Truck Safety

SPOKESMEN for those who buy trucks and trailers, those who regulate them, and those who share the road with them explored ways to improve the safety performance during a panel discussion at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International Truck & Bus Meeting & Exposition December 4 in Portland, Oregon.

Despite different perspectives - including mandating the use of some technology on trucks and trailers - panelists did agree on one key issue - creating more rest areas for truck drivers.

While electronic braking systems (EBS), truck rollover warning systems, collision avoidance systems, and truck data recorders received strong recommendations, it was the need for rested drivers where the diverse panelists found common ground.

Appearing on the panel were Julie Cirillo, acting chief safety officer and acting assistant administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation Safety Board; Jim Johnston, president of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association; Rich Manfredi, president and CEO of Manfredi Motor Transit Company; and David Willis, president and CEO of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Tom Donohue, former head of the American Trucking Associations, served as moderator.

Each of the speakers suggested ways that these accidents can be reduced. Many of the ideas regarding accident reduction involved new technology for trucks. However, Donohue pointed out that 30% of fatalities are caused by infrastructure. He suggested that improvements to the nation's roads and bridges would have a significant impact on the highway fatality rate. He also warned not to rely excessively on technology.

Donohue mentioned three issues to consider about truck technology: Does it get too complicated, can we depend too much on it, and what are the political issues that everyone will argue about?

Despite the warning, Donohue believes that the demographics in the United States present manufacturers with an opportunity to serve the motoring public. He is convinced that truck and trailer operators will have to go outside this country to get sufficient drivers to meet the needs of the transportation industry.

"With that comes complications in training," he said. "With that also comes an opportunity for manufacturers to use extraordinary technology to make trucks (and drivers) safer."

Cutting Accidents in Half Expect to see increased regulatory action as the federal government seeks a 50% reduction in the accident rate by the end of 2009.

Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation Safety Board, offered these statistics:

- Each year, more than six million crashes occur on America's highways.

- More than 5,000 people die as the result of truck or bus crashes.

- Highway crashes are the number one killer of young people. Some 90,000 young people died in the 1990s.

"DOT has established the goal of reducing this number 50% by 2009," Hall said. "At the request of Congress, the Safety Board focused much of its highway resources on the issue of truck and bus safety."

Four public hearings were held across the United States on different issues, including the safety improvements that may result from advanced technology.

"It was clear from the hearings and investigation that the truck and bus industry needs to make more effective use of advanced safety technologies that are already available," Hall said.

Intelligent Approach While it is too early to know what the Department of Transportation's agenda will be under the Bush Administration, former secretary Rodney Slater set a goal of having 25% of all commercial vehicles sold in the United States equipped with at least one item from the Intelligent System Program. The program includes crash avoidance systems, electronic braking, and on-board reporters.

"That goal can be achieved now with available technology, some of which has been developed with your tax dollars in the military and aviation research industries," Hall said.

Rear-end collisions comprised 29% of all crashes in 1998. Of those, 94% occurred on straight roads, and 70% occurred in daylight.

With most of these accidents occurring in favorable driving conditions, driver inattention appears to be a major factor in 91% of those crashes. Researchers estimate that rear-end collisions could be reduced by more than 50% if drivers just had one-half second additional warning time.

Test Program Started Since November 1999, the Department of Transportation has been sponsoring field tests of collision warning systems, Hall said.

"Fortunately, industry did not wait for government action," he said. "I want to congratulate those members of the industry that have taken the lead in the development and promotion of collision-avoidance technology. As a result, these systems are now available as factory options on many Class 8 trucks."

Hall added that some truck manufacturers are leading the way in the area of EBS commonly known as brake by wire.

"This technology allows faster brake response, controls brake forces at each wheel, and provides a platform for other safety advances. The systems are designed to help drivers regain control of their vehicles when they begin to jackknife or spin out."

For EBS to be implemented, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will have to amend FMVSS 121. The air-brake standard requires a pneumatic backup failsafe system. Hall said the Safety Board believes NHTSA should review the standard so that it would not prevent electronic braking from being implemented.

Rollover warning systems are being developed to let drivers know when they are approaching rollover threshold.

Debate Over Onboard Devices Perhaps the sharpest contrast of opinion involved the mandated use of electronic onboard reporting devices. Hall supported the use of the devices strongly, while Johnston questioned their constitutionality as well as their effectiveness.

The Safety Board advocates the use of these devices for all forms of transportation because the information they collect can be used to identify safety trends and help develop corrective actions, according to Hall.

"It also can be an important tool for hours of service regulations and understanding driver and vehicle operating characteristics," Hall said. "The need for more information recording devices in all modes of transportation has been on the Board's most-wanted safety list since 1990. Ultimately, access to recorded vehicle information will benefit investigators, vehicle manufacturers, and vehicle occupants. And it will improve our transportation system."

Hall said the government should make installation of recorders mandatory on all vehicles. That desire moved forward in May 2000 when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a rulemaking proposal requiring recorders for all longhaul and regional commercial vehicles. The proposal has received over 50,000 comments, Hall said.

"All Americans deserve to be safe when they are traveling on the nation's roadways," Hall said. "Technology available today can help ensure their safety. While I am encouraged by industry's willingness to develop and use innovative safety technologies, our government must be more responsive to the development of these emerging technologies. We must find ways to help manufacturers and operators avoid years of bureaucratic rulemaking to provide tax and other incentives to encourage them to adopt unmandated technologies. We also must change existing rules that would hamper the adoption of these technologies."

On the Other Hand Onboard recorders present constitutional issues and may not be effective in keeping exhausted truck drivers away from the wheel, Johnston said. He added that recorders could present liability risks that far outweigh the benefits derived from the additional accident data that they provide.

"Any infraction on the part of the trucker, no matter how small the role it played in causing the accident, would create huge liability exposures," Johnston said. "Having data recorders in all vehicles would reduce this concern somewhat, but don't ask us to go first. Make sure everyone else has one, too."

Johnston warned against "technology happiness," pointing out that technological advances sometimes have unanticipated consequences.

Rather than focus on technology, Johnston suggested that the industry do a better job of training its drivers. Citing a number of professions that require formal training and licensing, Johnston questioned a system that allows people to drive an 80,000-lb rig without formal training.

Johnston acknowledged that regulatory actions may be useful and that commercial vehicle inspection and enforcement are needed. However, he called for realistic cost-benefit analysis. He suggested that additional training programs for law enforcement officers could improve their ability to detect drunk drivers and might prove more effective than alertness measuring systems in reducing traffic accidents.

Study Started Julie Cirillo, acting chief safety officer and acting assistant administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, reported that FMCSA and NHTSA have combined to initiate a study about the causes of truck accidents.

"This is the first time an agency has embarked on a study of the causation of truck accidents," Cirillo said. "In addition, we are starting a study in most of the states that will continuously collect information on motor vehicle crashes similar to the system that collects information on fatalities.

"We have completed the pilot of the data collection for the study, and we are starting the actual data collection from 24 randomly selected sites. We will start that in January."

More Technology According to a 1998 survey, 53% of the fleets studied used computer-aided routing and dispatch, and more than 60% used some form of global communications. However, only 3% used collision warning systems and 6% used electronic logbooks.

New technology is vital if the nation is to cut the fatality rate in half before 2010, Cirillo said.

"As a safety agency, it is our job to shorten the timeline for technologies that can improve safety. We are investigating fundamental ways to do that. This includes offering incentives for acquiring and implementing safety equipment."

FMCSA is exploring several technologies through the Intelligent Transportation System initiative. These technologies - being tested with Freightliner, Mack, and Volvo - include:

- Truck rollover prevention

- Collision warning systems

- Electronic brake systems

- Hazardous location warning systems.

The Volvo test includes electronically controlled brakes on the tractor, collision warning system, and adaptive cruise control. Data collection on this project was scheduled to begin January 1.

The Freightliner trucks are equipped with a rollover stability advisory system. The test started in September.

Mack trucks have infrastructure hazardous location warning systems.

Other Items Cirillo said FMCSA also is researching ways to detect fatigue in drivers and weigh-in-motion vehicle inspection devices. She said these devices would begin appearing in commercial vehicles before they are sold in automobiles for two reasons. Some of the devices only apply to trucks. Others will appear because of their relatively low incremental cost relative to the overall purchase price of a commercial vehicle - a cost that could be cushioned for the customer with tax incentives.

FMCSA will begin pilot testing driver fatigue devices in Canada early in 2001, followed closely by U S fleets. The technologies that will be studied include measuring driver eyelids to determine the level of alertness and a system that measures transverse movement of the vehicle relative to the lane.

Cirillo said research and development budgets must increase significantly if the timeline for implementation of sophisticated safety technology is to advance. She encouraged the trucking industry to accept responsibility for advancing safety.

Trailer User Perspective Rich Manfredi, president and CEO of Manfredi Motor Transit Company, provided the perspective of a potential buyer of all this technology.

"We believe that safety is both an ethical and economical good practice," Manfredi said. "I also believe that our industry is committed entirely to safe highways. The record of our industry backs that up. Fatal crashes dropped 34% over the last decade while the mileage traveled by Class 8 trucks increased 39%.

"I do stipulate, though, that we have a long way to go. The role of engineering and technology to improve vehicle design, advanced warning system, driver comfort, and vehicle stability are as important to the nation's trucking CEOs as the technology enhancements provided by satellite communications, data retrieval, fuel efficiency, and vehicle management.

"With increased reliance on just-in-time shipping, our nation's highways more and more will become global warehouses for freight. Changes in hours of service regulations will mean more drivers will be required. More cars plus more trucks will mean more gridlock.

"Technology certainly can help. The beta testing of intelligent vehicle systems gives some hope, but they are still short of what is needed. Much more government and industry cooperation will be required."

Manfredi said a program of continued safety improvement should have the following priorities:

1. Put an hours of service rule in place that is comprehensive and based on actual sleep science. It must be workable, enforceable, and without hidden agendas.

2. Training and education of new and current drivers is a must. Training the public to share the road with trucks is just as necessary.

3. Technology must be affordable. "If anyone thinks trucking can pay more for something, look at what has happened to trucking stocks since 1999."

4. Set a reasonable national speed limit for trucks, then enforce it. In states where enforcement is tough, accidents are down.

5. Provide the funds for many more rest areas. Drivers need a place to park when they need rest, and that place should not be on an Interstate ramp.

6. Get bad truckers off the road. "Bad truckers create a bad image for my industry, and they take money out of my pocket by increasing insurance costs and depressing freight rates," Manfredi said. "Level the playing field by enforcing the rules and punishing those who support and foster slipshod operations."

The Image of Trucking David Willis, president and CEO of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, offered suggestions for changing the public's perception of those who operate trucks and trailers.

"After more than seven years of hearing anti-big-truck diatribes from many quarters, it would be too easy for me to state that motorists hate big trucks," Willis said. "They certainly hate being splashed by them in wet weather, being blinded by their headlights at night, and being tailgated. They hate the packs of 18-wheelers, and they fear triples and other long-combination vehicles.

"The overwhelming perception today is that there are too many trucks on the road being driven too fast by too many unprofessional drivers. Perhaps there is a need to change some of the reality underlying these perceptions."

Willis would start with the economics of trucking.

"During the two decades following the deregulation of the industry, trucking has evolved from a cozy club of freight route monopolists to one of the most competitive businesses in America," he said. "While this has been good for the economy, it has not been good for those who most influence the public's perception of truck safety - truck drivers. In the new economy, more demands are being placed on the majority of truck drivers. Just-in-time deliveries pressure drivers to violate hours of service rules. Pay by the mile means that no one places any value on the driver's time except for the driver himself. This leads to incredible waste of time - all at the driver's expense. In addition, states are shutting down more rest stops, either for lack of money or fear of crime.

"Is it any wonder that these realities produce frustrated and fatigued drivers? It should not surprise us that this frustration and anger erupt in bad behavior on the road. That behavior poisons the public's perception of trucking safety."

Willis said that an important first step in changing the public's negative perception of truck safety would be to alter the realities. He echoed Hall's endorsement of mandatory onboard recorders on every over-the-road truck to automate enforcement of hours of service rules. He said this, combined with stepped up enforcement with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, would substantially reduce hours of service abuses.

Most segments of the trucking industry bitterly oppose onboard recorders, but that is changing, Willis said. The California Trucking Association has come out in favor of mandatory recorders. Some fleets are beginning to view onboard recorders as the way to level the playing field because they would require all trucks to play by the same safety rules.

"Why not revoke the Fair Labor Standards Act exemption for truck drivers?" Willis suggested. "The driver's time would then be of value to more people than just the driver. Such a change also would facilitate the adoption of a more appropriate set of hours of service rules."

According to Willis, the trucking industry's opposition to the hours of service rules proposed by FMCSA is couched in the misconception that they would require more drivers because of mandatory 12-hour per day off-duty time.

"But more drivers will be needed only if drivers' nondriving time continues to be valued at nothing," he said. "If drivers were paid for the hundreds of hours they waste annually waiting for dispatch or to be loaded and unloaded, the industry would be compelled to enhance its productivity by finding ways to avoid wasting this now-valuable time."

More safe places for truckers to stop are needed. The current shortage of safe public rest areas in many parts of the country encourages hours of service violations and leads to sleep-related crashes.

"More information about parking availability, rest areas, and commercial truck stops is something that is begging for Internet or wireless solutions," he said.

"Finally, the consumers of trucking services need to start treating drivers better. In too many cases, the life of the over-the-road, nonunionized driver is anything but befitting a prospective `knight of the road.'

"Not every truck driver acts out his anger or frustration on the road. But it does not take many to create the perception problem in the mind of the public.

"Let's stop those just-in-time abuses through automated hours of service enforcement. Let's start paying our knights of the road decent wages for the hours they spend waiting to move the nation's freight, and reform those antiquated hours of service rules. Let's provide drivers safe places to stop when they need to. Finally, let's respect human capital."

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