High-Tech Trucks Improve Road Safety

Our lead story this month provides an update on PLC4TRUCKS, primarily focusing on the trailer convenience features that can be powered once this multiplexing system becomes standard equipment on trailers.

But what may prove to be more valuable technology than PLC4TRUCKS also made advancements in the second half of this summer. It is more valuable because it has the potential to save lives, rather than just turning on a light bulb.

Three truck manufacturers spent July 20 unveiling advanced technologies intended to help reduce the number of lives lost in traffic accidents. Perhaps the one with the most application to trailer manufacturers is the system developed jointly between Freightliner and Meritor WABCO to help reduce the instance of tractor-trailer rollover. Like PLC4TRUCKS, the rollover control system is integrated into the ABS. It simultaneously monitors lateral movement and wheel speed. When wheel speed and lateral movement exceed given parameters, the Roll Stability Advisor warns the driver via Freightliner's Driver Message Center. A corresponding function, Roll Stability Control, tells the engine electronic control unit to reduce power and apply the engine brake. Once the danger is over, engine power is restored, and the engine brake is turned off.

The system that Freightliner demonstrated July 20 is for the tractor only, a Meritor spokesman said. However, Meritor WABCO is developing a similar system that monitors the trailer for potential rollover conditions. This is significant because research indicates that rollover frequently begins with the trailer. As the trailer rolls over, it can take the tractor with it.

Volvo, meanwhile, is bundling an electronically controlled brake system (EBS), collision warning system, and adaptive cruise control. The test project includes 100 tractors-50 equipped with all three systems and disc brakes, 30 that have the electronics coupled to drum brakes, and 20 baseline vehicles. Tests are scheduled to last 18 months.

Mack is testing an infrastructure-assisted hazard warning system and automatic collision notification. Among other things, the technology Mack is testing alerts the driver when he is approaching a location where accidents frequently occur.

The programs are part of the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). With the passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century in 1998, DOT is bringing research on eight safety programs into a single project. Among the eight problem areas are rear-end collisions, vehicles that run off the road, lane change and merge collisions, driver impairment, reductions in vehicle visibility, and vehicle stability.

The revised IVI business plan, which DOT published in July, calls for government and the private sector to work jointly to develop new safety technologies. DOT is looking to the private sector as the primary source to develop the new systems and has given millions of dollars in grants to make that happen. For its part, DOT is defining the performance requirements for crash avoidance systems, evaluating their effectiveness, and encouraging the market availability of those that prove successful.

The effort involves a full range of vehicles, from passenger cars and light trucks to multitrailer combinations. For commercial vehicles such as trucks and trailers, the vehicle stability is a key area. This includes such topics as directional control, jackknifing, and rollover. It also includes the factors that contribute to them, such as wind gusts, road roughness, tire failure, and driver error. Rollover is a significant issue, accounting for 14% of fatal crashes in 1997, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of the crashes in which the truck driver died, the vehicle rolled over in half of them.

The timetable drawn up by DOT calls for operational tests of new vehicle stability systems through 2005, with implementation as early as 2006.

We applaud efforts to make our roadways safer and to enable drivers to operate their vehicles more responsibly. According to DOT, more than 42,000 Americans die each year in highway crashes. The primary cause of these crashes-approximately 90% of the time-is driver error. If these experimental systems prove reliable and effective, that's good news for all of us, because some of these systems are designed to actually take control of the vehicle when it looks like the driver is making a big mistake. Those of us who spend any time at all behind the wheel recognize that we-or at least all the other drivers out there-need all the help they can get.

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