Avoiding Collisions

Aug. 27, 2015

If there was any good that might have come from the Tracy Morgan crash on the New Jersey Turnpike last year it centered on the fact that the Walmart truck that slammed into a group of vehicles that had slowed for construction had a collision-avoidance device installed on it.

This June 2014 crash marked the first time in North America that a truck with such a device was involved in an accident serious enough to bring in investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board. The crash severely injured Morgan, a well-known comedian, and killed one of his fellow passengers in a Sprinter limo van and injured seven others.

But the NTSB investigators were dismayed to discover that the safety device – a 2011 version of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems’ Wingman – hadn’t recorded any indication it had warned the truck driver of slow-moving vehicles ahead. And, because the system’s cruise control feature wasn’t employed, the Wingman’s automatic braking system never engaged.

Rather than a trove of evidence showing how well the collision-avoidance devices worked, investigators were left empty-handed.

According to the NTSB’s crash causation report issued earlier this month, the Wingman only recorded data at half-second intervals. None of the 10 recording points in the five seconds of data between the application of the truck’s brakes and the crash provided evidence that a warning had been issued. The board has now asked all makers of such devices to ensure that they record all performance data in the future.

 As reported in FLEET OWNER recently, despite the problems uncovered in the crash involving Morgan, NTSB officials are still “huge advocates” of collision-avoidance devices and continue to press the Department of Transportation to make them mandatory on all large trucks. NTSB has stated that such safety systems would prevent -- or at least lessen the severity of -- more than 80% of all rear-end crashes.

The NTSB’s report repeated the notable statistic that while heavy trucks account for well under 10% of all U.S. road traffic, they are involved in about 25% of all fatal crashes in work zones. While these safety devices are helpful in cars, the sharply higher weight of loaded heavy trucks and the increased stopping distances this causes, I believe, lends strong support to the campaign to make them mandatory.

About the Author

Howard Abramson | Journalist

Howard Abramson has been covering transportation for most of his career, including the past 15 years as publisher and editorial director of Transport Topics until leaving earlier this year.

He was formerly managing editor of the Journal of Commerce; editor of Traffic World; transportation editor for Bloomberg News; an assistant financial editor at the Washington Post and was co-founder of States News Service.

He is also the author of two books, "National Geographic: Behind America's Lens on the World," and "Hero in Disgrace, the True Discoverer of the North Pole, Frederick A. Cook."

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