Long-haul trucking is dangerous work: Drivers on dilapidated roads with bulky equipment often struggle with boredom, fatigue, and the distracting temptation of their mobile devices.
But safety conditions could improve amid heightened interest in driver training and the safe design of large machines.
âTrucking is a safety-oriented and safety-conscious industry, so more and more fleets are looking for these kinds of features in their trucks,â said Ted Scott, director of engineering for the American Trucking Associations business group. .
Large trucks travel more miles but have fatal crashes at a slower rate, according to a recent report from the American Trucking Associations. The fatal accident rate per 100 million vehicle kilometers traveled fell 42.2% between 2000 and 2013, to the fifth lowest level in history.
But collisions with large trucks still caused 4,067 deaths last year, 4.1% more than the previous year and the highest level since 2008, according to the Fatal Accident Analysis Report System. of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Almost two-thirds of these victims were traveling in other vehicles. Large truck crashes contributed to 30,000 injuries in 2015, up 11% from the previous year, the largest increase of all categories, including passenger vehicles and motorcycles.
In the five years since 2009, the number of truck accidents in the country has increased by 44%, while injuries resulting from these incidents have increased by 50%, according to NHTSA.
Heavy trucks are inherently difficult to drive. Their massive, elongated size and the massive tonnage they carry make them prone to rollovers – responsible for nearly half of all fatalities and injuries in truck-tractor crashes. Jackknifing and head-on collisions are also risks.
Large platforms weigh a lot more than sedans. At 65 mph, they need 525 feet to come to a complete stop, compared to 316 feet for passenger vehicles, according to calculations by the Utah Department of Transportation.
But air bags and many other basic safety features common in passenger cars are not legally required for large rigs. Most heavy-duty trucks don’t use automatic emergency braking systems, which safety advocates could prevent thousands of accidents each year.
The National Transportation Safety Board has included in-vehicle collision avoidance technologies on its list of the most wanted safety enhancements for trucks, buses and cars this year, urging manufacturers to incorporate adaptive cruise control, warnings lane departure, blind spot detection systems and advanced lighting systems.
Big trucks also need stronger underrun guards, according to experts who met in May at a conference by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The guards would help prevent passenger vehicles hitting trucks or trailers from getting stuck under platforms and flattening or shearing passenger compartments of small cars.
The government got involved to some extent. Next year, a mandate requiring electronic stability control systems on heavy vehicles will come into effect, which would prevent about 49 fatalities and 1,758 accidents each year. The NHTSA expects the rule to add about $ 600 to the cost of new tractors.
In August, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, began requiring passengers to wear seat belts when riding large commercial trucks on public roads. And that same month, the FMCSA and NHTSA proposed to equip new heavy-duty vehicles with speed limiters that tentatively set the top speed at 60, 65 or 68 mph.
“It’s basic physics,” NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement. âEven small increases in speed have big effects on impact force. Limiting the speed of heavy goods vehicles makes good sense for safety and the environment.
Foreign regulators have taken an even stricter approach. In late September, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said trucks with no clear view of the road – some 35,000 trucks – would be banned from the city after 2020 to avoid collisions with cyclists and pedestrians.
Truck manufacturers are also making changes.
TO lobbied for impact resistance standards for large trucks, but Scott said there was no legislation specifically targeting the problem.
Freightliner has offered steering wheel airbags since 1996 and RollTek protection technology since 2007. But the options are in demand by less than 5% of customers – mostly bulk carriers such as tankers and tankers, said Mary Aufdemberg, director. product marketing for Daimler Trucks. division.
Disc brakes, which last longer but are more expensive than drum brakes, are optional on Freightliner trucks. Some 17 percent of customers use them on the front axles, while 14 percent place them on the rear, although Aufdemberg expects demand to increase.
The company’s newest Freightliner Cascadia model includes a host of safety features, including an exclusive Detroit Assurance suite that includes options such as brake assist, a windshield-mounted camera for lane departure warnings and a radar system that can identify and classify potential threats.
Other safety novelties: steering box pushed forward to improve driving precision, ergonomic wraparound instrument panel and noise reduction technology to limit fatigue, LED headlights and single-sheet windshield with better visibility , wiper coverage and breakage resistance.
Mack Trucks, meanwhile, have been offering RollTek seats for two years and also taking orders for trucks with anti-lock brakes and adaptive cruising and Bendix Wingman Advanced crash mitigation capabilities. Mack’s mDRIVE automated manual transmission eliminates traditional shifting, allowing drivers to focus on the road.
Disc brakes are “widely available in our product line,” and the 2017 engines have been updated to reduce fatigue-inducing noise, said Scott Barraclough, Technology Product Manager for Volvo Trucks Division.
âSafety is an important consideration for Mack and our customers,â Barraclough said.
It is also a “core value” for Volvo Trucks, which was the first commercial truck manufacturer to introduce a driver’s side airbag and the only truck manufacturer to offer a standard driver’s side airbag in all models, said Jason Spence, his long-time transportation product marketing manager. Many customers also specify additional safety systems, such as Volvo’s Enhanced Stability Technology and Lane Departure Warning.
The company recently launched its Active Driver Assist, which uses camera, radar and brake inputs integrated into the existing driver’s display to reduce frontal collisions. All Volvo cabins are constructed from high strength steel that exceeds the rigorous Swedish cab safety test and also include a foldable steering column, detachable pedals as well as an engine and transmission designed to lower and move away from the driver in the event of an accident.
Yet activists such as Rick Watts of Morristown, Tenn., Say the government is not doing enough to improve safety, especially amid expected increases in demand for freight.
“Lack of urgency, delays in issuing regulations and inadequate oversight of the trucking industry are just a few of the major issues plaguing the ministry,” Watts wrote in a letter last month to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.
Watts’ wife, mother-in-law and two daughter-in-law were killed in a June 2015 truck crash near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The driver of the truck had driven longer than the legal limit on duty hours, was under the influence of methamphetamines and was traveling at 80 mph in a 55 mph zone, according to the NTSB.
The truck struck seven vehicles, killing six people and injuring four.
Safety experts point out that the vast majority of trucking accidents are caused by driver error, not potholes, inclement weather or poor equipment.
To curb driver burnout, the government has put in place a mandate to document hours of operation using electronic recording devices – a move small carriers resist as a devastating blow to their profit margins . But supporters say ELDs help prevent the use of so-called comics – easily falsified logbooks that allow truckers to break hours of service limits.
âDriving too many hours is a recognized safety issue in the trucking industry, and ELDs are a proven safety solution,â said Jackie Gillan, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety alliance.
The FMCSA also hopes to establish a national clearinghouse for truck drivers who have failed drug and alcohol tests. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has been reviewing plans for the database – which is said to be used by employers – since May and is expected to end this month.
Alcohol was a factor in 60 fatal large drilling rig accidents last year, up from 68 the year before.
Drivers, many of whom are paid by the kilometer rather than the hour, often also have an economic incentive to speed up. And demographic shifts in the industry have resulted in an exit of retired drivers and an influx of younger, inexperienced replacements.
Daniel Litzner, a safety specialist at the Michigan Center for Truck Safety, said the nonprofit group received numerous calls regarding its education programs, safety audits, fatigue management training and fatigue management training. other free services.
The organization offers a defensive driving course that lasts several hours as well as an individual examination of the driver’s performance during which an instructor sitting in the passenger seat looks at the driver in a mirror attached to the windshield and criticizes driving technique. .
Litzner, who served with Michigan State Police for more than three decades, said drivers couldn’t get enough of the centre’s guide, which contains state and federal regulations and safety advice.
âWhat we don’t seem to be getting enough answers for are the actual carriers,â he said. âOur programs are well received by the industry, but whether they implement them themselves, it is up to the drivers and the companies. “
âIf everything is okay,â he said, âthey’re really ahead of the game.â