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NHTSA addresses stopping distances, stability systems

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- A long-awaited rule that would reduce stopping distances for heavy-duty trucks will be finalized...


LAS VEGAS, Nev. — A long-awaited rule that would reduce stopping distances for heavy-duty trucks will be finalized this summer, Stephen Kratzke, associate administrator for rule making for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced at the Heavy-Duty Dialogue here.

He said NHTSA won’t dictate the type of technology OEMs will have to utilize to reduce stopping distances by 20 or 30%.

“We aren’t picking technologies, we don’t know what is better for you,” Kratzke said. It’s still not clear whether the new stopping distances will require a 20% reduction from today’s standards or the more ambitious 30%. However, Kratzke said based on discussions with industry, “I think it’s safe to say most people prefer the 20% over the 30%.”

It appears fleets will be able to meet either target using larger S-cam brakes. Or they could upgrade to more costly, but more effective disc brakes. Kratzke said that decision will be left up to the OEMs and their customers.

Using larger S-cam brakes will be less costly at least initially – according to numbers revealed by Kratzke. He said to meet the 20% target, it will cost $108 per tractor if opting for larger S-cam brakes while it will cost about $914 if upgrading to disc brakes. Meeting the 30% reduction will cost $153 per tractor if using S-cams while it will cost about $1,308 if converting to disc brakes.

NHTSA is also working on several other truck safety projects. One involves establishing standards for truck tire performance. The safety group is currently evaluating the current performance of truck tires, which should conclude in the first half of 2008, Kratzke said.

Meanwhile, NHTSA is being strongly urged by its administrator Nicole Nason, to roll out a program that would require stability systems on heavy-duty trucks. Stability systems are already required for light-duty vehicles and are expected to save 5,300 to 9,600 lives. Kratzke said Nason is a big fan of the technology and wants to see it more widely used in trucking.

NHTSA is already testing both electronic full stability and roll-only stability systems. Kratzke said “It’s possible roll stability alone would get most of the benefits (required).”

He said a rule will likely be announced by the end of 2008 with implementation possible within three to five years. Here in Canada, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has been pressuring truck manufacturers to make stability systems mandatory on all new tractors.

Finally, the energy bill passed by the Bush Administration on Dec. 19 may set the stage for fuel efficiency requirements for heavy-duty vehicles. The bill was aimed mostly at the automotive industry, but Kratzke said it could also lead to fuel efficiency standards being imposed on heavy-duty truck makers.

A report on fuel-saving technologies is expected to be released in 2009 and if they were to proceed with a fuel efficiency standard for heavy-duty vehicles, NHTSA would have three years to develop the targets. That means that as early as 2012, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles may have to reach minimum fuel efficiency standards. Kratzke appealed to the trucking industry to get involved and provide input to NHTSA on this subject.

“It’s up to people who know much more about this than the government to get involved sooner than later, because it’s moving at a very quick pace,” Kratzke said.


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