Photo: Stephane Babcock
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Photo: Stephane Babcock

This year’s Fleet Safety Conference started off with a lively discussion during the Future of Vehicle Safety Forum, which included representatives from federal agencies such as the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as well as AMCI Testing, a vehicle testing company based in Southern California.

The panel discussed the current and upcoming safety-related vehicle technologies and how they will play a part in reducing fatal and non-fatal crashes. From lane-departure warning systems to automatic emergency braking (AEB), panelists discussed several in-vehicle safety systems as well as the need to train drivers to apply these technologies effectively. The discussion was open to everyone in the room, which helped create an open dialogue on the way technology is shaping the world of light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicle safety.

“Everyone has the same interests in heart here, and that’s keeping the motoring public safe, keeping commercial drivers safe, and keeping anyone who shares our roads safe,” said Jim Park, HDT equipment editor and the panel’s moderator.

After a brief introduction, Park introduced Jennifer Morrison, supervisory highway crash investigator/investigator-in-charge, with the NTSB's Office of Highway Safety. What started as a quick introduction of both the NTSB and its role in investigating crashes in all modes, soon became an open, dynamic discussion with attendees.

“We’ve been looking at automation in other modes for many years,” said Morrison, which included an accident from June 10, 1995, where the Panamanian passenger ship Royal Majesty grounded on Rose and Crown Shoal about 10 miles east of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

The NTSB concluded that the accident was caused by the watch officers’ overreliance on a new and unfamiliar feature of the integrated navigation system. “If you want to control what and how people are going to use these automated features, it has to be part of the design. You can’t tell people, ‘hey, here’s a cupcake, but you can’t eat it until tomorrow.’ We’re humans, we’re going to always push technology and the rules to that extent that we’re allowed to do so.” 

William Bensmiller, Nevada division administrator of the FMCSA, was next to take the stage, presenting, among other things, the Department of Transportation's "Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0" report, which was released at the beginning of October.

“We’re making a commitment to the American people, and to the industry that is creating this technology, that we are going to take a look at these new technologies and get in front of them,” said Bensmiller. “Most of our rules are written for human drivers, so we’re going to have to look at that and figure out what a safety regulation is going to look like for these autonomous technologies.”

Next up was Guy Mangiamele, Director of Vehicle Testing at AMCI Testing, an unbiased vehicle-testing entity serving OEMs internationally for 35 years.

“We’re all working in this industry that is on the cutting edge of all these new technologies, and so many fascinating things are happening so quickly,” said Mangiamele. “It is a really interesting industry to work in and help save lives.”

After a short break, the panel dove into topics that fell under the heading of advanced driver assistance systems (ADS), including the current state of the technology, maintenance concerns, privacy issues and training drivers to correctly utilize the systems.

“A lot of the large carriers have adopted some type of camera system that allows them to get feedback in an automated manner to the driver with mixed results from what we’ve seen, especially in different weather systems,” said Bensmiller.

According to Morrison, the current safety systems available, including AEB, should be deployed on all highway vehicles, yesterday.

“We’ve been advocating for the use of AEB and collision avoidance technology since 1999,” said Morrison. “Our very first recommendation was given to NHTSA and expressed our thought that it should research and require AEB and collision avoidance systems on all highway vehicles. We believe it is a proven, life-saving technology.”

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