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NTSB Calls for More Truck Collision Avoidance Technology


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has completed their mid-point progress report of the “Most Wanted List.” That list emphasizes items that the agency believes will have the biggest impact on reducing lives lost in transit, including collision avoidance technology and data recorders for trucks. The now two-year wish list, recently increased to give companies and manufacturers more time to get in line with guidelines, is in place as an attempt to get control of an increasing number of preventable truck-related fatalities on American roads.

Truck Accident Avoidance Technology Exists but is Not Commonly Used

One of the top issues cited in the NTSB’s updated “Most Wanted List” was that of truck collision avoidance technology. The board wants to see an increase in the use of the technology and currently has 24 safety recommendations in place to affect change in that arena.

Director of the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety, Rob Molloy said in a press conference that many of the incidents his office investigates involving commercial trucks occurred because the truck involved did not stop for stationary traffic in front of it.

Molloy referenced a specific crash on June 29, 2016, in Goodland, Kansas that saw a semi-truck slam into a passenger vehicle, killing several people inside the smaller vehicle. The semi was wired for collision avoidance technology but did not have a collision avoidance device.

“The technology exists,” Molloy said. “It’s a shame when you see that technology was there — almost.”

There are countless similar cases across the country, and the NTSB feels that more widespread use of technology that prevents collisions could make a difference in the number of fatalities on U.S. roads. The technology could range from autonomous emergency braking, to forward collision warning systems, lane departure warning systems, and blind spot detection.

The NTSB is seeking, at a minimum, for all vehicles (both commercial and passenger) to be outfitted with collision warning systems.

Trucking Industry Often Waits for New Regulations Before Changing Safety Methods

The push and pull between the NTSB’s safety guidelines and the trucking industry has been going on for many years, with the NTSB consistently calling on truck manufacturers and companies to implement these safety advancements without waiting for regulatory requirements that force them to do so. The trucking industry, however, is often slow to act on measures that could increase their costs and has seen relief from increased safety regulations under the Trump administration.

Proposed regulations from the Obama administration about speed limiting devices and improved sleep apnea testing for truck drivers have both been cast aside in 2017, giving trucking companies an easy out from compliance, but raising concerns for critics who say that both measures would make the nation’s highways safer.

Financial Benefits for Trucking Companies That Implement Truck Collision Avoidance Technology

Resistance has been common when it comes to trucking companies and increased safety measures, but there are benefits for organizations that follow the NTSB’s recommendations. One of those benefits is financial.

Trucking accidents, in addition to being devastating for those involved, are a costly burden for the trucking industry, with billions of dollars spent annually in relation to primarily human-error accidents, according to The New York Times. The impact these crashes have on insurance premiums adds to this cost.

Reducing the financial impact of accidents is part of the reason that self-driving commercial trucks are being so eagerly pursued by companies around the country. It will be years, however, before that technology is widely used, and there are already criticisms of the safety of self-driving vehicles and of the loss of jobs that would come with the switch.

For now, the easiest and most accessible way to reduce semi-truck accidents—for both the good of those on the roads and companies’ bottom lines—is to implement safety measures such collision avoidance technology.

Some companies have already taken such action, with UPS announcing in October of 2017 that it would add collision warning sensors and technologies to 60 percent of its fleet to reduce accidents.

Data Recorders Also Emphasized on Assessment on Road Safety

Truck collision avoidance technology was one of ten areas that the NTSB highlighted in the updated “Most Wanted List,” some of which were not specific to the trucking industry. Another area that the Board wanted to see improvements in trucking was with the use of data recorders, which could capture crucial information to determine the cause of an accident and overall trends in the industry.

The NTSB wants to make the use of such devices mandatory and is asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to require all heavy commercial vehicle operators to install video event recorders and then to use that data when looking at performance data.

“We don’t have the event data recorders in trucks that we have in many vehicles. It’s quite unpopular because people think it’s Big Brother,” Bella Dinh-Zarr, an NTSB member, said at the conference. “It’s a way to ensure truckers keep themselves safe, as well as everyone else on the road.”

Officials believe that the increased use of data recorders could be especially helpful in highlighting sleep apnea and driver fatigue issues in the industry.

Updated List Comes After Massive Increase in Highway Fatalities

Technological improvements have opened up new avenues to safety on America’s roads, but the lack of implementation has kept progress at bay. The NTSB said that traveling on the nation’s highways is safer than it was half a century ago, but also said that recent numbers of truck accident fatalities are concerning.

“From 2014-2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, highway fatalities increased by 7.2%—the largest percentage increase since before the NTSB was founded,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said. “Worse yet, early estimates show a 10.4% increase in motor vehicle deaths for the first half of 2016 versus the first half of 2015.”

These statistics should serve as a wake-up call that the trucking industry can’t wait on regulations that may never come when so many lives are on the line.



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