Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Road To Trucking Safety

There is always room for more safety in trucking. While we acknowledge trucking is a safe, secure and lucrative career, the fact is you are driving around tens of thousands of pounds. Anything can happen out on the open road and safety is paramount.

From decaying roads to unwieldy equipment, boredom, fatigue or other distractions, there are so many levels of trucking safety. As a result, manufacturers and industry players are doing everything they can to improve safety.

Thanks to a renewed interest in comprehensive truck driver training and better big rig design, the focus on safety is as intense as it’s ever been.

The Raw Numbers

Note that large Class 8 commercial motor vehicles are driving more miles than ever before, but fatal accidents are occurring at a much slower pace. According to a report compiled by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the rate of deadly vehicle crashes per 100 million miles traveled sank by almost 50 percent between 2000 and 2012.

Still, large truck collisions caused over 4,000 fatalities in 2014 alone. Even as safety numbers get better and incidents drop, when accidents still occur, safety can be improved upon.

The primary reason for all this is that large trucks are tricky to operate. They are huge and elongated. The huge tonnage they are hauling makes them prone to rollovers. Nearly half of all deaths and injuries related to truck crashes occur because of a rollover.

Traveling at 65 mph, a big rig needs 525 feet to come to a full stop. Compare that with 316 feet for a passenger vehicle.

And did you know that air bags and other basic safety features that you see all the time in passenger cars aren’t legally required for semi trucks? Most trucks don’t utilize automatic emergency braking, though that is starting to change.

Collision avoidance systems are becoming more commonplace than ever, alongside adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings and blind-spot detection. Manufacturers are also working on stronger underride guard rails. These help keep other vehicles from jamming underneath the truck or trailer in the event of an accident.

In August, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration began requiring that a passenger riding in a large commercial motor vehicle must wear their seat belt when said vehicle is operating on a public road.

Regulators across the pond are going even further than the FMCSA. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has said that trucks operating without a clear view of the road will be banned from the city after 2020.

Industry Movements

As lawmakers weigh in, so do industry players. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is pushing for a crashworthiness standard for large trucks. Although the government has not proposed any specific laws to address the issue, it remains on the ATA’s docket.

Manufacturers are taking on a measure of responsibility by rolling out technologies designed to enhance a big rig’s safety profile.

Freightliner has introduced steering wheel air bags for over 20 years. They’ve been optioning roll protection technology for almost 10. And yet fewer than 5 percent of their clients request those modifications.

Disc brakes fare better, selling on around 17 percent of Freightliner’s front axles. Although disc brakes are more expensive, they last longer. The company’s newest model offers brake assist, a windshield-mounted camera, lane departure warnings and a radar system.

Mack Trucks offers anti-lock brakes, adaptive cruise control and automated manual transmissions, allowing the truck driver to focus on the road, rather than shifting.

How will the big rig safety landscape look in the next ten years? Frankly, it’s anyone’s guess, but as the push towards zero fatalities intensifies, expect to see the big rig of the future look a lot different from the big rig of today.


The History Of Collision Avoidance

As you’ve likely heard, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking to advance new proposals regarding collision avoidance systems. In doing so they point to numbers showing that between 2009 and 2014, truck accident fatalities increased by around 5 percent annually.

They also point out that across the board, accident involving tractor-trailers continue to increase, albeit at a very low rate. This results in increases on insurance minimums and safety regulations for trucking companies. It has also resulted in the aforementioned push to get trucking companies to utilize various collision avoidance technologies.

So what can a fleet safety manager expect when spec’ing collision avoidance systems? First, consider that almost every truck manufacturer now offers some type of F-Cam product for their vehicles. Still, the vast majority of trucks on the road are not new.

In fact, only 3 percent of the more than 3 million Class 8 rigs on the road are equipped with some variation of a collision avoidance technology. As a result, trucking safety advocacy organizations began calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to mandate utilization of a number of different vehicle Collision Avoidance Systems.

On the other side, opponents point to the high cost of owning or installing such systems. They also question their overall reliability in a crunch. But what kind of systems are actually out there?

The Different Types

Crash avoidance technologies come in a number of different flavors. The one most widely used is the aforementioned F-CAM, which stands for Forward Collision Avoidance and Mitigation.

F-CAM technologies are generally comprised of three different primary components, which all work together to form a cohesive unit. They are essentially designed to pump the brakes in order to prevent non-ABS trailer brakes from locking up.

The different types include:

  • Forward Collision Warning: This aspect of the system creates an alarm that alerts the truck driver when he or she is getting to close to the vehicle in front of them.
  • Adaptive or Active Cruise Control: This system modulates the throttle for the truck driver and applies the brakes if it appears a collision may be likely.
  • Collision Mitigation Braking: This system automatically applies the brakes to slow the vehicle as it approaches the vehicle directly in front of it.

But what are the stats surrounding an F-CAM setup? Is it truly the most reliable? Early testing on these systems indicate they are.

It has been shown that F-CAM systems can reduce rear-end collusion fatalities and injuries by almost half. That is a huge reduction and would have an immediate bottom line impact for both motor carriers and insurance companies who carry their policies.

Also consider that truck tonnage is expected to increase by as much as 60 percent by 2040, and it isn’t hard to contemplate where these types of systems can come into play.

While for now the NHTSA is not acting on petitions, and is rather conducting continued testing, it is important to know that with the agency moving on other positions, they are likely to move on this one as well.

A History of Collision Avoidance

The fact is, this technology is not new to the scene. The first live demonstration of a collision avoidance system was performed in 1995 by a team of researchers in California.

At that time, the system was a simple radar-based technology, but since then advances in laser technology and other custom-fabricated detection technologies have reshaped both the industry and how these devices are manufactured and function.

Still, consider that these devices didn’t come to the DOT’s attention until 2013, and you can see it took nearly 20 years from this technology to go from the first test to the consumer market. What’s next for it will depend on both manufacturers and regulators.

Why The Condition Of Your Brakes Matters So Much

There’s a lot riding on your brakes when you’re driving an 80,000-pound Class 8 commercial motor vehicle down the road. If there is one thing that trucking safety is all about, it’s the condition of your brakes.

What the Brake?

Yet, did you know that nearly 2,400 trucks found themselves on the wrong end of an out-of-service violation during the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Brake (CVSA) Safety Week?

That’s right, between September 11 and 17 CVSA conducted over 18,000 inspections, looking for everything from brakes that are simply out-of-adjustment to other more serious (and potentially dangerous) violations.

All told, inspectors were looking at:

  • Loose or missing parts
  • Air or fluid leaks
  • Lit or flashing indicator lights
  • Worn or cracked linings, pads, drums and rotors

Out of all trucks inspected during Brake Safety Week, almost 1,500 were tagged for ABS violations. A full 15.8 percent of trailers also got stung with ABS violations.

By the final day, brake violations clearly led the way in the overall number of out-of-service orders. That’s a full 50 percent of total orders issued over the three days, an astonishing number to say the least.

So what’s a fleet to do?

The fact is this: Brakes must be properly maintained at all times. Routine checks must be kept up with like clockwork. Whether it be the fleet technician back at the shop or the truck driver him or herself, the brakes must be the most important part of a pre- and post-trip inspection.

The braking system is what slows down and stops the vehicle. They are made up of primarily three components.

Service brakes, which are responsible for slowing down and stopping the vehicle, are regulated by the truck driver. The two types of service brakes are drum and disc varieties.

Emergency and parking brakes fall under the service brake system, but remain independent from the foot and trolley valves that govern the operating brake system.

Air brakes are operated by a compressor, governor, air tanks valves, drain cocks, treadle valves, signals and so much more. See why it’s so important to make sure your brakes are always in tip top condition?

Completing the Inspection

When you are completing a pre- or post-trip inspection, the brakes must be looked at very carefully. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

  • Tractor Brakes: Charge your air brake system. Apply your tractor’s parking brakes. Release the emergency brakes. Pull gently on the trailer to ensure the trailer emergency brakes are engaged.
  • Service Brakes: Wait for normal air pressure then release the parking brake. Slowly move your vehicle forward and then firmly apply the brakes. If there is any pulling to one side, or a delay in the application, there may be a problem.

Beyond testing the brakes themselves, tracking your air leakage rate is crucial.

With a fully charged air system, turn off the engine and chock the vehicle. Then immediately time the air pressure drop after the initial drop. Your loss rate should always be less than two pounds per square inch.

Take your measurement then apply the brakes. After the initial pressure drop, if you find that the overall pressure is falling below more than three psi in a single minute, there may be a problem in the system.

As always, keep a close eye on your low pressure warning signals and tractor protection valves. The fact is, there are a lot of moving and non-moving components in a modern brake system. So much rides on such complex pieces of machinery.

Do you want to end up like one of the truck drivers who gets tagged for bad brakes during next year’s inspection? If not, whether you are a fleet technician or owner-operator, always keep a close eye on your braking system, for safety’s sake.


Have We Reached Peak Trucking Safety?

There’s a prevailing thought out there that if you take a look at long-term fleet trends, especially going back around 25 years or so, that there has been a steep decline in the crash rate for large, Class 8 commercial motor vehicles.

Then, if you take a closer look at just the past ten years, you will see that the decline has leveled off somewhat, though it still continues to drop. The reason for this might be quite simple. Has the “safety low hanging fruit”, if you will, already been plucked?

Reaching Peak Safety

Consider that better braking systems, speed limiters, advanced stability control systems and enhanced truck driver screening methods have seen incredible advances and one can only wonder how much more we have to go.

This is especially true in the area of vehicle technology. The fact is, fleets have to work even harder to find the next revolutionary safety tool.

It’s a point that can be illustrated by taking a look at the Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts report released in April. From 1979 to 2009, total fatal crashes witnessed a decline from 6,007 to 3,193. But if you then take a look at 2009 to 2014, you’ll find that fatal crashes increased slightly, from 3,193 to 3,649.

Another part of the report focuses on the large vehicle crash rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. If you dig down into those numbers, the same leveling off is occurring. During the same 30-year period, the rate went from 5.6 to 1.1, an astonishing drop. Again, from 2009 to 2014, that number inched up from 1.1 to 1.3.

So what’s next for safety technologies? Has the industry really hit a safety wall?

What the Future Holds

While many are talking about autonomous trucks and smart highways, we may need to take a more short term view of the problem. One area where there can still be marjor improvement is in the area of video systems, which represent an excellent truck driver coaching tool.

Video has a number of important uses. First, it can be used to corroborate or conflict with a truck driver’s story and two it can help truck drivers become better at what they do. Consider that truck driver behavior is the main factor in almost four-fifths of all large commercial motor vehicle crashes and you can see where video has a part to play.

Video can also be used to get a better glimpse into the trucking industry’s overall safety performance. Truck drivers are often frustrated by the behavior of other motorists, and video technology can help provide evidence to vindicate truck driver behavior.

The Smart Highway and Trucker

Beyond video and other burgeoning safety technologies, one thing that could significantly impact the so-called safety curve is that of autonomous vehicles and smart highways. With the DOT putting an advisory committee together on new rules, expect to see this industry expand at a rapid clip.

Some believe that semi-autonomous trucks and smart highways could impact safety statistics by 50% or more. Imagine a day when that 3,649 truck-attributable road deaths drops in half because smart highways are communicating with smart trucks and passenger cars.

In the end, however, the one thing that can most impact how safe big rigs are on the road is that of truck driver behavior. Quite frankly, it will be a long time off before the first smart highway interacts with smart trucks and cars, so until then, we need to rely on our truckers to be the best drivers they can be.

Do you have a comprehensive truck driver safety program in place? Remember, this is about more than CSA scores, this is about the safety of your employees and others on the road. As fleets make the right decisions, utilizing technology and driver training, perhaps we haven’t hit peak safety after all!