Safety Groups Push Feds to Require Big Rigs to Have Auto-Brake Safety Devices

Safety Groups Push Feds to Require Big Rigs to Have Auto-Brake Safety Devices

Anyone who drives the Borman Expressway here in Indiana knows all too well how terrifying it can be to look in your rear-view mirror and see a hugh big rig semi truck barrelling down the road right behind you.

What if the truck driver doesn’t slow down? What if you have to brake suddenly?

Borman Expressway, and other interstates in our neck of the woods, are notorious for having road traffic where big tractor trailer trucks, heavy semis, and 18-wheeler big rigs share the lanes with family sedans and SUVs, pickups, minivans, and motorcycles.

If there is a semi-truck crash, all too often people are seriously hurt or killed in the accident. Big rig semi truck accidents are usually fatal for at least one of the people involved in the crash.

So, when not one but FOUR national safety advocacy groups joined together this month to urge the federal government to create a new legal requirement for these big commercial trucks (e.g., those weighing 10,000+ lbs.), it sure looks like lots of safety experts may have a good idea for keeping us all a bit safer on the roads with these monster machines.

Together, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Center for Auto Safety, Road Safe America, and the Truck Safety Coalition have formally requested that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandate that any truck driving American roads with a minimum weight of 10,000 pounds have a new electronic safety alert gizmo installed on the truck.

Read Their February 2015 Petition for Rulemaking Here.

What would this safety gizmo do?

Well, for one thing these four expert organizations suggest that thousands of big rig semi truck crashes could be prevented each year if these devices are installed on the heavy commercial trucks. Lots of lives will be saved if these devices are put on commercial trucks according to their studies.

How? The safety device would do this by first warning the truck driver that there is stopped or stalled traffic ahead of him in the truck’s path and if the truck driver didn’t respond to that warning fast enough, the gizmo would AUTOMATICALLY BRAKE that truck so that a collision could be avoided. Cost is minimal: it’s estimated that installing these safety devices would cost less than $300/truck.

Sound familiar? It should.  Similar safety devices are already in place and being sold as components to several luxury sedans for sale now here in the United States.

The F-CAM System

Officially, the new gizmo is called a “forward collision avoidance and mitigation braking system” or “F-CAM system” and it works by using a combination of radar and sensors.

The F-CAM system, when alerted about danger in front of the truck, first alerts the truck driver that the truck is getting too close to another vehicle traveling in the lane in front of the truck. Maybe that vehicle is moving, but it’s moving slowly. Maybe it’s come to a full stop.

The truck driver gets a chance to apply the brakes. (Or maybe change lanes.)

If the F-CAM system alerts that a crash is imminent because the driver has not solved the problem, then the “Collision Mitigation Braking system” or CMB system automatically takes control of the truck’s brakes to slow the big rig semi truck down. Hopefully, this prevents an accident. However, if a crash does happen, then the system will have (hopefully) lessened its severity by slowing down the heavy machine before impact.

Construction Zones are High Risk for Rear-End Truck Collisions

The goal here really is to fight against rear-end collisions where a big rig semi truck slams into another vehicle, a type of accident where people are likely to be seriously injured or killed in the impact. These rear-end collisions are most likely to happen in construction areas, where construction forces traffic to bottleneck into a single lane or where construction workers are flagging traffic to slow or stop suddenly to accommodate construction work.

According to these safety advocates, in a five year period (2003-2008), 300 people died each year from rear-end wrecks involving big commercial trucks and there were 32,000 rear-end crashes involving these heavy commercial vehicles hitting smaller cars and trucks on a yearly average.

John Lannen, Executive Director of the Truck Safety Coalition commented:

“In work zone areas and when traffic is significantly slowed or at a complete stop, cars are particularly vulnerable to being rear ended by large trucks. Trucks are overrepresented in fatal highway crashes, and they are even more so in fatal work zone crashes. This is why it is imperative that F-CAM technology is required safety equipment in large trucks.”

What Will Happen? The NTHSA Must Act

Right now, this is a campaign instituted by safety groups to get these automatic brake systems for big rig semi trucks to be a federal law requirement. The process of petitioning the federal agency to create a new federal rule for commercial trucks has begun.

Whether or not the federal government will move forward with action based upon the petition is an open question. If the NHTSA agrees to do so, then we still have a long time before the rules-making process is completed and any trucking company has to worry about actually installing these gizmos on their fleet of big rig semi trucks.

So, for now, it’s just as dangerous to be driving in front of a heavy commercial truck on Borman Expressway as it ever was. Be careful out there.

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