ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: DC test proves high-tech tools save lives

HANOVER, Germany — Technology can save many lives, says DaimlerChrysler Commercial Vehicles chief Andreas Renschler, but European truck operators not unlike their North American counterparts — are not buying into that idea at a terribly fast pace.

Of the 44,000 Mercedes-Benz heavy trucks sold in Germany last year, for example, only some 4000 were spec’d with available high-tech devices like Lane Assistant and the Electronic Stability Program.

DC says that so-called ‘safety trucks’ have 50 percent
fewer accidents, which are 90 percent less expensive.

New to the company is an emergency braking system called Active Brake Assist. Combined with Proximity Control, a radar-based obstacle detection tool like Eaton’s Vorad system, it can take over braking when it sees the need and will launch a panic stop without the driver’s involvement.

Such high-tech tools are now readily available, but European acceptance overall is still in the 5 percent range.

While allowing that highway safety has improved dramatically in the last 30 years, Renschler continues to assert that much more can be done. And now he can prove it. He described his company’s efforts in an exclusive private interview with Today’s Trucking during the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show here in Hanover, Germany.

Just over a year ago DaimlerChrysler equipped 500 heavy-duty Actros tractors in its Charterway lease fleet with a safety package that included the electronic tools described above. Over 100 million kilometers, those trucks were compared with 500 identical trucks that did not have the safety package. The result? The so-called Safety Trucks‚ had 50 percent fewer accidents, and on average those accidents were 90 percent less expensive.

Renschler has since been engaged in attempting to convince the insurance industry and governments to provide financial incentives to truck buyers who spec these sophisticated safety enhancements. A key part of that effort has been a 12-city European tour of an Actros Safety Truck‚ equipped with every high-tech tool available. It wraps up next week in Italy. A full safety package costs between 6000 and 9000 Euros, or about C$8000 to $12,000.

Renschler is trying to convince insurers to give incentives
for spec’ing sophisticated safety enhancements

The effort has been successful and now DaimlerChrysler’s Commercial Vehicles group is working with Allianz Insurance and Dekra, a testing agency, on a new program called Safetyplus Truck. Formally launched at the IAA show, its aim is to develop investment incentives in the form of low-cost special equipment packages and attractive insurance discounts. It’s a three-year trial program that will also serve as a more broad-based study of European highway safety.

A key part of it is the creation of a certification system for trucks equipped with safety systems. A one-star Safetyplus Truck‚ qualifies for discounts if it’s spec’d with vehicle dynamics control (roll prevention), proximity control (active cruise control with object detection), and an electronic lane-keeping system.

A truck gets two stars if it adds Active Brake Assist, in which case as much as 70 percent of the package‚s cost can be compensated by insurance discounts and preferential pricing. In both categories, basic equipment must also include: ABS, electronically controlled brakes, a front under-ride guard, an optimized‚ mirror system, spray guards, a reversing warning system, and a cab with built-in occupant protection.

Other manufacturers are invited to join the initiative.

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