Can Technology Make OTR Trucking Safer?

by Terry Bryant

Over the past decade, technology has made significant inroads in the commercial over-the-road (OTR) trucking industry. Many of the Advanced Safety Technologies (ASTs) that have been developed and adopted by truck manufacturers, through oversight by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), makes these vehicles – and highway traveling for the rest of us – somewhat safer.

Safety features such as roll safety control, under-ride trailer guards (“Angel Wings”), and electronic logging devices (ELDs) which monitor behind-the-wheel trucker time – have been or are currently being blessed by the FCMSA and incorporated into the long-haul trucking industry, by and large with success.

But the numbers of OTR trucking accidents are still alarming. The following accident statistics from a June 2017 report by the FCMSA illustrate the fact that there is still room for a great deal of improvement, in which technology can play a part.

  • An average of 480,000 “collisions” involving at least one large commercial truck or bus occur in the U.S. annually, from minor fender-benders to catastrophic multi-vehicle crashes.
  • Approximately 116,000 injuries and 4,000 deaths occurred in 2015 truck crashes; 4,564 deaths were reported in the FMCSA’s 2017 survey – a 5% increase over 2015

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety also issued a report, “Leveraging Large Truck Technology and Engineering to Realize Safety Gains,” which disclosed that incorporating other types of new safety technology in trucks may reduce the number of OTR accidents by as much as an additional 13%. That translates into 63,000 fewer truck-involved collisions every year.

Some of the New Technology Which Can Make Trucking Safer

Among the new tech opportunities mentioned by the AAA Traffic Safety report, the technology systems most enthusiastically advocated by its researchers include:

  • Air disc brakes, which considerably reduce large truck stopping distances and could prevent up to 2,411 crashes, 1,447 injuries, and 37 deaths each year, according to AAA.
  • Automatic emergency braking systems, similar to those built into new cars, which sense when the truck is about to collide with another vehicle or object. AAA researchers say these could prevent up to 5,294 crashes, 2,753 injuries, and 55 deaths annually.
  • Lane departure warning systems, also like those built into new cars, which detect when a truck drifts from its intended lane. AAA says these could prevent up to 6,372 crashes, 1,342 injuries, and 115 deaths each year.
  • Onboard video monitoring systems, which observe the road in front of a truck, and/or the driver’s actions inside the cab to detect when they may be driving unsafely. AAA claims this would reduce as many as 63,000 crashes, 17,733 injuries, and 293 deaths annually.

The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (ADSS) is a coalition which advocates the interests of commercial truck drivers. The organization, in a statement released shortly after the AAA report, said it was, “asking affiliating carriers to support the deployment of Advanced Safety Technologies (ASTs) in newly purchased trucks that are appropriate for improving their operations.” But it went on to declare that “the ASTs are not limited to the four technologies in the AAA Foundation, as some news outlets have reported.” The group statement went on to mention that adding some of these technologies, such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Electronic Stability Control, Roll Stability Control, and Speed Limiters, are still being tested under various pilot projects.

The ADSS has also noted that all four of the above listed AAA suggestions are already being incorporated by many truck manufacturers. So rather than advocate the suggested improvements, it’s possible that AAA’s report may be intended to light a fire under the FCMSA, which has been historically slow to incorporate technology advances, and even slower since the beginning of 2017.

The natural technological nexus of these and other technology-based monitoring and safety systems can create the trucking equivalent of a “black box” found on most airplanes. This progression is one reason why many fleet owners and the insurance industry enthusiastically embrace these advances. They could become vital elements of a cumulative driver monitoring system. And though many might welcome this technology, some – primarily truckers – aren’t universally sold on the prospect, even if they don’t necessarily reject it out of hand.

If you or your family has been involved in a wreck with a commercial truck, Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law is available to you 24/7 if you will give us a call or reach us through this web page’s contact form.