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Active safety systems deliver benefits — when truck drivers leave them alone

Posted: March 25, 2019 by James Menzies

Reinoehl says in-cab video has reduced claims costs and often exonerated truck drivers from blame. (Shown: Keep Truckin’s Smart Dashcam)

ATLANTA, Ga. – When your job responsibilities include meeting the families of catastrophic accident victims, it’s not hard to see the value in active safety systems.

Rick Reinoehl, senior vice-president of safety and risk management at Covenant Transportation Group, is a big believer in collision mitigation technologies. He has seen the results first-hand in his fleet, and shared them during a panel discussion on active safety systems at this year’s spring meetings of the Technology & Maintenance Council.

Covenant has seen: rollovers reduced 40% since employing stability systems; a 14% reduction in running off the road since installing lane departure warning systems; a 22% reduction in rear-end collisions since installing forward collision mitigation; and a 23% reduction in reportable accidents since adopting the various forms of active safety technologies.

But challenges remain, including driver manipulation.

“We had to put in a zero-tolerance policy,” Reinoehl said. “We lost some drivers over it before we saw some improvements.”

Consistency between active safety systems is another challenge.

“We have over 10 pieces of equipment from different providers. Each one of those needs upgrades from time to time and it’s challenging to identify those trucks and bring those trucks in for repairs,” he said.

Reinoehl is also a big proponent of in-cab video, which he says has reduced claims costs and has often exonerated the truck driver from blame.

“I’m here to tell you that after all the accidents I’ve watched on video, there was not a single time I’ve seen it cost us money,” he said. “Typically, things get interpreted against us anyways. There is no end to where this technology is going to help us with our claims.”

Chris Reynolds, director of safety and security for Southeastern Freight Lines, is also a proponent of active safety systems and in-cab video.

“Video equals the most accurate witness,” he said.

He acknowledged some driver pushback can be expected, but drivers are quickly converted when the video exonerates them from blame in an incident. Reynolds encouraged fleets to share those videos and make exonerated drivers the lead spokespeople for the technology.

He also said drivers instantly improve their behavior when they know the cameras are installed. At Southeastern Freight Lines, installing active safety systems correlated with a decrease in accident frequency from 2.61 accidents per million miles to 1.05 – a 148% reduction.

Brian Daniels, manager, powertrain and component product marketing with Daimler Trucks North America, noted take rates for the technology are steadily increasing. At Daimler, they went from 29% in 2014 to 75% in 2018.

But Brad Aller, regional director, fleet sales and service implementation and maintenance at Bendix, said fleets must ensure drivers aren’t tampering with the technology.

“Most of you have this technology today. Do your drivers like it? Are they tampering with it? If we’re spending thousands of dollars for safety technologies and you have a driver putting aluminum foil over their radar, you’ve wasted your money,” he pointed out.

Aller urged fleets to educate drivers on why the technology is being installed, and on how to operate it.

“The driver assistance technology is not there to replace the driver, it’s there to assist the driver,” he pointed out. “That is important. They need to know what the system does and does not do.”

Technicians must be trained on how to repair the systems, and drivers who are experiencing false activations should be listened to.

“The driver who is in the vehicle day-in and day-out knows how that vehicle should work,” Aller said.

Not listening to driver complaints, he added, is what leads to tampering. And there is no shortage of ways to bypass the system, as a quick YouTube search will reveal.

“Drivers are smart,” Aller said. “They go to YouTube and learn how to tamper with safety systems. We see this consistently: cut wires going to the camera to disconnect that camera. A business card will slide in front of a camera. I’ve seen accident video and the video was a business card. They’ve learned how to go to the steering angle sensor and disconnect it. I’ve seen them take aluminum foil and put it over the radar. I’ve seen them take the cover off the radar, put aluminum foil behind the cover and put the cover back on.”

Douglas Donaldson, chief engineer, steering and product innovation with Wabco Americas, said truck fatalities increased 9% in 2017 from the previous year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published a list of 37 crash scenarios. Donaldson urged fleets looking to begin spec’ing active safety systems to review that list and focus on the highest-risk driving behaviors.

For instance, road edge departures are the seventh most prevalent accident type, something that can be addressed with lane departure warning systems.

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