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Safety Technologies for the Trucking Industry

Not long ago, the only chance for seeing vehicles equipped with artificial intelligence was on television and in the movies. It was easy to have futuristic vehicles suggesting alternative routes to the driver and communicate potential problems ahead. In the world of science fiction, some of the vehicles even drove without a human at the wheel. Well, fast forward to current times, where vehicles now have futuristic capabilities in real-time. Science fiction has given way to nonfiction science capabilities.

One industry that is experiencing today what the future has to offer is trucking. For decades, innovative technologies have been a vital force for this industry. Beginning with the development of the national interstate highway system during the 1950s, to the 70s takeover of CB radios, the trucking industry has been a groundbreaking technology leader.

As a whole, motor carriers and the trucking industry are incorporating features to help increase efficiency and improve safety on the road. The benefits of such upgrades are realized through helping the industry maintain regulatory compliance. Operational costs are also reduced with less downtime, insurance premiums and possible litigation.

With new developments in truck safety technology, there is great potential to transform the industry dramatically. Technology leaders even indicate that one day the industry will have driverless trucks. Apparently, the trajectory of technology advances will naturally evolve to include trucks.

Safety Technologies are Improving Accident Statistics

Besides futuristic capabilities, safety technologies are leading to improved truck accident statistics. For over 30 years, the trucking industry and federal government have made efforts to reduce crashes involving large trucks. Many efforts have had positive results such as reaching a record low fatal crash rate of 1.04 fatal crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009. This is a significant decrease compared to 2000 when the rate was 2.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

In addition, the American Trucking Association reports that from 1989 to 2009, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks decreased by 36 percent. Furthermore, there was a 68 percent decline in the vehicle involvement rate of fatal crashes with large trucks.

New Safety Technology Systems for Trucking

Safety is at the heart of new technology systems for the trucking industry. In addition, these systems must also be cost-effective investments while keeping drivers and others on the road safe.

Even though the number of injuries and deaths from large truck crashes are at the lowest level in more than a decade, incidents still occur. Many of these could possibly be prevented with the installation of on-board safety systems. There is a variety of these safety technologies available, which are typically selected based on specific needs of the trucking company.

Forward Collision Warning

Generally, forward collision warning systems are designed to improve driver behavior on the road. If an object comes within a predefined distance in front of the truck, the driver will hear or see the warning signal. By providing feedback about following distances, these devices give audible and/or visual warnings when safety becomes a concern.

These systems can also integrate with an adaptive cruise control system. Typically, an ACC automatically maintains following distance specifications between the truck and any vehicle that is driving in front of it. For every dollar invested in forward collision warning systems, trucking companies could get between $1.33 and $7.22 back in benefits, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Lane Departure Warning

Lane departure warning systems are another good investment for trucking companies. Estimates by FMCSA show that the ROI can range from $1.37 to $6.55 to remind a driver his turn signal was not used when making a lane change. These systems work when the truck is traveling at a pre-defined speed and fails to use the turn signal. No other warning or automatic action to control the truck occurs.

Roll Stability Control

Roll stability control systems are another technology that is poised to revolutionize safer truck driving. Basically, these systems have sensors that will monitor vehicle dynamics and give an estimate on the stability of a large truck. Basing this on mass and velocity, the sensors can detect a rollover risk and will automatically address the situation by slowing down the truck's speed. Financial benefits, according to FMCSA can range from $1.66 to $9.35 when trucking companies choose to invest in these systems.

Occupational Safety Technologies

It is worth mentioning the technologies that can also improve occupational injuries. Particularly for older drivers, on-the-job hazards beyond truck accidents are a major concern – and expense – for the trucking industry. As a result, obtaining workers compensation insurance can be challenging and expensive.

While safety technologies for trucks have evolved, sitting in a truck cab posses physical risks to drivers. Over time, constant jarring from poorly maintained roads can take its toll on drivers who often sit in a cab daily for 10 hours. Back injuries, due to back compression from the jarring, are a common occupational injury reported among truck drivers. Injuries that may occur from getting in and out of truck cabs when drivers are overweight also raise concerns. The sedentary nature of driving a truck can also leave drivers in poor physical shape.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the greatest number of lost workdays occurs in the warehousing and transportation sectors. With the broadest category of truck drivers, these sectors also rank third in occupational illness and injury. Disc injuries and lower back pain are prevalent due to the constant vibration and shaking from driving. One effort to change this recognition is through improvements to the seating designs in trucks.

In addition, the trucking industry is also retrofitting long haul truck cabs with passive suspension seating. These changes are different than traditional seating that was similar to private passenger vehicles with attachments to the chassis deck. This next generation seating deck is designed to absorb road vibrations with air suspension systems to reduce the amount of jarring and shaking drivers experience with over the road exposure.

Fortunately, safety technologies to prevent occupational injuries do not require additional work from drivers. Rather, many of these technologies can assist in giving drivers a more comfortable driving experience that is good for their health. When drivers are safe, they are happier and tend to have fewer incidents of injuries. The benefit to the trucking industry is increased productivity by delivering products into the marketplace safely and efficiently.

Conclusion

The trucking industry remains an essential ingredient to the stability and economic growth of the country. Nevertheless, the weight of many trucks and driver behavior can pose a threat to public safety. With this in mind, the trucking industry and government regulators must continue the commitment to make trucks safe for drivers and other people on the road.

Keeping this a priority is not difficult; the challenge, however, comes with balancing safety features with oversight and regulation. Trucking companies are just as invested in safety, but want to achieve safer conditions without compromising efficiency and productivity. This would not only negatively impact the trucking industry, but will also affect the economy as a whole.

Fortunately, the combination of science fiction and reality is creating more safety technologies that also help to trim costs. As more trucking companies add safety features and technology experts continue to innovate, both safety and productivity will continue to push the trucking industry forward.