To improve safety, a growing number of motor carriers are taking advantage of the latest on-board technology, which enables them to operate more efficiently, improve customer service and increase profits. The technology also creates a safer environment for professional drivers and the motoring public.
“It is becoming more common, especially for the large national organizations. We’re also seeing it more in the mid-size carriers,” said Chuck Pagesy, director of safety at Penske Truck Leasing.
Carriers can work with Penske Truck Leasing to specify the type and amount of safety technology they’d like on their vehicles, and rollover protection, collision avoidance systems, adaptive cruise control and disc brakes are among the technologies carriers can opt into. Pagesy said on-board safety technology gives fleets the opportunity to reduce their accident expense and any liability associated with it.
The cost of the technologies varies by manufacturer and the level of sophistication, but costs have come down. “As technology advances and it becomes more common in passenger vehicles it can be passed over to commercial vehicles,” he said.
Collision-avoidance systems rely on radar, lasers or cameras to detect potential crash situations, such as when the distance between the truck and a vehicle gets too close. Pagesy said collision avoidance systems alert drivers and take action automatically if drivers don’t. “When you approach the vehicle, it starts beeping. It will either cut the power or retard the system,” he said.
Over the last twenty years, the National Transportation Research Board (NTSB) has made 12 safety recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation and vehicle manufacturers regarding the need to develop performance standards for collision avoidance technologies, such as collision warning systems. The agency recommended that the federal government mandate forward-collision avoidance systems on all new motor vehicles, including large trucks.
NTSB said rear-end crashes kill about 1,700 people and injure half a million annually and that the rate would be reduced by 80 percent if vehicles were equipped with collision avoidance systems.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has said electronic stability control technology could prevent more than 1,700 crashes each year. The agency will require new commercial trucks to be equipped with electronic stability control systems beginning in 2017.
Electronic stability control systems work to minimize rollovers and crashes involving loss of control, which NHTSA said are responsible for 304 fatalities and 2,738 injuries on average each year. If the systems detect a vehicle is reaching its critical stability threshold, the technology intervenes by automatically reducing engine torque, applying the engine brake and activating the necessary wheel-end brakes, which reduces the likelihood of a rollover, jackknife or loss of control.
The technology can be helpful during inclement weather, such as rain and snow, as the systems will automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle starts to slip.
Rules mandating the electronic logging devices will begin taking effect in 2017, but a number of carriers already use the devices, which users of electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) said the devices can help with regulatory compliance, reduced driver admin time and increased efficiency.
Hours-of-service violations are among the most common violations found under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. Other top violations include a driver’s record-of-duty status not being current and false reports of driver’s record-of-duty status.
With adaptive cruise control, systems use radar to maintain a specified following distance. If the vehicle in front of the driver slows down, the driver slows down as well.
Air disc brakes can improve the stopping distance of a vehicle, and users have also said the technology offers lower maintenance costs over drum brakes. Air disc brakes cost more than drum brakes, which manufacturers have said is slowing the adoption of the technology.
“Out of our fleet of 6,000 with air disc brakes, we never see a violation of brakes being out of adjustment. That is one of those soft value-adds. Sometimes it is hard to put a dollar amount from a return on that but there are benefits,” said Mike Hasinec, vice president of maintenance support at Penske Truck Leasing.
A fleet’s safety record factors into its scores under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, and shippers often rely on those ratings when evaluating carriers. Those scores were removed from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website last year after Congress mandated a revamp of the program.
“Based on our preliminary assessment, it’s going to take a while to do revised analysis,” said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Foxx estimates it will take about two years for the agency to overhaul the program to ensure it is a reliable safety indicator, and DOT will make carriers' scores publicly available via the website at that time.
Safety features are not always high tech, and seat belt use remains one of the top ways to reduce the risk of an injury. Federal rules require commercial drivers to use seat belts, and beginning August 8, a new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation will require any passengers riding in large commercial trucks to use seat belts whenever the vehicles are operated on public roads in interstate commerce.
FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling said, “Using a seat belt is one of the safest, easiest, and smartest choices drivers and passengers can make before starting out on any road trip. This rule further protects large truck occupants and will undoubtedly save more lives.”
FMCSA’s most recent Seat Belt Usage by Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Survey found that while 84 percent of professional drivers use seat belts, commercial motor vehicle passengers use seat belts at a lower rate of 73 percent.
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