to scan the sides of the road, that would be huge heads-up for the driver.”

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Rob Penner, vice-president of operations with Bison Transport, said that for his company, safety isn’t measured by any one device, but through a combination of things the company does.

“We’re not the most high-tech fleet out there. We experiment with a lot of things,” he said. “It basically comes down to your own personal experience.”

He said that when running a fleet, it’s important to figure out what works for your individual safety issues, rather than what’s popular.

“The VORAD system for example. We’ve tested it and it’s a very good system, but for us having (limited) problems in the area of rear-end collisions and going off road, it’s one of those investments that’s difficult for us to make.”

Bison has done a good deal of cost-benefit analysis concerning safety technology, but Penner said adding features in the aftermarket can often be too expensive to justify.

“We have 800 trucks on the street. If we had four or five trucks on the street, it might be a little different,” he said. “It’s good safety sense but not necessarily good business sense and being truckers we have to apply a little bit of both.”

According to Penner, statistically, most of Bison’s accidents tend to be “dents and bangs and scratches.”

“They’re maneuvering types of accidents. Parking lot stuff, turning types of accidents when someone’s just not paying attention.”

So for Bison, it’s the technology that it uses outside of the truck which tends to really make a difference.

“The biggest safety device that we implement in our trucks is the simulator (and exposing problems through training). If we see problems in our system, we always look at the top five accidents and we develop programs and put our fleets through them.”

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Glenn Dougan, general manager of Mantei’s Transport Ltd. in Calgary, Alta., said one thing it has done over the past year is attach convex mirrors on all its trucks.

“They give you a lot more vision in the city and moving in tight locations because, of course, the more visibility they have, the better,” he said.

“I haven’t really done an evaluation on how much money that’s saved us or how many accidents that’s saved us from, but regardless of that, I can tell you that’s a huge benefit to us in the city.”

Mantei’s has also put GPS communications systems on its trucks within the last year.

While not necessarily a safety technology in the traditional sense, Dougan said they’ve found the systems quite effective.

“It tells you when you’re over the speed limit and also when you’re over Hours-of-Service with a loud beeping,” he said. “Normally when you’re over your Hours-of-Service, you can just keep going. This device is so annoying you have to pull over and shut it off.”

As with most fleets Truck West spoke with, Mantei’s also experiences mostly minor accidents.

But Dougan said overall, those are the ones that really hurt financially.

“Those fender benders come right off of the bottom line. The insurance doesn’t cover a lot of those little ones, so those are the ones that kill you.”

But regardless of the disproportionate financial impact of “little accidents” Dougan said having drivers getting killed is the supreme concern, so safety always comes first.

“If it’s not safe, we don’t do it – simple as that.”


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