The Departed: FMCSA has eye on lane safety systems

WASHINGTON — U.S. federal trucking regulators are taking a keen interest in new lane departure warning technology as a way to mitigate the rate of off-road accidents and rollovers on North American highways.

Yesterday at a Departure Warning Systems “webinar,” Amy Houser of the Federal Motor Carrier Administration discussed some findings from recent field operational tests in heavy commercial trucks, which were part of the Department of Transport’s Intelligent Vehicle Initiative program.

The pilot project, which focused mainly on roadway departures on both straight and curbed roads with a fleet of Mack trucks, found that lane departure warning systems (LDWS) reduce single vehicle roadway departures (where the truck veers off the road) were reduced by 21 to 24 percent. Also, the FMCSA realized a potential 17 to 21-percent reduction in rollover crashes.

LDWS are not yet the industry norm, but fleets that spec
them say they can’t image fleet life without the technology

The tests examined the number of large lane excursions, number of “drift” incidents, and the amount of time the vehicles stayed outside of the lane.

Utilizing optical, electromagnetic, or GPS technology, LDWS are in-vehicle devices that warn a driver of a lane departure with either a loud alarm or by mimicking a “rumble strip” vibration. Usually, sensors on the outside of the vehicle work with cab-mounted cameras to detect lane boundaries and monitor when the vehicle departs from those margins.

Dean Newell, safety vice-president of Little Rock, Ark.-based Maverick Transportation, says he first installed five units on five trucks a few years ago. Today he has 1,200 trucks spec’d with LDWS.

Prior to installing the systems, Maverick experienced about one run off-road accident every 4.75 million miles. Now, the fleet goes about 17.4 million miles before an incident — and that’s a “conservative” count, says Newell.

Originally, Newell admits, he regarded LDWS technology as a fatigue-monitoring tool. “That was wrong,” he told the webinar audience, which included “This is about mitigating driver distraction as a (lane guidance) tool … It should not be presented as a fatigue management tool.”

Cargo Transporters safety director Jerry Waddell agrees. He says the ROI on this technology is realized not only in the obvious savings of lost or damaged freight and equipment repair and replacement costs incurred after an accident, but also insurance premiums; as well as workers’ comp costs and permanent disabilities that come with injured drivers — which Waddell stresses is a carrier’s most important asset.

Waddell says contrary to popular belief, the systems are not intrusive, provided carriers take the time to train drivers properly.

Adds Newell: “If you do everything right, and stay within the lanes, you won’t even know it’s there.”

The FMCSA says its next steps in regards to LDWS technology, includes:

Seeking more industry collaboration; integrating LDWS warning effectiveness with other technology; compute costs; and integrate future testing plans with more rigorous evaluations, says Houser.

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