Safety In The Driving Seat

Heavy truck safety is getting a huge boost through technology of late, thanks to a couple of almost simultaneous launches.

March 2008, - Editorial

by Steve Sturgess, Executive Editor

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Heavy truck safety is getting a huge boost through technology of late, thanks to a couple of almost simultaneous launches, one from equipment supplier ArvinMeritor and another from operations solution provider Qualcomm. The first is directly tied to the truck, the other to the driver.

OnGuard is a Meritor product that combines the attributes of the adaptive cruise control with collision avoidance and the security of brake intervention to lessen the incidence or severity of rear-end collisions. Believe it or not, rear-enders account for some 23 percent of truck-involved accidents (FMCSA Large Truck Crash Causation Study) and, unfortunately, when it involves a truck-into-car crash, a fatality can all too often result. According to the agency's Unit Costs study of last year, the average cost of a truck-involved fatality is in excess of $3.6 million.

Add to that the ability to reduce rollovers significantly - another 9 percent of heavy truck accidents - and your risk exposure to serious accidents can be dramatically lowered.

Put it another way: Your drivers' safety and likelihood of getting home every trip is significantly enhanced. That's a big plus in driver recruitment and retention, and a hidden cost saving that could well recover the added premium for the OnGuard system.

To experience the new system, I drove a number of trucks - straight trucks, tractor-trailers, tractors - each equipped with the Meritor system at a closed venue during the recent Technology and Maintenance Council meeting. This latest drive was an eye-opener.

OnGuard pulls together collision avoidance through safe following, adaptive cruise control that sets cruise speed to the vehicle in front, and emergency braking with rollover protection though selective braking. It's a safety package that no truck - especially a tractor trailer - should be without, whether it comes as an all-in-one like this, or as a combination of technologies from competitor suppliers like Eaton and Bendix. 

The ArvinMeritor experience, though, showed how those systems come together.

We have experienced rollover protection before. You wheel a loaded, high center-of-gravity tractor-trailer into a tight curve at a speed you know is likely too fast - just as often occurs on freeway off-ramps. First retarder, then trailer brakes slow vehicle speed as rollover threshold approaches and save the driver who may have misjudged a curve or ramp speed. The OnGuard system is especially smart because it learns where that threshold resides by sensing trailer wheel speed during the braking event. It keeps raising the bar until it detects wheel slippage under braking as the roll unloads the inside wheels, then it backs down to the previous threshold to keep things in order. That's Meritor's Roll Stability System.

Add yaw and steering sensors and you have the Meritor Roll Stability Control. This adds selective braking on the front axle to keep the truck going in the direction the driver is steering, an important consideration in slippery conditions where a run-off-the-road accident can evolve into a rollover of a different kind. In Orlando, a tractor-trailer with this system enabled added to the excitement of the demonstration with some front-wheel braking so the rig was on-line as the system gave back control of the accelerator pedal to the driver after the avoiding a roll-over.

Of all, though the Adaptive Cruise Control with OnGuard was the most impressive, taking away the accelerator pedal, warning the driver with dash display and audible alerts, then actually applying the brakes if the driver did nothing to avert a rear-end collision. The system doesn't dynamite the brakes, though. It gives up to a 0.3g deceleration. That may not sound like much, but I can tell you it certainly gets your attention and goes a long way to slowing the truck. More than anything else, it takes delay out of the braking event, so that when the driver wakes up to what's happening, the chances of stopping in time are greatly enhanced. 

It was such a convincing demonstration, I expect to see early and widespread adoption of OnGuard.

Next month: Qualcomm's solution to the problem driver.

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