In late 2017, a new federal regulation requiring all Class 8 6x4 tractors sold to include full electronic stability control systems. Class 7 tractors will be required to have these systems beginning in August 2019. In announcing the rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that it believes between 40 percent and 56 percent of all “untripped rollover crashes” and 14 percent of loss-of-control crashes would be prevented.
Bendix and Wabco are the two most prominent manufacturers of the systems, which sense weight shifts in vehicles and autocorrect using active braking to prevent a rollover. While there is significant evidence of the benefits of such systems, the requirement putting these safety technologies on new trucks leaves millions of vehicles without such systems. They are also, in most cases, a last-resort to prevent a rollover situation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) stated that 78 percent of rollovers on cargo tank trucks are the result of driver error. A startup company, Road-Aware, is hoping that it can train drivers to prevent rollover situations with a simple speed warning system.
“There are plenty of roll stability systems that prevent rollovers, but prevention begins before they happen,” Garth Lawrence, managing director of Road-Aware, told FreightWaves. “The system can help the driver get into the proper speed before a rollover system needs to intervene.”
Lawrence and his partner founded the company with an eye toward reducing accidents through improved driving behavior. Originally developed for trains, the duo quickly saw the potential in the trucking sector. At this point, the Road-Aware solution is a stand-alone product that requires a tablet to operate. The hope is to eventually tie into transportation management systems (TMS), Lawrence said, but there was a need to prove the product worked before TMS companies will consider the technology.
Road-Aware, which is patented, detects the vehicle’s speed and uses mapping, GPS data and g-force calculations to identify the vehicle’s location, the terrain it is covering – including curves and slopes – and the speed at which it should be traveling to prevent a rollover. It then recommends the proper speed to the driver. It is still in the early stages and additional testing is upcoming this year with a few fleets, Lawrence said.
“Our explanation of what we are doing is getting some good comments,” he said. “We are looking at situations where the driver would be out of control or the truck would be out of control.”
At this point, drivers must input the vehicle’s weight for Road-Aware to make accurate calculations, but Lawrence hopes that process will be automated by tapping into a fleet’s TMS. This would allow the solution to continually update the vehicle’s weight and tipping point as deliveries are made and lower the vehicle’s weight. Geofencing may be an additional feature as well.
In the cab, drivers see green-yellow-red warnings as well as an audible warning when the vehicle is moving too fast for the situation. Lawrence said a driver will see a green light when the vehicle is not in danger, a yellow light at 500 yards from the feature (curve or slope) where a rollover is possible along with the recommended speed to avoid the situation, and a red light at 200 yards out if the vehicle is still overspeed.
“We do see drivers slowing down,” Lawrence said. “We see them being more aware of what is happening around curves.”
The company said that in testing, it found drivers are comfortable driving a tractor-trailer around a curve while experiencing a 0.35 gravity (g) side force. The problem, it notes, is that this g-force is when trailers start to become unstable, even as the tractor remains grounded. The testing has also found that driver speeds creep up as they travel familiar routes repeatedly, again leading to the potential of a rollover through complacency.
“Our test data showed that all drivers tended to push the limits on the curves of our test routes, without realizing they were near the calculated tip-over threshold, giving themselves a minimal margin for error,” the company’s marketing materials state. “The Road-Aware system will allow all the speed profiles and recommended speeds for all curves and slopes [on each trip] to be uploaded to the cloud, enabling fleet managers to use this information for driver training and incentive programs.
To date, the product has been in testing for a little over two months in a dozen vehicles in Arizona. The ultimate goal is to deliver a mechanism to improve safety and provide a basis for better training.
“We think that combined with other technologies like roll stability, this should go a long way to convincing drivers to slow down [in these situations],” Lawrence concluded.