Safe Bets Private Motor Carrier

Safe Bets

9 ways to create a safer truck

Today’s vehicle options are often destined to become tomorrow’s standard equipment, particularly when vehicle safety is involved. In 1976, Ontario became the first province to mandate seatbelts. Daytime Running Lights have been the law in Canada since 1989. Antilock Braking Systems (ABS), which keep slowing tractors on a straight and narrow path, were mandated in 1997.

There are more regulated changes to come. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has identified “strengthening commercial truck safety” as one of its latest priorities. Canadian regulators, which often adopt vehicle changes introduced south of the border, have also been known to introduce even tougher rules. Our country’s stronger trailer underride guards offer just one example.

But there’s no need to wait for the heavy hand of regulators. Consider these vehicle options when ordering a safer truck for today:

  1. Video cameras – There will always be limits to the views that are offered through windshields and doors. This is where video cameras can make a difference. Waste management companies have been early adopters of such systems, feeding drivers with a clear look at hoppers and access points that would otherwise be hidden from view. Just ensure the monitors don’t create their own blind spots. Reinforced headliners might also be required to support the related mounting brackets.
  2. Dash cams and downloads – Few factors play a bigger role in vehicle safety than driver habits, and technology now offers fleet managers a view that was once reserved to those in a passenger seat. Reports downloaded from vehicle Electronic Control Modules can help to identify drivers who are too heavy on the throttle or have more than their fair share of hard braking events. A dash cam will tell the rest of the story, offering a clear look at the surroundings just before a close call or collision.Not all cameras are created equal, however. Look for models that boast high-definition 1080p video at a minimum of 30 frames per second if you want to read licence plates and street signs. Other valuable features include night vision so the camera can better adapt to sources such as headlights, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to match locations to the images, and dual channels to capture views from two separate cameras at once.
  3. Stability controls – Roll Stability Controls (RSC) and Electronic Stability Controls (ESC) keep a watchful eye on a wheel speed, lateral acceleration and suspension pressure to tell if a truck is entering a turn too quickly, and automatically slow the vehicle to bring things back under control. The ESC introduces extra sensors to monitor yaw and steering angles to monitor situations like oversteering and understeering.Most buyers appear to be leaning toward the more advanced systems. The ESC systems outsell RSC by a margin of three to one, says Fred Andersky, director of government affairs for Bendix, a maker of the equipment.Don’t expect them to be “options” for very long, either. Regulators in Canada and the U.S. have both expressed interest in mandating the technology. Transport Minister Lisa Raitt recently noted that ESC holds the promise of strengthening safety. Andersky expects the U.S. to unveil its regulation before the middle of this year.
  4. Cross-view mirrors – As valuable as advanced technology can be, a properly mounted and aimed mirror can also eliminate many blind spots. Flat “west coast” mirrors on the driver’s side of a tractor should reflect just a sliver of the trailer and cover about two lanes. The mirror on the passenger side of the truck should show a full lane of its own.Curved “cross-view” mirrors that are mounted on a fender will offer an even broader view, ensuring that passing vehicles and pedestrians are never hiding in a blind spot. The further ahead that such a mirror is mounted, the wider the angle. Just be sure that the mirror’s location doesn’t intrude too far into a driver’s line of sight or leave the reflective surface overly exposed to road spray.
  5. Blind spot detectors – Mirrors are relatively cheap, but they don’t reflect every surrounding danger. Radar can fill the gaps, offering warnings about shrinking distances or vehicles in blind spots. “Our focus is to build a cocoon of safety around the vehicles,” says Nik Varty, president – Americas for WABCO.
  6. Lane departure warnings – The white lines on a highway can be mesmerizing, and the days of a driver can be long. One of the hallmarks of a fatigue-related collision is the gradual drifting of a truck out of a lane and ultimately off the highway shoulder. Lane departure systems use cameras to monitor lines on the road and offer a gentle reminder, usually in the form of a sound or “haptic” feedback that mimics a traditional rumble strip.
  7. Collision mitigation systems – We’ve heard the warnings for years: Keep your eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel. Collision mitigation systems use radar to keep an eye on the space around a vehicle, and combine engine and foundation brakes to help slow a truck before a driver even begins to react.WABCO reports that fleets using its OnGuard system have reported 75 to 87% drops in rear end crashes, and an 89% drop in crash-related costs.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has already petitioned for collision mitigation systems on Class 3-8 tractors. “We think they’re going to grant it,” Andersky says. Predicting what a government will do is never an exact science, but he expects notice of a proposed rule to come by 2017, with everything implemented by the end of the decade.
  8. Lights and graphics – Drivers need to see and be seen. The latter situation can be improved with a combination of lights and reflective graphics. Truck-Lite reports that an LED will respond 200 milliseconds faster than an incandescent bulb. It doesn’t sound like much, until you consider that this will translate into more than five metres of stopping distance at highway speeds. As an added benefit, they draw less power, which means that emergency flashers will operate longer.
  9. Disc brakes – Heavy trucks have been well served by drum brakes, but even with enlarged friction material they struggle to equal the stopping distances offered by disc designs. At highway speeds, a truck equipped with disc brakes can stop about 9 metres short of mandated stopping distances.The biggest advantage emerges for those who make multiple brake applications on steep roads. A brake drum tends to expand when it’s hot, and when that happens the friction material struggles to reach the braking surface. The resulting “brake fade” leads to lost stopping power. There’s no such problem with the discs.Disc brakes have come a long way since early designs that were actuated with single power screws that had trouble releasing. Still, they can introduce different maintenance needs. Those who work in construction areas, for example, might want to consider dust shields to help prevent damage to rotors.

– John G. Smith is the editor in chief of Private Motor Carrier magazine