Ongoing statistical analysis of semi-truck accidents by the federal government finds that around 5,000 occupants of passenger vehicles die every year in wrecks involving semi-trucks, and another 700 drivers and passengers in 18-wheelers die annually in these crashes.
There are a number of reasons why big-rig wrecks happen, but the overwhelming cause of truck crashes when the trucker is at fault is driver fatigue, followed closely by driver distraction. They typically happen toward the end of a long day’s haul, which is why ways to mitigate driver fatigue and distraction have received the lion’s share of research in developing systems that can reduce both, along with the semi-truck crashes they cause.
Since 2010, new innovations, such as active brake assist (ABS), electronic stability control and forward collision warning systems, have been gradually absorbed into new big rigs to the point that their positive impact is clearly detectable today. And every year since has found these three technologies merging into effective integrated collision mitigation systems.
“These systems are designed to assist the driver, not replace the driver,” explains Alan Korn, a director of advanced brake system integration at Meritor, one of the companies that delivers multitasking safety tech systems to truckers. “[They] can help but it’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure the vehicle is driven safely. We can’t always eliminate crashes, but we can mitigate them,” he adds.
The future offers further advancements, which would include autonomous driving technology, though its application would likely take the form of a driving supplement since virtually all researchers agree that the day when big rigs will be fully autonomous may be beyond all of our lifetimes.
A year after the federal mandate that all over-the-road (OTR) trucks must have electronic logging devices (ELDs), federal regulators say the effects of the program are becoming clear. The ELD system – which involves trucker log-on/off when entering and exiting the cab, coupled with a constant stream of tracking data when in service – ensures that truckers are complying with new, more stringent hours-of-service rules which get the drowsy trucker off the roads.
Ground-breaking Technology now Arriving on the Scene
In the area of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) recently rolled out its first autonomous driving system, which combines steering, braking and throttling duties to temporarily relieve the driver of these mundane tasks. DTNA’s “Inspiration Truck” constantly evaluates driving situations based on sensors which monitor lane markings and vehicles in front of the truck relative to its speed and weather conditions once the driver activates the vehicle’s cruise control.
Inspiration Truck doesn’t completely relieve the driver of these control responsibilities. But it does engage to correct steering and braking anomalies if the driver is slow to react to changing travel paths or traffic flow and can completely stop the vehicle safely if, for example, the driver suddenly finds himself incapable of reacting on his own.
Drivers Still Must Drive (Safely) – and That Will Never Change
There is a downside to all this gee-whiz technology. For in adapting to all these new tech tools in their day-to-day driving, truckers must not only understand them, but accept that they are meant to augment – not replace – their own safe driving.The danger of big-rig drivers’ relying exclusively on automated safety technology at the expense of their experience and defensive-driving capabilities is very real. They must guard against complacency in the cab and not allow their good sense as drivers to suffer.
As safety technologies become more prominent in their daily driving lives, OTR drivers, their managers and transport owners must understand that the day when technology completely replaces the driver is still many years away.
If you have legal questions about a truck accident you may have been involved in, or any recent accidental injury, the lawyers at the Billy Johnson Law Firm welcome them anytime if you click the “free evaluation” link or call the telephone number at the top of this web page.