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IIHS: Truck safety equipment could cut 40% of rear-end collisions

Safety technologies pay for themselves in avoided crash repairs

Travelers study said motorists ramped up reckless behavior during pandemic (Photo: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

Large trucks with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems could eliminate more than 40% of rear-end collisions, according to a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The IIHS examined data on crashes per vehicle mile traveled from 62 carriers operating tractor-trailers and other trucks weighing at least 33,000 pounds. It found that trucks equipped with forward collision warning had 22 percent fewer crashes and trucks with AEB had 12% fewer crashes than those without either technology.

Front crash prevention systems use cameras, radar or sensors to monitor the roadway ahead. Some include only forward collision warning, which alerts the driver to obstacles in the roadway. AEB systems automatically apply the brakes to prevent the collision or reduce its severity.

Crash avoidance systems worth making standard

“The potential benefits are great enough that these crash avoidance systems should be standard equipment on all new large trucks,” IIHS President David Harkey said. 

Forward collision warning and AEB reduced rear-end crashes by 44% and 41%, respectively, IIHS Director of Statistical Services Eric Teoh said.

Truck drivers crash less often per mile traveled. But large trucks can weigh up to 30 times as much as a passenger vehicle. That increases the danger they pose in a crash, Teoh said.

Fatalities grow with large truck crash stats

U.S. crashes involving large trucks are nearly a third higher since hitting an all-time low in 2009. Large truck crashes killed 4,136 people in 2018, the most recent statistics available. Of those fatalities, 119 deaths came from large trucks rear-ending passenger vehicles. 

The study covered some 2,000 crashes occurring over more than 2 billion vehicle miles traveled during 2017-19. The IIHS excluded Incidents without injuries or significant property damage. 

“This study provides evidence that forward collision warning and AEB greatly reduce crash risk for tractor-trailers and other large trucks,” Teoh said. “That’s important information for trucking companies and drivers weighing the costs and benefits of these options.” 

Fleet Advantage, a provider of leasing and lifecycle management for trucks, tries to persuade its customers of the benefits of safety systems.

“Our early calculations indicate that the cost for all safety equipment reduces collision repairs and yields a return on investment in about 24 months,” Fleet Advantage CEO John Flynn said in an email to FreightWaves.

In addition to AEB, collision avoidance, disc brakes, lane change, and electronic stability control all reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) because of avoided collision repairs, Flynn said.

Carmakers agree to add automatic emergency braking

The European Union has required AEB with forward collision warning on most new heavy trucks since November 2013. In the U.S., neither truck nor passenger-vehicle manufacturers are  required to equip vehicles with front crash prevention.

However, 20 automakers accounting for 99 percent of the U.S. market will make AEB standard on practically all new passenger vehicles by Sept. 1, 2022. The IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) brokered the voluntary agreement.

The number of large trucks equipped with AEB is increasing. But few studies exist on its effectiveness in reducing crash rates. The IIHS study compared trucks from the same carriers equipped with forward collision warning alone, AEB, and no front crash prevention at all. AEB systems generally include forward-collision warning. 

SmartDrive insights help sort data

The Institute drew on data compiled by SmartDrive Systems, a video-based safety program for commercial fleets. SmartDrive determined which trucks had forward collision warning and AEB It collected detailed information about crashes. 

“The transportation intelligence we’ve gathered over the past 15 years provides unique and deep insights on the trucking industry,” said Jason Palmer, SmartDrive chief operating officer.

The similar benefits of AEB and forward crash warning surprised Teoh. Each technology reduced vehicle speed by about 50%. That lessened the force of impact and damage to the forward vehicle.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.