The Future of Trucking Technology

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Technology is expected to curb the recent rise in fatalities associated with commercial trucks. A series of studies found that the Driver Warning System, the Integrated Safety System, and the Active Chassis Control Systems, among others, will be widely adopted by 2020 and result in significant reduction in fatalities.

Trucks on the Road

Commercial trucks form an integral part of the economy. Commercial trucks, from big rigs to inner-city delivery trucks, shuffle goods all over the country. These trucks deliver Amazon packages, shipments from China, and business deliveries.

Trucks are dangerous because they crowd onto busy boulevards and streets. Trucks make deliveries to important commercial and business center, therefore, trucks must operate on roads utilized by passenger vehicles – it is unavoidable. Furthermore, many of those deliveries are also in high foot-traffic areas, which exposes pedestrians additional danger. Truck drivers are compelled to operate large, slow vehicles in crowded, mixed-use conditions.

Fatalities Caused by Trucks

Despite their relatively small numbers, commercial trucks represent a disproportionate amount of collision fatalities.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities associated with large trucks increased for the fourth consecutive year, totaling 3,964 in 2013. Additionally, market research conducted by Volvo Trucks’ Accident Research Team in Europe found that 90 percent of all truck safety incidents are partly or entirely due to human error.

Trucks are inordinately dangerous for a number of reasons. First, their relative size ensures that most passenger vehicles are obliterated in an accident.

Second, trucks sit much higher than passenger vehicles, so during an accident cars are often pulled down and underneath commercial trucks. The majority of fatalities from commercial truck accidents are caused when passenger cars are crushed by commercial truck tires.

Third, commercial trucks are handled very differently from passenger vehicles, yet fellow drivers do not appreciate the distance they should give commercial trucks.

Fourth, trucks are designed to operate for hundreds of thousands of miles but they require regular maintenance. Truck operators, when crunched by tight deadlines, do occasionally skip or abbreviate required and recommended maintenance.

Active vs. Passive Safety Systems

To address these dangers, truck manufacturers design a variety of systems to improve safety. These systems fall into two types: active and passive.

Active systems are designed to assist drivers in avoiding collisions using alarms and alerts. For example, some trucks are outfitted with lane assist technologies which alert the driver whenever he drifts out of his lane. Passive systems, such as crumple-proof cabins and air bags, are used to reduce the damage from a collision, not avoid it.

Most safety experts believe that as active technologies improve, passive systems will become less and less necessary.

Driving Safety Technologies

Most modern technology is focused on developing active safety systems that alert the driver or include a secondary layer of automated action.

Safety technologies include:

  • Driver Information Warning System
  • Integrated Safety System
  • Active Chassis Control System
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • Blind Spot Detection Systems
  • Braking Assist

All of these technologies already exist in various forms.

For example, driver warning systems have been outfitted on trucks since the 1990s. The most common example are lane-warnings. Modern trucks are often also equipped with brake alerts, rear cameras, and other situational awareness systems.

Brake assists are an area in which autonomous driver technologies are expanding. Brake assists, rather than issue warnings, include a computer which can automatically assert control over the truck and apply the brakes. Very few trucks are outfitted with this system, but wide adoption is expected.

Active chassis control systems are a new area of development. Active Chassis Control Systems take control whenever the computer interprets that the truck is losing control. The Chassis System represents a significant expansion of automation over brake assists.

Projected Adoption Rates

The industry is already beginning to adopt these technologies without legislative impetus. Research conducted by Frost and Sullivan found that the growing awareness of impending legislation has spurred truck fleets to adopt more safety technologies as a way to drive down their total cost of ownership.

In 2013, 409,417 safety systems were outfitted in trucks; by 2020, that number is expected to rise to 917,069 safety systems. Volvo expects that 35 million trucks globally will be connected and outfitted with collision-avoidance systems. Adoption of new safety technologies is critical to ensuring that commercial trucks remain competitive and compliant with new safety regulations.

Burden on Other Drivers

However, despite all of the safety technology, it is ultimately up to the other drivers who share the road with commercial trucks to behave responsibly. The majority of commercial truck accidents are traceable to a mistake committed by the other driver, rather than the truck operator. In the end, no amount of safety technologies can trump the importance of personal responsibility and awareness.