Trucking companies are experimenting with new technologies that can help avoid crashes. With the number of trucking injuries – 3,900 fatalities and 100,000 injuries from truck crashes in 2012 – you’d think the federal government would do more to require that companies implement more safety devices.
So far, regulations have focused more on restricting the number of hours truckers drive in order to reduce accidents caused by fatigue. Fatigue is a major problem in the trucking industry. Truckers drive long hours on monotonous highways, often on night shift hours, which all create real sleep and fatigue problems. On top of that, the population of truck drivers are at high risk for sleep apnea, which means they don’t get restorative sleep when they do rest.
In addition to regulating drivers with hours restrictions, regulators should be looking into new technology available to help catch symptoms of fatigued driving. Studies show fatigue works on the brain similar to alcohol — drowsy drivers, like drunk drivers, have impaired judgment and slower reaction times. A split second delay in reaction time can make a fatal difference when a semi-truck is barreling down the highway.
Volvo is working on two technologies that can be life-savers for drowsy drivers. It is currently developing trucks that use radar to detect cars in front of the truck, and brakes automatically if the truck gets too close. Volvo also has technology that can sense when a driver has crossed lanes, and it will automatically readjust the vehicle.
Mercedes-Benz is developing a fully autonomous truck that would require minimal direction from the driver. Daimler has already demonstrated an autonomous truck – it says such a truck could be on road by 2025, though others say this is too ambitious a timeline.
Why doesn’t the U.S. government require trucking companies to implement the devices that we know work now? CNBC reports that safety experts say it’s a combination of costs, customer choice and slow regulators.
There are up-front costs, which will be harder for smaller fleets to absorb. The American Trucking Association estimates that 10 percent of trucks on the road today are equipped with safety technology.
Howard Abramson, a journalist who covers transportation, took the industry to task for not doing more, on FleetOwner.com:
“The irony is that in addition to harming the industry’s reputation with the public, trucking’s resistance to new safety technologies has hit motor carriers in their own pocketbooks. . . . while European truck manufacturers have been supplying advanced safety systems for decades, only recently have North American carriers been deploying them in any numbers.”