The big rigs we all see barreling down the highway are necessary to keep store shelves stocked and 2-day delivery services thriving. These 18-wheelers are also the unfortunate causes of some of the most devastating accidents you will see on the road. And the number of accidents per year has been sharply increasing.
Accidents involving commercial tractor-trailers and other large vehicles do not need to happen as frequently as they do. Crash avoidance technology is not new – it is built into most new cars already. Surprisingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal body responsible for road safety, has spent over two decades ignoring these safety advances.
Steps toward safety fall on deaf ears
According to a recent report by The Seattle Times, more than 4300 people were killed in accidents involving semi-trucks in 2016; a 28 percent jump in fatalities versus 2009. While the specifics of accidents vary, rear-end collisions are the most common, are often the most devastating and are the most avoidable.
The fact that rear-end collisions could easily be avoided if semis were equipped with forward-crash avoidance and mitigation systems has been presented to NHTSA by the National Transportation Safety Board on several occasions over the last two decades. NHTSA has not written or enforced any new regulations in that time.
Is technology the answer?
Crash avoidance features are not new technology for cars and trucks. Newer model vehicles have been equipped with safety features like blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control and lane departure indicators for several years.
While not in every vehicle yet, the front-end collision detection the National Transportation Safety Board has urged NHTSA to standardize in commercial trucks is in many cars on the road today.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the feature works by employing sensors at the front of the vehicle. The sensors monitor the distance and speed between vehicles. If the system predicts a collision, it warns the driver with an audible queue or visual indicator. The system can pre-charge the brakes for maximum efficiency, tighten the driver’s safety belt and other lifesaving measures; or automatically apply the brakes if the driver does not react in time.
When asked about safety measures by The Seattle Times, commercial vehicle manufacturer Paccar declined to comment. Cost is often a lingering deterrent when one technology begins to eclipse another. It could be argued that independent truck drivers and trucking companies would not want to cover the significant cost of buying a new rig with added safety features.
With no new federal regulations, it appears that no changes will be made to commercial truck safety features any time soon.