Last month I introduced the Meritor Wabco OnGuard package, which combines a forward-looking adaptive cruise control with roll stability and emergency braking. The system applies the service brakes up to 0.3 g deceleration. That may be enough to stop the truck and avoid an accident altogether. One thing's for sure, even if the truck rear-ends the vehicle in front, the accident severity is very much reduced.

When this is coupled with anti-rollover and yaw correction, you have a much safer vehicle that can be entrusted to a less experienced driver with a greater degree of confidence.

And if all this protection is still not enough, a couple of new modules for the latest Qualcomm OmniVision satellite and terrestrial messaging and location service give managers a first-ever look inside the truck as the driver is going down the road.

During the unveiling at Qualcomm's San Diego user conference early this year, two safety tools were described: Critical Event Reporting and Predictive Modeling. The first is in testing at Swift Transportation, where the SensorTracs module detects hard braking events, identified from deceleration detected by the vehicle speed sensor. In Swift's case, additional input comes from the roll stability system controller spec'ed on every Swift tractor. 

The Qualcomm software tracks events triggered by overstepping customer-set thresholds and sends an e-mail and a text message to a manager's computer, PDA or cell phone. For Swift, this is Victor Malchesky, director of safety. He can then call the driver directly and ask what happened. Or he can wait until the driver calls in - every time the system responds to one of these safety alerts, the Qualcomm unit in the truck displays a message that the driver must call in within 24 hours.

Adding substance to these alerts, the report in Malchesky's e-mail gives a snapshot of five seconds of truck speed before the incident and two seconds after, so he can match the driver's account to what the truck was actually doing. A series of decels and accels before the critical event indicates tailgating, lending a lie to a driver report that he was cut off by a four-wheeler.

CER also sends a snapshot of the truck's location at the time. So, for instance, a rollover trigger coinciding with a freeway interchange says the driver was going too fast into the curve.

Malchesky told conference attendees that Critical Event Reporting gives him an opportunity to correct a driver's behavior before he has an accident rather than responding after the crash.

The second tool, Predictive Modeling, is being developed at Salt Lake City-based C.R. England, where fourth-generation Chad England, vice president of safety, training and recruiting, is using CER as one of the components in building a profile for every driver in the fleet. 

In the driver predictive model they have constructed, England's safety group also builds in driving hours compliance, moving violations, fatigue data and more to develop a scoring system. Based on experience, that score level and the driver's likelihood of an accident have a remarkably high correlation, England said.

Given the ability to see a driver's potential for having an accident over time, the predictive model has allowed Chad England to build "countermeasures to address high-risk drivers" and change the hiring practices.

As a result, despite having 10 percent more trucks and 10 percent more miles, over the whole fleet preventable accidents are down 15 percent, accidents per driver are down 22 percent and accidents per million miles are down nearly 12 percent.

Asked if it has led to drivers leaving or being fired, England said most certainly. "We send them over to Swift," he said, looking over at Malchesky and getting a good laugh from the audience.

With these fleets leading the charge, there's every reason to assume that truck-related accident statistics will continue their year-on-year declines of the last decade, despite the influx of new, less-experienced and younger drivers.