How technology is making semi-trailer trucks safer

New technologies that are making coupes, sedans, crossovers and SUVs safer are also making semi-trailer trucks safer.

Manufacturers use different names for their particular products; no matter what they’re called, these driver assists can help to make driving safer. Available technologies can:

Slow a vehicle down if the vehicle in front slows down. Adaptive cruise control means if the vehicle in front of you slows down, your vehicle will slow down to keep a safe distance. Pull out to the passing lane, and your vehicle accelerates back to the pre-set speed.
Sound an alarm or vibrate the steering wheel if your vehicle drifts over lane markings. The lane change assist helps you keep your vehicle between the lane markings.
Engage the brakes or warn the driver with lights and an alarm if a vehicle or pedestrian suddenly appears in front of you.
Provide better views in front of and behind your vehicle with cameras. These cameras also make it easier and safer when navigating in tight spots or backing up.
I’ve seen the benefits of these and other driver assists on dozens of media test vehicles I drive each year. Every year the technologies are improving, and I’m glad to know that these — and other technologies — are also becoming more popular on semi-trailer trucks.

Raynald Marchand, general manager of programs at the Canada Safety Council, says, “Technologies can notify the driver if he’s falling asleep, with a wake-up buzzer. It’s based on things like eye movement, head movement, and the grip on the steering wheel.

“The trucking industry sees that it definitely makes sense from an economic and business point of view to have safer trucks on the road,” Marchand told me in a telephone interview from his office in Ottawa.

I also contacted people in the trucking industry to find out what’s new.

Scott Barraclough, technology product manager for Mack Trucks in Greensboro, N.C., told me the Bendix Wingman Fusion system is available on Mack and Kenworth trucks, and it’s standard equipment on the Mack Anthem highway model.

“This system incorporates a camera, radar and the vehicle’s braking system to provide adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, emergency braking, following distance alerts and more,” Barraclough says.

Daimler Trucks North America, with headquarters in Portland, Ore., has several brands, including Western Star, Freightliner and Thomas Built Buses. Each brand offers some driver assists.

“Western Star uses the WABCO OnGuard™ collision mitigation system, which is a forward-collision mitigation system that provides automatic braking and has adaptive cruise control,” says Samantha Parlier, vice president of marketing and strategy at Western Star.

At Freightliner trucks, Brian Daniels, manager of Detroit Powertrain and Component Product Marketing, says, “All driver assists except rearwards cameras are available on the new Freightliner Cascadia® and original Cascadia.”

At Thomas Built Buses, marketing manager Mario DiFoggio,says, “Thomas Built Buses offers a passive system called Mobileye on our Saf-T-Liner® C2 product only. Mobileye has collision avoidance and lane departure that can give visual, audible or haptic (sense of touch) alerts.”

However, DiFoggio says, “We do not have an active system currently in our buses. There will need to be significant testing done in the school bus industry before more driver assistive technologies make their way into the market. We aren’t there yet, however, we do believe that incrementally newer technologies will be introduced.”

Raynald Marchand, at the Canada Safety Council, says some GPS systems can detect stop signs — and then send a message to apply the brakes.

“There’s a tremendous amount of technology coming to the trucking industry,” Marchand says.

On the horizon is vehicle-to-vehicle technology — where vehicles notify each other if they’re getting too close to each other.

“If the technology sees that two vehicles are in close proximity and on a collision course, they will alert the driver and in some cases apply the brakes to the vehicles,” Marchand explains.

Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., shows that these technologies are making vehicles safer.

A 2017 study found that that lane departure warning lowers rates of single-vehicle, sideswipe and head-on crashes by 11 per cent and lowers the rates of injury crashes by 21 per cent.
A study done in 2015 of lane departure warning on trucks in U.S. fleets found the technology cut the rate of crashes nearly in half, and a study of Volvo cars in Sweden found a reduction of injury crashes of 53 per cent.
Blind spot detection lowers the rate of all lane-change crashes by 14 per cent and the rate of lane-change crashes with injuries by 23 per cent.
Earlier this year, research found that Subaru’s crash avoidance system cut the rate of likely pedestrian-related insurance claims by a statistically significant 35 per cent.
Having rearview cameras reduced crashes while backing up by 17 per cent.
Forward collision warnings (lights or buzzers to alert the driver) saw a 27-per-cent reduction in crashes.
Forward collision warnings that automatically applied the brakes saw a 50-per-cent reduction in crashes.
Rear cross-traffic alerts (a buzzer sounds when traffic approaches while you are backing up) saw a 22 per cent reduction in crashes.
And in Great Britain, Thatcham Research, the motor insurance industry’s research arm, found that cars with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) have a 38-per-cent reduction in rear-end crashes.

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, says, “Just as seatbelts are a legal requirement on all cars and vans, AEB should be as well.”

The key element with driver assists — whether on personal vehicles or semis — is that they are “assists” and do not replace attentive driving. They provide an added measure of safety, and the possibility of reducing the number and severity of accidents.

“These features aren’t meant to replace the driver, they’re meant to assist the driver,” says Kelley Brinkworth, manager, auto fund communications, with SGI.

“Drivers should always remain fully engaged in the driving task and shouldn’t rely on these features. Drivers need to stay alert and pay attention to the road, because they’re responsible for safely operating the vehicle, whether it has these types of features or not,” she says.

Dale Edward Johnson is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

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