Stop Distance Rule: Coming Summer ’08

LAS VEGAS — A U.S. rule requiring a 20 to 30 percent stopping-distance reduction for highway trucks will be officially announced this summer, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) official confirmed this week.

Speaking at the Heavy Duty Dialogue conference in Las Vegas, NHTSA Associate Administrator for Rulemaking, Stephen Kratzke, said a detailed final rule is imminent.

Air disc stop distance cut dramatically as road speed rises

The rule will demand that trucks be spec’d with bigger brakes or more advanced technology to achieve the new standard. A rule requiring closer to 20 percent can be readily satisfied with bigger S-cam brakes, and in many cases they can also meet a 30 percent stopping distance cut. But more expensive air disc brakes will most definitely take a larger role in the North American market if a 30 percent reduction is legislated.

Kratzke wouldn’t say where on that spectrum NHTSA rulemakers have settled, but acknowledged that most of the comments he’s received indicate that the industry prefers a 20 percent reduction rule.

Privately, however, more than one brake manufacturer official told that 30 percent was the surer bet.

Kratzke spoke of several other possible rules NHTSA is at least considering for the trucking industry in the medium-term. One is mandatory electronic stability control (ESC) or roll stability systems on all trucks manufactured in the U.S. Kratzke said his agency is in the process of “accelerating a testing program.” He also said that simply requiring roll stability could eventually prove to “meet all the safety benefits” the agency is targeting.

Fuel economy standards were recently enacted for cars in the U.S., and Kratzke admitted the next step is to look at a similar rule for trucks. NHTSA is currently awaiting a cost-benefit analysis from the EPA, which will determine if the DOT agency will be responsible for establishing a fuel economy standard for heavy and medium-duty vehicles as well.

Longer-term, NHTSA will study lane departure warning systems, forward collision warning, and auto inflation systems — all of which are currently undergoing “field operational tests.”

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