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A truck’s event data recorder (EDR) can be important evidence in a trucking accident case. The EDR is also called a “black box.” It provides information about the truck’s speed, braking, acceleration, clutching, tire pressure and more at the moment of a crash.
However, black box data only helps us to know how and why a tractor-trailer crashed. In other words, it helps to explain an accident. It does not prevent one.
Everyone would benefit if technology could be used to stop an 18-wheeler from crashing. This need is reflected in numbers published this year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about accidents in 2012 involving large trucks (gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds). According to the NHTSA:
As the NHTSA’s 2012 statistics reveal, occupants in other vehicles continue to be the ones most impacted in a crash involving a tractor-trailer. Out of the people injured in these accidents:
Fortunately, potentially life-saving technological advances in trucking are being made today. We have rounded up several that are now available or soon to come:
Prevent a truck from traveling faster than a pre-set speed. These systems are already included on all vehicles with electronic engine control systems. They are used by 60 to 63 percent of trucking fleets. (Truck Safety Coalition)
This feature keeps a truck traveling at a set speed. It uses a radar sensor mounted to the front of the vehicle to maintain a set distance from the vehicle immediately ahead. If the vehicle ahead slows, the system automatically de-throttles the truck’s engine. It progressively applies the engine retarder and then applies the foundation brakes to maintain the safe following distance. (Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems)
This feature uses automatic computer-controlled braking and reduced engine torque output to reduce rollovers and minimize severe understeer or oversteer conditions, which can lead to a trucker losing control of the vehicle. (NHTSA)
New Volvo technology, for instance, can eliminate blind spots by giving truck drivers a 365-degree view through cameras that installed on the vehicle. The cameras share information with sensors and radars and trigger alerts. If the driver does not respond to an alert, the braking or steering systems are automatically activated. (Computer World UK)
Various sensor technologies are now available. They can detect vehicles around the truck and relay a warning to the driver. This helps the driver to avoid dangerous lane changes or turns. Detection technologies available include video, radar, infrared, ultrasound and microwave. One example is the Meritor Wabco OnGuard collision safety system. It gives drivers audible and visual warnings if a rear-end collision seems imminent. (TruckingInfo and Tayfon Kon master thesis, Appendix B2)
This technology can reduce distracted driving. For example, a Bluetooth trigger unit, NexTraq, interacts with a mobile app on a driver’s phone and blocks use of the phone if the vehicle is moving. (TruckingInfo)
Regardless of existing tools and advances to come, we agree with TruckingInfo when it says: “[D]espite all the collision avoidance, rollover prevention and other safety technology available today, the most important part of a safe trucking operation remains the person behind the wheel, the driver.”
As the media outlet states, trucking companies must hire the right drivers. They must properly train, monitor and coach them. They also must provide their drivers with the right tools and working conditions they need to be safe on the road and avoid accidents with other vehicles.