Investing in technology can improve trucking safety

Tracey Morgan, who was injured when a truck rear ended the limo he was in, is finally out of the hospital and has announced a pending lawsuit against Wal-Mart (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-07-14/tracy-morgan-sues-wal-mart-over-i-95-crash).    The truck driver was driving for Wal-Mart at the time and admitted to not having slept in 24 hours previous to the crash.

As mentioned in one of our previous blogs (http://67.227.176.206/~packnetltd/industrial-packaging/tracy-morgan-accident-puts-spotlight-on-truck-driver-fatigue/), this high profile case has put the spot light on the trucking industry.   It is estimated that large trucks are involved in 4000 traffic fatalities per year.   500 – 800 truck drivers die in traffic accidents every year.  One certainly can expect an increase in trucking regulations in the near future.  Whether regulation actually reduces accidents is always a vague area, however requiring adaption of tested technologies usually has documented results.

Here are some existing or emerging technologies that hopefully could be employed on new truck vehicles over the next several years.

  • Truck Stability:  There are a number of manufacturers coming out with braking and steering control systems (electronic stability control systems) aimed at helping drivers stabilize their vehicles during emergency stopping situations or during poor weather conditions.     Roll-overs make up about 9% of all trucking accidents. Read Government Study.   Tractor trailers are highly susceptible as the trailers high center of gravity and sometimes unstable loads will create high centrifugal forces when traveling along a curved road.   High wind or shifting wind conditions can also contribute.    Many times a roll over occurs when the truck is moving at a supposedly safe speed.   Stability and sway monitoring systems can help truckers reduce speed before the vehicle becomes unstable.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculates that up to 53% of truck roll-overs could be prevented by electronic stability control systems.
  • Lane Wandering:  Truckers can get distracted and allow their vehicle to wander across the lane and jeopardize the safety of vehicles traveling in adjacent lanes.  There are a number of manufacturers of lane monitoring sensors that will sound alarms when the vehicle starts to drift outside the lane.   National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies show that there are 3800 to 8100 accidents per year caused by trucker lane wandering.
  • Blind Side/ Road departures:  Many trucking accidents are caused when truckers are exiting roads either via a ramp or turning onto another road.   An accident occurs when another vehicle is in the drivers blind spot (usually alongside the trailer toward the rear).   There now are cameras and sensors that will alert a driver when a vehicle is in a blind spot.
  • Forward Collision Warning Systems:  There are radar based warning systems that monitor traffic conditions and warn drivers when the vehicle needs to reduce speed.   Other systems actually will automatically start decelerating the vehicle if the driver does not respond to the warnings. According to www.trucksafety.org, the National Highway Safety Administration estimates that forward collision warning systems could prevent between 8,597 and 18,013 accidents per year.
  • Driver fatigue warning: There are a number of technologies emerging that can monitor driver patterns and detect when the driver is experiencing excess fatigue.   One technology uses glasses worn by the driver to monitor eyelid movement.   When the velocity of the eyelid movement exceeds a certain threshold, warning systems are activated, both to alert the driver, and to alert management.   13% of all trucking related fatalities are due to driver fatigue.

Some of the above technologies currently have legislation pending to require their use; others are still being tested and evaluated.   Some have expressed concern about the cost of implementing these technologies and believe that requiring companies to implement all this technology will create undue financial burdens on the trucking industry.  This is disputed by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  According to http://trucksafety.org, the NHTSA estimates that investments in truck safety technology can have return rates of 120% to over 700% (http://trucksafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/sts2013-truck-safety-technologies.pdf).   Many of these technologies could pay for themselves in less than a year.

Safety is a sound business investment; additionally one can never put a number on the value of one life saved.   It is not known what the results of Tracy Morgan’s lawsuit will entail, but one can bet that the settlement dollar amount could equip a lot of Wal-Mart trucks with technology.