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Safety Tech: Analyzing the Value

July 20, 2017
These days, there’s a plethora of safety systems available to truckers. Can they deliver bottom-line benefits as well?

Fred Andersky will tell you that when one looks back over much of the century-long history of the trucking industry, safety technology largely served a completely mechanical role on commercial vehicles—especially when it came to brakes.

That all began to change nearly 30 years ago, however, when electronics began being incorporated in braking systems, a development that, in his words, meant “adding a brain” to the brakes.

And making braking systems “smart” triggered a cascading effect where safety technology is concerned and sparking a stunning series of advances that shows no signs of slowing down.

“When we added an ECU (electronic control unit) and sensors, we sudden­ly added intelligence to the braking system,” Andersky, director of customer solutions and director of government and industry affairs for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, explained in a conference call with reporters hosted by research firm Stifel Capital Markets in May.

That single development—adding a “brain” to truck braking systems—triggers a “revolution, if you will, in terms of brake technology,” he emphasized, “because now we were able to do things like start to control where the brakes were and weren’t applied. That gave us traction control.”  

From there, the addition of other sensors continued to expand the safety footprint of Class 8 trucks.

“A steering angle sensor figured out driver input and a yaw-rate and lateral acceleration sensor to figure out yaw or directional stability as well as lateral acceleration. That gave us electronic stability control, or ESC,” Andersky noted.

ESC, in turn, allowed companies like Bendix to move forward with additional advances, such as adding radar sensors to the system. That, in turn, led to the development of “active cruise control,” i.,e., when the cruise control system on a truck is activated, it auto­matically figures out the distance between it and a forward vehicle.  If the “safe following distance” gap gets too small, the system itself alerts the truck driver and de-throttles the engine as necessary, engages an engine retarder, or applies the brakes to help maintain that following distance behind the vehicle.

“That kind of started the movement on collision mitigation technology,” Andersky said. “Now we have autonomous emergency braking systems [which] combine adaptive cruise control with collision mitigation. If the system determines a collision is imminent, it alerts the driver whether they are in cruise control or not and applies the brakes as necessary to help the driver mitigate the collision.”

The further addition of a forward-looking camera to what Bendix calls its Wingman Fusion system two years ago paves the way for even more active “interventions” by the vehicle itself to prevent potential crashes, Andersky noted.

“What you’re really looking at is the idea of more information coming into the system to enable more types of interventions—not only braking, but steering control in the future to help the driver mitigate more types of collision situations,” he explained.

While the safety benefits of such technologies tend to be obvious—one fleet Bendix worked with witnessed a 70% reduction in the number of rear-end collisions and also a 70% reduction in the severity of the remaining 30% by installing its Wingman system—the bottom-line savings can be difficult to tally at times, Andersky explained.
The biggest savings potential, though, can be summed up in two words: insurance premiums.

“What we have found is that insurance companies look at the risk profile of the [trucking] fleet,” Andersky noted. “But unlike on the automotive side where if you buy a car and you get all these safety features you may see a discount right away, it’s not that quick for truck fleets.”

As insurers examine the overall “risk profile” of the fleet to calculate premiums, things that the fleet does to reduce the risk of crashes—adding collision mitigation, stability control, and air disc brakes, driver training, performing good maintenance, and so on—all help them look better than truck operators who don’t do those types of things, he stressed.

“I recently wrote a white paper called ‘The Fleet Safety Equation’ that looks at the idea that safety isn’t an ‘either/or’ decision, but it’s really an ‘and” decision. It’s not just adding technology that’s going to make your fleet safer, but it’s adding technology, training your drivers, keeping your trucks in good shape, and other types of things,” Andersky pointed out. “Fleets doing that, again, are going to look better and should see results in terms of fewer crashes and, therefore, should start to see lower rates from their insurers.”

It’s also important to point out that a lot of trucking firms these days are “self-insured,” Andersky added, meaning they have one level of coverage where they pay for the cost of crashes directly while retaining “catastrophic insurance” for extreme or “higher level” crashes.

“When you think about it, crashes can be extremely expensive depending on the severity and frequency of those crashes,” he emphasized. “Being able to reduce those crashes—both the frequency and severity—really helps in terms of being able to reduce the cost of operations, as the money to cover the cost of those crashes comes right out of your profit margin.”

Andersky also noted that certain positive side effects can occur from the use of certain safety systems, such as active cruise control.

“By adding in the use of cruise control, fleets suddenly found that they were getting better fuel economy,” he explained. “We did a cursory test where we ran two trucks out and back across the country. It wasn’t a Society of Automotive Engineers Type II fuel economy test by any means, but we found that the trucks utilizing the adaptive cruise control saw a 5% improvement in fuel economy.

“And we’ve even heard fleets getting as high as a 10% to 15% improvement [in fuel economy] just by adding that [active cruise control],” he continued. ”So, there can be other benefits from adding [this] technology beyond crash reduction.”  

Mandates Ahead

Ready or not, and whether you like it or not, electronic stability control (ESC) will become mandated technology on all 6x4 tractors starting on August 1 of this year—that’s for tractors with two drive axles. And that’s just the start. On June 24, 2018, the ESC mandate is applied to motor coaches and then wraps up on August 1, 2019, by en­compassing 4x2, 6x2 and other “specialty tractors” as well as Class 7 and Class 8 motor coaches.

Fred Andersky, director of customer solutions and director of government and industry affairs for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, estimated that currently only about 35% to 40% of the new Class 6 and 8 tractors and straight trucks equipped with air brakes are being equipped with ESC, with the take-rate being far higher for tractors than straight trucks or vocational vehicles.

“My feeling is that we have seen [ESC] take rates flat line over the last few years. That’s concerning because the technology is truly proven and helpful,” he noted, adding that the trucking industry suffered some 8,000 rollover incidents and 4,000 jackknifes back in 2015.
“The mandate that is coming out is actually one of the few times I would sit back and say that this is a good mandate,” he stressed. “In fact, I think the mandate could have gone further to include straight trucks or vocational vehicle applications, because things like cement mixers that have a high center of gravity can be notorious for rollovers. Even on school buses, I think the technology makes sense.”

Lessons from Tragedy

On Oct. 26, 2015, an independent owner-operator, 46, had contracted with a trucking company to deliver and pick up a number of large steel coils, each about 5 ft. in diameter and weighing more than 15,000 lbs. He’d run the route before, and the coils were transported on a 100,000-lb. capacity flatbed trailer.

But in a tragic accident that day, the truck driver—a married father of two—was crushed to death under one of the coils when it tipped over during loading.
The Kentucky Fatality Assess­ment & Control Evaluation (FACE) program within the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health conducted the investigation.

The story unfolded in just 20 minutes. Working with a crane operator, the truck driver unloaded five steel coils and loaded another three for pickup, alternating between removing and loading the heavy coils. It was with the third and final coil loaded onto the trailer that procedure and loading went wrong.

The coils were loaded with a 40-ton bridge crane moving along rails and girders with hanging chain slings. That last steel coil loaded hadn’t yet been secured down, but the crane operator had unhooked the sling that ran through the coil’s eye. The operator retracted the crane with its remote, but it caught on the sling that was still strung through the coil.

It was enough to cause the coil to tip. According to the FACE program report, neither the crane operator nor the truck driver had maintained a clear line of sight of the 7.6-ton coil, which then landed on the driver’s lower back and legs. A coroner pronounced the truck driver dead at the scene.

“As the crane operator actuated the bridge crane to move away from the coil, the crane’s sling became hung in the eye of the coil, causing it to become unstable and fall over onto the truck driver,” the report authors wrote. “Had the coil been properly secured to the flatbed trailer prior to removing the crane’s sling, the coil may not have become unstable.”  

The truck driver had his back turned to the steel coils and crane, according to the report, and the crane operator was walking away from the cargo and stepping down from the flatbed trailer when he retracted the crane.

The report said personnel should be restricted from the loading zone when a bridge crane is used to load such heavy cargo. That’s because bridge cranes can be unpredictable: “Machines often malfunction, and sudden shifts of weight distribution and movement direction can cause cargo to become unstable, increasing the risk of injury,” the FACE report cautioned.  

Finally, after placing and securing a steel coil or similar cargo, the report recommended that loading zone personnel should be sure that crane slings are fully detached before the crane is moved away. “The sling used to attach the bridge crane to the steel coils was detached from the steel coil, but still left in the coil’s eye,” the report noted. “As the crane operator actuated the controls of the crane, the sling became caught inside of the eye of the coil, causing the coil to become unstable and topple over.” —Aaron Marsh

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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