The dawn of the ‘uncrashable’ truck

One of my key takeaways from the Mid-America Trucking Show in March was the ongoing evolution of active safety systems, which continue to add new crash-avoidance and fleet monitoring capabilities.

I left the show wondering if we’ll ever in our lifetime see an uncrashable truck. You won’t hear any OEMs or safety system suppliers use the term ‘uncrashable,’ as none of the systems that exist today can guarantee the elimination of all crashes.

It’s the same reason they don’t use the term crash ‘avoidance’; they prefer ‘collision mitigation’ because at the very least, they should be able to reduce the impact and damage incurred in a collision, if not prevent it altogether. And the last thing you want to do is instill in drivers the thought the vehicle they’re piloting can’t be crashed.

However, even if you took all the active safety systems available on the market today and combined them on a single vehicle, you’d have to work pretty hard to wreck that truck. The most common types of crashes – rollovers and rear-enders – have solutions in the market today that will all but eliminate them.

Electronic stability control intervenes when a rollover is imminent, applying the appropriate brakes to bring the tractor-trailer back under control and to keep the rubber on the road. Similarly, radar-based systems that monitor following distance provide constant reminders to the driver to maintain a safe distance and if necessary, will apply the brakes to prevent a rear-end collision.

A new Overspeed Alert feature added by Bendix to its new Wingman Fusion safety system incorporates a camera that reads roadside speed limit signs and notifies fleet managers when the driver was exceeding the posted limit by 10 mph or more. A total of 20 seconds of video is captured when speeding occurs, providing context for follow-up discussions between the driver and safety manager.

Of course there are still gaps in coverage that these safety systems do not yet address. For example, Overspeed Alert will help address speeding, but will do nothing to warn of drivers who are travelling too fast for conditions, assuming they’re still driving below the posted limit.

And the radar systems used to monitor following distance still don’t have the ability to recognize wildlife – unless such creatures happen to have metallic antlers.

Still, it’s amazing to me how far this technology has advanced in just the past decade or so. And lawmakers are noticing, too. As you can read in this month’s issue, Canada has committed to mandating stability control and the US is expected to publish its own mandate any week now. A discussion is occurring in the US right now about mandating other active safety systems as well.

Now that the technology exists to greatly reduce truck crashes, and to, if not develop an uncrashable truck, at least something close to it, you can expect government to take even greater interest in seeing these technologies deployed. And is that a bad thing?

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Is that a bad thing? Not if you consider the loss of lives and property that can be spared by implementation of these technologies. But it will add considerable cost to a tractor/trailer. Just look at the automotive industry which has had many safety related technologies that once proven were mandated by the government. Are cars safer than they were 20 years ago? Yes, very much so. And you can finance them for up to six years now!

  • We don’t need ‘uncrashable trucks’. What we need is properly trained drivers. We would be much safer if we didn’t have the ’14 hour’ rule, which causes more drivers to speed and drive recklessly than I’ve seen in years. And many of these speeders are driving trucks equipped with speed limiters, so to make up time, they speed through towns and construction sites. Don’t discount what I’m saying, I’ve seen it first hand many, many times.

  • now, if only we could do something about the greatest hazard that truckers face, four wheelers. They have no idea how different a truck handles as compared to a highway vehicle. I think we need to start properly educating the people that we share the road with also. They need to be placed under close to the same driving rules as the big rigs also. I have heard on many occasions, friends and acquaintances boast about doing Montreal to Florida in 36 hours of straight driving. Then asking how long for a truck. To which I always reply, that’s not legal for a truck …