Electronic Stability Systems as Truck Accident Prevention Tools

In an earlier post to this blog (January 15, 2009) I discussed the VORAD (Vehicle On-Board RADar) collision avoidance system and its ability to lower the number of rear-end and lane change collisions as well as its other contributions to the reduction in the number of big rig wrecks. Currently, other electronic systems designed to reduce such accidents are making gains despite the absence of federal regulations mandating their use.

Devices ranging from radar-assisted cruise control to systems that automatically apply brakes ahead of potential collisions are available as factory-installed options or as retrofitted upgrades and cost between $2,000 and $4,000.

Full-stability systems work by monitoring truck direction and the direction the driver turns the steering wheel. A network of sensors is placed throughout the vehicle to provide input. These sensors signal the full-stability system to selectively apply a big rig’s brakes and to de-throttle its engine in order to redirect the vehicle back onto the driver’s intended path should the truck diverge from it.

The development of these devices is fortuitous for truck companies as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued new braking standards for large trucks on July 24. As I noted in my blog post of August 25, 2009, “New NHTSA Large Truck Braking Standards Announced,” these new braking standards are scheduled to begin with 2012 truck models, and will be phased in over four years, applying only to truck tractors, not to single-unit trucks, trailers and buses. The regulation requires a tractor-trailer traveling at 60 MPH to come to a complete stop in 250 feet, a 30% reduction over the currently required 355 feet.

According to Frank Bio, truck product manager for Volvo Trucks North America, many truck makers were working hard in anticipation of the new rule. “Manufacturers [were] overdesigning their vehicles so they meet federal stopping requirements in advance.”

In addition to manufacturer improvements, many fleets prepared for the new regulation by purchasing electronic stability systems such as the ones mentioned above.

In one example, J & R Hall Transport, Inc., a trucking concern in Ontario, Canada, first purchased Bendix full-stability systems for trucks in its fleet in 2006 after company president Jeff Hall saw the system demonstrated at a trucking show. Hall notes that since the addition of the stability system to his trucks, only one jack-knife has occurred. “Full stability makes a real difference, “ Hall stated, noting that his drivers report that, “when they’re not paying 100% attention … the system reminds them. Either the brakes come on or something else happens to let them know the system is working.” Hall said that at first his drivers objected to the installation of the systems, feeling that it was a knock on their driving skills. “Now,” Hall said, “they know it’s an extra tool to keep them safe.”

There are several types of advanced braking systems with various modes of deploying and available at different price points. Some operate with vehicle cruise control, others with cam air brakes, still others with onboard computers capable of detecting the maintenance needs of a vehicle’s braking system, catching worn liners for example before they become a contributing factor in a big rig wreck.

Whether taking advantage of widely available retrofit options, or utilizing manufacturer systems, truck companies and truck drivers seem to be onboard with electronic stability systems. New braking distance regulations and an increased use of electronic stability systems make our roads much safer for all.

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