Roadmap for safety

In November of 2005, the U.S. DOT and a private consortium led by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) began an ambitious, multi-year project to develop an integrated vehicle-based safety system, or IVBSS. Nearly five years later, in August of this year, the Heavy-Truck Field Operational Test Key Findings Report was made public. With 124 pages of data and results, it

In November of 2005, the U.S. DOT and a private consortium led by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) began an ambitious, multi-year project to develop an integrated vehicle-based safety system, or IVBSS. Nearly five years later, in August of this year, the “Heavy-Truck Field Operational Test Key Findings Report” was made public. With 124 pages of data and results, it isn't exactly a page-turner, but for companies interested in the future of truck safety systems, it is still a must-read.

The IVBSS developed during the project was intended to provide forward crash warnings when a driver was in danger of hitting the rear of a vehicle ahead; lateral drift warnings when a driver was drifting into an adjacent lane; and merge warnings for unsafe, intentional lateral maneuvers. A curve speed warning was also part of the program. It was designed to warn drivers when they were going into a curve too fast and in danger of losing control and leaving the roadway or rolling over.

The driver-vehicle interface in the project included a dash-mounted input and display device and two additional displays, one on each side of the cab. Drivers used the center display to input the trailer length at the start of each trip and to adjust or mute the volume of the auditory warnings as well as the brightness of the display. The dash-mounted device continuously showed the lane tracking for the lateral warning system, provided time-headway information to the driver, and displayed visual warnings.

The side-mounted displays featured a red and a yellow LED. When a vehicle or other object was adjacent to the tractor or trailer, the yellow light on the corresponding side of the cab came on. If the driver then used a turn signal to indicate a lane change in the same direction, the LED turned to red. Video cameras also recorded driver activities within the cab, both primary activities related to the job of driving the truck and secondary tasks, like eating or talking on a cell phone.

IVBSS is a government-industry-academia partnership led by NHTSA on behalf of the U.S. DOT and funded by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. Other U.S. DOT team members included the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. UMTRI was the lead industry partner on the IVBSS project, joined by Visteon, Eaton, Honda R&D Americas, Takata Corp., International Truck and Engine, the Battelle Memorial Institute, and Michigan DOT.


Con-way Freight, a subsidiary of Con-way Inc., was also a participant in the program. Con-way began testing the IVBSS system and other related technologies in February 2009 in partnership with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and UMTRI. Ten trucks, all 2008 International TranStar 8600s built to specification for Con-way and equipped with specialty wiring harnesses by International Truck and Engine, were used. They were subsequently also equipped with integrated crash warning and data acquisition systems developed by Eaton Corp. and UMTRI.

Eighteen Con-way Freight truck drivers operated the IVBSS-equipped trucks in regular commercial service out of the company's Detroit service center. The program collected and analyzed data on system performance as well as driver interaction and feedback in real-world operating conditions.

According to Bob Petrancosta, vice president of safety for Con-way Freight, participating in the program was time and money very well spent for the fleet. “First of all, safety is our number-one core value,” he says, “so we are always looking for ways to improve, to increase the safety of our own drivers and other motorists. We hire and train good drivers, but you also have to give them good tools. We needed a way to test various safety systems under normalized operating conditions, and the project provided us with that means.

“In fact, we had tested crash warning systems earlier ourselves,” he notes, “but they gave us too many false alerts back then. This gave us another chance [to test them], but this time the technologies had evolved and improved. They were more robust and more integrated and that made the IVBSS program even more attractive.

“There was also another reason why we chose to participate,” he adds. “That was to get access to the volume of information about driver behavior — our own drivers' behaviors. The project had so many ways to measure behaviors, both primary and secondary, that we simply could not have gotten on our own.”


Petrancosta isn't exaggerating, either. The data set collected represents 601,844 mi., 22,724 trips and 13,678 hrs. of driving. On average, drivers in the “treatment” condition heard 3.3 warnings per 100 mi. for potential forward collisions, 13.0 per 100 mi. for lane drift, and 2.0 per 100 mi. for potential lane change-merge incidents. The average rate of invalid warnings of all types was 5 per 100 mi. and these occurred most frequently with forward collision warnings.

Drivers in the study stated that the integrated system made them more aware of the traffic environment around their vehicles and their positions within the lane, and they generally found the system convenient to use. Most would recommend it to fleets to improve safety, even though several drivers did find the invalid warnings distracting or annoying. Seven drivers reported that the system may have prevented them from having a crash, although two minor events did occur during the project.

When it came to changing primary behaviors, the results show that the system did indeed have a significant positive effect on lane drifting and lane departure frequency, although it did not make a significant difference in how often the drivers used their turn signals to indicate a lane change. Drivers also maintained somewhat longer average time headway with the forward crash warning system, but not enough to significantly affect the frequency of hard-braking events. The system did help them to respond more quickly to closing-conflict events, though.


For Con-way Freight, the program also turned up some unexpected results that caused the company to add a fourth “safety device” to the trucks in their fleet. “We've now purchased Freightliner Cascadias with three onboard safety systems,” says Petrancosta. For forward collision warning, Con-way selected the OnGuard System developed by Meritor Wabco. A roll stability control system, also from Meritor Wabco, was chosen as was the AutoVue Lane Departure Warning system from Iteris. “We have actually added a fourth ‘safety’ system, too — a radio,” Petrancosta says.

“Before the IVBSS project, we did not install in-dash radios in our cabs,” he explains, “so the drivers brought their own radios to work and put them on the passenger seat or on the floor. During the project, a driver told us that the higher incidence of lane departure warnings was probably due to drivers reaching over to adjust their radios. So, we thought we'd better pay the $120 to add dash-mounted radios to help drivers keep their eyes forward. It seems like a good investment; a radio with controls on the steering column would probably be even better.

“We now have these four technologies on about 1,300 tractors and will continue to spec them. We are also looking at other systems as well. We want to make sure that anything we add is effective and reliable and will be accepted by our drivers,” he says. “You do not want to create even more distractions for drivers as an unintended consequence of implementing new safety technologies.

“That's why we like active [as opposed to passive] safety systems,” Petrancosta notes. “The systems will wait only so long for drivers to react and then they take over and react for them. It is a bit of a shift for drivers to accept not having 100% control of their vehicles 100% of the time, but it is the way things are clearly moving.

“You should never think of technology in terms of replacing good drivers with good behaviors and good skills,” he adds. “We've seen that these systems actually modify driver behavior over time, though. They help to make sure that bad habits won't be repeated. Think about the use of seat belts, for instance. At first, people just got tired of the alarms sounding, so they fastened their seat belts. It took many years and lots of education to genuinely convince people that seat belts really were a good thing and that they really did save lives.”

According to Petrancosta, Con-way Freight was also concerned that some drivers might “push the envelope” because of the new onboard technologies, but that did not happen. “Still, you have to do due diligence [with policies and training] up front to make sure that your drivers won't do that,” he says.

Data from the IVBSS project is reassuring on this score, too. According to the report, drivers said that they did not rely on the integrated system, and the data about their activities in the truck supports their claims. “The lack of evidence for any signs of increased risk compensation or behavioral adaptation seems to suggest that, if there are negative behavior consequences to the integrated system, they are relatively minor,” the report notes.

As part of the IVBSS program, drivers were recorded to capture a record of their behaviors behind the wheel, including activities not directly related to the job of driving, such as talking on a cell phone, eating, smoking or adjusting various in-cab devices. That considerable list of so-called “secondary tasks” may turn out to be almost as useful as the testing of the safety systems themselves for it documents life on the road.

Secondary tasks related to communications were the most common (20.7%), followed by eating (9.7%). According to the report, “Drivers with their windshield wipers on were the least likely to perform secondary tasks, while drivers at night were the most likely to perform secondary tasks.” The IVBSS made no significant difference on the frequency of these tasks during the program.

When the study broke out the results from P&D drivers and linehaul drivers, however, researchers did find a key difference that will surely come as no surprise to seasoned fleet managers: “In general, [P&D] drivers in more complex driving environments [i.e., on surface streets, in bad weather] were less likely to be seen performing secondary tasks,” the report notes. “… Conversely, linehaul drivers on highways at night experience low traffic over long, continuous periods. While P&D drivers may be able to snack between stops or make a phone call while making a delivery, linehaul drivers eat and communicate while driving, both to break up the monotony and to maintain alertness.”

“Not all the secondary behaviors that the data turned up can or needs to be addressed with technology,” Petrancosta notes. “Some things can be addressed with training, with company policies or with hiring practices. It will be a lot of work analyzing the data, but it is good work and it should help us to do better. Maybe we have unknowingly introduced distractions into the cab, for instance. Distracted driving is a major focus of FMCSA right now and it should be. Driving is a tough job for humans. Things happen much faster than we are built to react to.”

Fleets, for example, might learn that non-smokers are safer drivers or that it is a good idea to allow long-haul drivers to eat while driving, but not a good policy to permit their P&D drivers to do the same.


While the IVBSS field test is officially over, thousands of fleets around the country, like Con-way Freight, are testing onboard safety systems for themselves to determine which technologies will help improve their safety performance. At the same time, industry suppliers are working to continuously improve and integrate systems and make them easier to use. CSA, FMCSA's new safety rating system, is further accelerating the pace of technology development and adoption.

“CSA has already encouraged more rapid adoption of technology,” says Petrancosta. “As the industry keeps getting smarter and more sophisticated in its use of technology, we will continue to examine areas [of our operations] where technology could support our drivers and encourage the best behaviors. After all, making sure that our own employees come home safely to their families is our primary responsibility.”

In the meantime, Con-way Freight is continuing to survey drivers to see how they are responding to the new onboard safety systems. “When we survey drivers of the Cascadias again, I would not be surprised to see even higher levels of acceptance [of the new safety systems],” he says. “Drivers appreciate our efforts to help keep them safe.”


And while driving…

The list of driver “secondary tasks” (behaviors not directly required for operating the vehicle) recorded by in-cab video cameras during the IVBSS project provides a potentially very useful checklist for fleets looking for ways to reduce distractions in the truck. Here is a shortened version of that list, which is based on some 1,980 video clips. Tasks related to communications were the most common by far:

Dialing the phone

Text messaging

Talking/listening on the phone

Talking on or holding the CB radio

Talking to or looking at passengers

Adjusting stereo controls

Adjusting HVAC controls

Adjusting other controls on the dashboard

Adjusting the satellite radio

Adjusting the navigation system

Holding or adjusting other handheld devices

Writing on or reading the manifest

Eating and drinking





Searching the cab interior

Reaching for an object in the vehicle

Additional resources and information

ASA Electronics:

Battelle Memorial Institute:

Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems:

Con-way Freight:

Daimler Trucks North America:

Eaton Corp.:

FLIR Systems :

Honda R&D Americas:

Intec Video Systems:

International Truck and Engine:


IVBSS project:

Meritor WABCO:

Mobile Awareness:

Research and Innovative Technology Administration Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office:

Safety Vision:

Sonar Safety Systems:


University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute:


Volpe National Transportation Systems Center:

Zone Defense:

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