|Tech on tractor-trailers could prevent more crashes, study shows|
Driving home from work one night in the left lane of Interstate 94 in metro Detroit, I noticed cars had backed up from an exit ramp onto the highway.
A truck driver in the right lane didn't see the stoppage ahead. Precious seconds passed. Then, the squeal of tires and a tractor-trailer swerving into my lane. Through the stroke of good fortune, the truck missed the stopped traffic by mere feet.
But the acrid smell of locked brakes returns to my memory every time I drive past the westbound Exit 172, and the prospect of watching a passenger car get flattened by a tractor-trailer at highway speeds remains the stuff of vehicular nightmares.
A study issued this morning from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides increased evidence that new technology can help prevent such scenarios from becoming reality. Equipping trucks with forward collision warning and automated emergency braking systems could eliminate more than 40 percent of rear-end collisions caused by trucks, according to the study.
The results provide "evidence that forward collision warning and AEB greatly reduce crash risk for tractor-trailers and other large trucks," Eric Teoh, director of statistical services at IIHS, said in a written statement. "That's important information for trucking companies and drivers who are weighing the costs and benefits of these options on their next vehicles."
Fatalities in truck-involved crashes have risen by about a third since 2009 and reached 4,951 killed on U.S. roads in 2018, the latest year for which federal data is available. Truck-related fatalities represented 13.5 percent of the overall traffic-death total that year.
In passenger vehicles, forward collision warning and automated emergency braking systems have a proven track record of safety benefits. Previous research from IIHS shows AEB cuts rear-end crash rates in half and rear-end crashes involving injuries by 56 percent. But there hadn't been similar research into truck-specific safety benefits until Teoh probed the question.
His work involved examining data on vehicle miles traveled collected from 62 carriers operating tractor-trailers and other trucks weighing at least 33,000 pounds.
Another key finding: In examining collisions the systems could not prevent, he found they still mitigated crash speeds. In reviewing rear-end truck crashes in which either warnings or AEB systems had been present, Teoh found speed reductions of more than 50 percent between warnings and impact.
At least in the U.S., such systems aren't required for either passenger cars or trucks. Twenty automakers entered a voluntary agreement to make such equipment standard on their new passenger vehicles by September 2022, but no such agreement exists in trucking. It should, says David Harkey, IIHS president.
"The potential benefits are great enough that these crash avoidance systems should be standard equipment on all new large trucks," he said.
Similar new technologies already provide benefits in the trucking safety realm. Nauto, a Silicon Valley startup, has introduced camera-based software that can issue predictive collision alerts, monitor driver behavior and provide self-guided coaching for drivers. Another startup, Pronto, has developed truck-specific driver-assist systems that can provide adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking and proactive lane centering.
As the IIHS study emphasizes, these safety benefits are not part of a far-off future. They're tangible today.
-- Pete Bigelow