Big Rig Technology Bringing Better Road Safety

In addition to the pending mandate for Electronic Logging Devices in tractor-trailers and other big rigs by 2017, which we have covered here previously, the trucking industry is getting another safety boost from new 18-wheelers that are factory-equipped with technology to help drivers do their jobs better while saving fuel and curbing accidents.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the new systems included in certain trucks manufactured by Daimler AG, Volvo AB, Navistar International Corp. and Paccar Inc., which are among the world’s top suppliers of big rigs and other heavy trucks.

The report highlights a new prototype from Daimler in the company’s Freightliner division with an auto-pilot system that allows drivers to turn over steering and other functions during long trips. The company says the technology will help reduce driver fatigue, which is responsible for more than 40 percent of the approximately 4,000 annual crashes on U.S. highways involving tractor-trailers.

Perhaps an even more useful technology available in some new trucks are collision-mitigation systems that rely on cameras and radar to detect nearby vehicles. Responding to those sensors, this device will automatically adjust a truck’s gas and brake pedals to keep a safe distance from other motorists.

Watch this video of Volvo’s automated braking system for tractor trailers in action:

As proof that the trucking industry is embracing the new advances, the men and women in brown at United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) plan to put 2,600 new trucks on the road in the coming year with anti-collision braking systems that include blind-spot detectors and warnings for when a truck drifts out of its lane.

Another new technology is called “platooning,” which is a system that allows a single tractor-trailer to control the braking and speed of two additional big rigs that follow closely behind, saving fuel and decreasing the likelihood of rear-end collisions.

Some industry observers say the new advances represent the early stages of a migration toward driverless trucks, although such a shift likely would be many years down the road given the current associated costs.

Regardless of how long it takes to have improved safety technology in tractor-trailers and other big rigs, the effort is more than worth it based on many factors, from lower fuel costs to improved working conditions for drivers to the most important benefit of all: lowering the number of roadway accidents and saving countless people from serious injuries or even death.