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Do You Need a Collision Avoidance System for Heavy Duty Trucks?

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It’s estimated that the cost of a heavy duty heavy duty truck crash averages between $62,000 and $3 million. What’s more, the prospect for deaths ups the ante. That’s a cost you can’t put a price on. Factors from road conditions to objects (like stopped cars) on the highway to driver fatigue play into the nearly half a million trucking crashes that occur in the U.S. every year. However, products exist, designed to help avoid crashes or at least affect how they turn out. Even though there are no current requirements for big rigs, it’s worth thinking about getting a truck collision avoidance system.

What Does a Truck Collision Avoidance System Do?

With more eyes on the road, the easier it is to steer clear of a crash, so to speak. That’s the idea behind early crash warning systems. There’s more than one system out there. Most use camera, laser, and/or radar systems to detect and alert the driver to a likely crash. Some even slow the truck’s speed or put on the brakes to help avert an crash or keep it from turning out too badly.

Collision Avoidance System Benefits

Systems that alert drivers to threats early on give more time to hopefully avoid a collision completely. It’s thought that requiring all semis to install a truck collision avoidance system could cut heavy duty truck crashes in half and reduce the human toll up to 80 percent. Fewer crashes and deaths mean reduced insurance costs. Plus, you’ll have less downtime due to out of service trucks that are in the repair shop. Systems with adaptive and active cruise control and braking help drivers keep a safe distance from vehicles ahead of them. Additionally, it enhances cruise control as a tool. What’s more, knowing the system is keeping watch for looming dangers, drivers can relax a little in heavy traffic. That means reduced fatigue.

Types of Crash Avoidance Systems

Several different combinations of tech exist. Professional installation is recommended for ones that include cameras and monitors. If you purchase a system from a dealer, they can do it for you or at least give you the name of a qualified installer. Alternatively, you could have the repair shop at a local trailer store do the work. They may even carry the system you want and can give you an estimate for the equipment and labor. Some of the different collision avoidance systems available include:

F-CAM

Short for Forward Collision Avoidance and Mitigation, F-CAM is the most popular truck collision avoidance system available. Using LIDAR or radar along with cameras, the system alerts the driver with an alarm when a semi gets too close to the car or truck in front of it. It also has adaptive cruise control. That feature reduces the truck’s speed and pumps the brakes, if the system thinks a crash is likely. The third part, designed as the mitigation element, applies the brakes if the truck gets even closer to the vehicle ahead.

Visual Displays

Camera systems installed at different points around the truck and trailer might seem pretty basic. Especially compared to a system that takes control of slowing down and braking. However, cameras give drivers a rear-view and, in some cases, a 360º visual that mirrors can’t. They send a real-time feed to a monitor in the cab and most have automatic infrared for seeing at night. Multiple camera systems automatically switch camera views when the truck is making a turn or is in reverse. That lets the driver see what’s going on in the blind spots.

Mentoring Devices

Not all truck collision avoidance systems take control of the throttle and brakes or have cameras and monitors. Reducing collisions by improving driving habits is the idea behind mentoring devices. They alert drivers when they detect unsafe driving behaviors such as:

  • speeding
  • aggressive driving
  • seatbelt violations

It also has functions that allow managers and drivers to communicate verbally and via text, as well as showing vehicle location, speed, and other info for the home office and driver on an as-needed basis.

Cost of System Features

Tech doesn’t come cheap, especially when you’re talking about several different pieces packaged together as a system. The U.S. DOT estimates that a truck collision avoidance system could cost $2,500 to $4,000. As you would expect, the price tag varies subject to what system you get and what features you choose. Understandably, the dollar signs are an obstacle for fleets. Most would have to foot the bill to install the technology. That’s because only some newer model trucks come with collision avoidance systems in them. Supporters, such as the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), feel that the systems should come standard. They argue that seatbelts don’t cost extra, so no one should have to pay more for features that can help avert crashes.

Current Status of F-CAM Requirements

Collision warning systems have been around since the 1950s. What’s more, the NTSB has been urging the DOT to require crash warning systems on commercial vehicles since 2001. Yet, as 2020 looms, the issue hasn’t made much progress. In 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a field study of the systems, focusing on heavy duty trucks. The conclusion of their report, published in June 2016, was, well, inconclusive.

After 80 pages outlining data, statistics, and driver performance and behavior, the NHTSA reported that the systems showed “potential for significant safety benefits for commercial vehicle drivers.” However, it also pointed out that the system alerts could be “annoying and disruptive.” That observation didn’t seem to come from actual feedback from drivers. Still, the report referred to the multiple alerts in suggesting potential improvements and further study.

Where does that leave fleets and drivers? Right now, there are no official requirements for putting a crash warning system in your truck if it doesn’t have one. However, considering the human and financial cost heavy duty crashes exact, it seems like the wise choice. It’s always a good move to err on the side of safety, especially when your business is at stake. At least for now, individual fleets and owner/operators can decide which truck collision avoidance system would work best for them and if it’s worth the cost.

 

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