Trucks at Work

Light vehicle trends no stranger to trucking

"Technologies like anti-lock braking and stability control were once seen as pioneering innovations and are now required or standard features. Looking to the future, we hope the cost for these technologies continues to come down, allowing more drivers to enjoy the safety, economy and performance they provide." –John Nielsen, director of automotive engineering and repair for AAA

It should come as no surprise to truckers that many design and technology innovations being heralded in the light-duty vehicle segment for sedans, pickup trucks, etc., are exactly the same ones occurring in the heavy-duty space as well.

The biggest significance of the vehicle trends highlighted in a recent missive from AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association) is that they were once only offered for luxury vehicles.

Now, many more “average” motorists are getting access to lane departure warning systems, “automatic braking” technology and the like, which should hopefully make the roadways safer not just for them but for big rigs as well.

That’s largely because, according to accident research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) several years ago showed that blame for the truck-car collision fatality rate shouldn’t be placed on truckers alone, as in 73% of the truck-car crashes studied, no unsafe act on the part of the truck driver caused the accident.

Other crash data compiled from that research indicated that that car drivers are four times more likely to rear end a truck than truckers are to rear end cars; are 10 times more likely to crash into a truck head on than vice versa; are three times more likely to speed in poor road conditions (such as rain) than truck drivers; and are eight times more likely to be involved in crashes involving drowsiness than truckers.

Thus the new trends in light vehicle design and technological enhancement AAA is cheering could play a critical role in helping reduce those statistics:


  • Brake Assist: This feature, now standard equipment on many light vehicle models, recognizes when a driver has just instituted an emergency stop. The system then applies full braking power, even if the driver has not pressed the brake pedal hard enough to do this. If the driver backs off the brakes, the system steps out of the picture. This feature was first offered in some vehicles in the mid-90s after studies showed that even experienced drivers were reluctant to use all the braking power built into their vehicles during an emergency, AAA pointed out.
  • Parking Proximity Warning Systems and Backup Cameras: These systems let a driver know when he or she is getting close to an object and/or show the path the car is taking. Using sensors, the warning system identifies items, animals or people, including small children that the driver cannot see because his or her view is blocked by parts of the vehicle. The backup camera shows the area directly behind the vehicle when in reverse. Originally a luxury car exclusive, today parking sensors and back up cameras are far more common, even on popularly priced vehicles, AAA noted.
  • Lane Departure Warning Systems: This safety technology lets a driver know they have begun to cross over lane markers without signaling, lane departure warning systems use cameras to sense the lane markings on pavement. It will issue a warning that can be audible or take the form of a vibration in the steering wheel. Originally offered on top Infiniti models, today, lane departure warning systems are more widely available, AAA said.
  • Active Cruise Control: Once exclusive to luxury cars, this system uses radar or lasers to maintain a set distance from the car ahead. If a driver using such a system encounters slower traffic, the cruise control will automatically reduce speed by backing off the throttle. If the traffic clears or speeds up, the active cruise control will return to the driver's original speed. Newer systems can also apply the brakes when needed to maintain a safe following distance. In some cases the active cruise control system will actually bring the car to a stop if the traffic ahead stops. Active cruise control is now offered as an option on a wide range of vehicles, including those that cost less than $30,000, AAA noted.
  • Stop-Start: This feature is well known among hybrid vehicle owners and drivers in Europe as it automatically “turns off” the vehicle’s gasoline engine while the driver waits for a red light to turn green. It saves fuel while reducing emissions. Kia may soon bring this technology to non-hybrid applications in two of their low-priced cars, the Soul and Rio, said AAA. Expect expanded use of this technology in the next few years, the group stressed, as vehicle manufacturers' work to meet the higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards set for 2016.  
    Driver Alert Warning System: Again originally introduced just for costly luxury models, this technology Looks” for signs of an inattentive or tired driver via a diverse array of methods that range from lane departure to monitoring the driver's movements via cameras.
  • Blind Spot Warning Systems: This uses a radar or camera to detect and warn a driver that another vehicle is lurking just out of view in an adjacent lane. Often, an amber light on the appropriate mirror is illuminated when a vehicle is in the driver's blind spot. If the driver signals to move in that direction, an audible alert or flashing light is activated as a warning. First seen in costly vehicles, it is now standard equipment is some family vehicles, including several Mazda models.
  • Weight Reduction: Weight reduction is an important feature for all automakers regardless of make or model. This is one area in which lower-priced cars were the pioneers while many luxury car makers and buyers stuck to the theory that heavier is better. Today, luxury cars from makers such as Audi and Jaguar have adopted aluminum and other lightweight materials to reduce weight. The benefit of lower vehicle weight is better performance from the same engine and suspension package and increased fuel economy in all driving conditions. 

    Yet AAA is also concerned about the distractions some of these systems may cause among drivers, too; showing that the “law of unintended consequences” is still in full force.

    “These new technologies can be distracting to a driver,” stressed John Nielsen, director of automotive engineering and repair for AAA. “It's important to comply with the guidelines provided for their use and most importantly keep driving your car the number one focus while operating the vehicle.”

    That’s just one of those concerns we’ll need to keep in mind as truckers and motorists alike adapt their driving habits to incorporate the use of new safety systems. 

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