Last month, we looked at the financial impact of crashes and the all-important role seat belts play in saving lives. Now we'll look at equipment that prevents crashes.
Rollovers are the leading cause of truck driver deaths. Injuries and fatalities to occupants of other vehicles happen most often when trucks rear-end cars. Other crash causes include loss of control when tires blow out, poor visibility due to weather, and sideswipes from lane departures.
But we now have the technology to evaluate vehicle dynamics virtually instantaneously, effectively mitigating — or even eliminating — many incidents.
Sensors and accelerometers measure inputs such as steering direction and brake or throttle application and send the information to an onboard computer, which interprets the rates of change to distinguish between a gradual stop and a panic stop, or normal acceleration and maximum power. The systems process the information, determine the best corrective action, and implement it before drivers even notice an abnormality.
Radar, another constantly evolving technology, identifies shapes and sizes as well as speed and direction. Let's examine how these advances help drivers in common scenarios.
Skid control to prevent collisions: Safety technology started in trucking in the 1970s with anti-lock systems to reduce braking distances.
Today's anti-lock braking systems sense and compare wheel speeds. When one wheel slows more rapidly than the others, indicating the beginning of a lockup, the system releases pressure to that wheel's brake until it's what it should be. The system can also increase pressure to apply brakes, not just release them. We already use this for traction control and stability control on light- and medium-duty vehicles.
Stability systems that minimize roll-overs: Traction control senses wheel spin and de-fuels the engine until all drive wheels are turning at the same speed. Stability control senses spins in their earliest stages and selectively applies one or more brakes to compensate for the spin. Rollover control adds sensors that predict rollover situations and also selectively apply brakes. On combination units (tractor-trailers or truck-trailers), trailer brakes may also be applied to retard speed.
Some stability systems are available on new trucks. Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC's stability system, for instance, is standard on several tractors and straight trucks and optional on others. Plus, Meritor WABCO Vehicle Control Systems and Haldex have rollover control systems that can be retrofitted to trailers.
Automatic tire inflation systems: Remote-reading tire pressure and temperature sensors are available for trucks; some are standard on pickups and available on light- and medium-duty straight trucks. Automatic inflation systems monitor tire pressure on trailer axles and send air from the trailer air tank to a tire that is low. Pressure can be maintained even after punctures from nails and bolts.