Trucking Industry Experts Weigh Variety of Collision Warning Technology Options

Trucking industry experts believe collision warning systems (CWS) are going to be vital to reducing highway accidents, and several kinds of CWS technology will be available to do the job.

Guy Rini, chief engineer for Mack Trucks Inc, headed up a panel at a recent meeting of The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations that predicted CWS would help cut the number of truck-related highway accident fatalities in half by 2010 and reduce the number of injuries 20% by 2008.

Rini said that in 1997, a total of 1,254 of 5,300 truck-related fatalities occurred on interstate highways, while the rest occurred on noninterstate roads. That same year, some 127,000 injuries occurred as a result of accidents in which a truck was involved.

To cut those numbers, Rini said it is important to apply technology where it can be most effective in improving safety.

"That means technology that helps with lane changes, prevents rear-end collisions, warns and helps avoid front-end collisions, and gives lane departure warnings," said Rini. "Collision avoidance technology has the potential to reduce crashes from 5% to 20%."

The four main CWS technologies cited by the panel are ultrasonic sensing, radar, infrared thermal imaging, and video camera systems.

Ultrasonic systems use sound to detect objects to the front, side, and rear of a vehicle and are one of the lowest-cost CWS technologies on the market. Yet ultrasonic has the most limited range of the four and cannot detect objects that absorb sound.

Radar uses radio signals reflected off objects to the front, side, or rear of a vehicle to warn of a collision. First developed before World War II, radar comes in different forms, such as Doppler, Pulse, and Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave systems. Doppler can measure object speed but not range, Pulse measures range but not speed, and FMCW measures both.

Infrared thermal imaging, rooted in military technology developed in the 1960s, detects infrared light invisible to the human eye. The infrared signals are translated into video images for a driver to view, boosting visual reaction time at night from six seconds at 60 mph with highbeams to 24 seconds, providing five times the stopping distance of headlights alone.

Finally, video cameras provide a realtime view of blind spots alongside and behind a vehicle. Video's best application seems to be for preventing low-speed accidents, such as backing up to a loading dock or coming alongside a store to make deliveries.

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