Electronic Stability Control Ruling Should Mean Fewer Big Rig Crashes, Fewer Response

Electronic Stability Control Ruling Should Mean Fewer Big Rig Crashes, Fewer Responses  Jim McGee

2,329 Big Rig Roll-over Crashes
There should be fewer big rig roll-over crash responses needed in the future, thanks to technology and a recent NHTSA ruling. The June National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruling promises to reduce the number of truck roll-over crashes and is expected to prevent 2,329 crashes each year. Many are fatal and most create additional roadway hazards and risk due to prolonged incident duration. More than a third of drivers who died in crashes in 2012 were not using a seat belt. Ejection or partial ejection from the cab were the cause of death in the majority of those fatalities. Truck tractors and buses covered by the final rule make up a large proportion of air-braked heavy vehicles and a large proportion of the heavy vehicles involved in both rollover crashes and total heavy vehicle crashes.

Called ESC, the technology is a current example of how the confluence of automotive vehicle communications technology, infrastructure technology and computing will reduce some crash types by as much as 80%. About 70% of new trucks already have some form of stability control. Crashes are the leading cause of on-the-job death for those who drive trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, according to the CDC. More than a third of drivers who died in crashes in 2012 were not using a seat belt. Ejection or partial ejection from the cab were the cause of death in the majority of those fatalities.

Stability Control Systems
There have been two types of stability control systems developed for heavy vehicles. A roll stability control (RSC) system is designed to prevent rollover by decelerating the vehicle using braking and engine torque control. The other type of stability control system is ESC, which includes all of the functions of an RSC system plus the ability to mitigate severe over steer or under steer conditions by automatically applying brake force at selected wheel-ends to help maintain directional control of a vehicle.

ESC and RSC
To date, ESC and RSC systems for heavy vehicles have been developed for air-braked vehicles. ESC is a vehicle control system comprised of sensors, brakes, engine control modules and a microcomputer that continuously monitors how well a vehicle responds to a driver’s steering input. The computer compares a driver’s commands to the actual travel of the vehicle. In general, when the sensors indicate the vehicle is leaving the intended line of travel, ESC applies the brake pressure needed at each wheel to bring the vehicle back on track. In some cases, ESC also reduces engine speed. ESC has been found to reduce single-vehicle fatal crash risk by 49 percent. It reduces the risk of fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 75 percent for SUVs and by 72 percent for cars. Electronic stability control (ESC) improves a truck’s stability by detecting and reducing loss of traction (skidding). When ESC detects loss of steering control, the brakes are automatically applied to help “steer” the vehicle where the driver intends to go. Braking is automatically applied to individual wheels to counter under steering. Some ESC systems reduce engine power until control is regained. ESC does not improve a vehicle’s cornering but it helps to minimize the loss of control.

33% of Fatal Truck Crashes
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and NHTSA say that 33% of fatal truck crashes could be prevented by the use of Electronic Stability Control (ESC) technology.Truck tractors and buses covered by the final rule make up a large proportion of air-braked heavy vehicles and a large proportion of the heavy vehicles involved in both rollover crashes and total heavy vehicle crashes.
About eight times every day, law enforcement, fire, EMS and towing and recovery operators rush to the scene of a truck roll-over crash where specialized T&R equipment and expertise is often needed to get travel lanes open again. Many roll-overs are fatal with the driver ejected due to lack of seat belt use. Each roll-over crash also increases responder exposure to risk. 90 towing and recovery workers are killed each year while working to clear a crash scene. The chances of secondary crashes which are often worse increase dramatically until a roll-over is cleared and traffic returns to normal conditions.

Human and Financial Costs
The financial costs of crashes of an injury crash to carriers is estimated to be $195,258. A fatal crash costs over $3.5 million. There were 3,309 fatal truck crashes last year. Settlements to victims can easily surpass federally-mandated carriers’ $750,000 per-incident insurance coverage by millions. 2014’s largest truck accident settlement was for over $34 million.

Though fatal truck crashes per mile traveled went down by 77% between 1975 and 2009, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has shown that truck crashes are ticking upward by 3 percent per mile per traveled between 2011 and 2012.

Truck Fatalities Ticking Upward
The trend for highway fatalities has been downward in recent years, thanks in to better vehicles, highways and the use of seat belts. Since the government started collecting data about 30 years ago, seat belts have prevented over 280,000 fatalities and 7.2 million serious injuries.

Humans are the deadliest factor in highway fatalities. Incident categories such as truck roll-over crashes, one of several accident types that are common and result from an error in judgement, often result from an error in judgment and a human reaction.

Responders understand that crashes involving large trucks tend to be more severe with lethal consequences. There were 3,300 fatal crashes involving large trucks last year.

Truck Traffic Increasing through 2040
Truck traffic is predicted to increase steadily for the next 25 years. Freight by truck is a key cog in the supply chain and the economy. As state economies grow increasingly interlinked; nearly 50% of manufactured goods are shipped by truck to destinations more than one state removed from their point of origin; and 80% of all communities have goods delivered only by truck.

Manufacturing jobs are growing in rural areas and today account for 11% of all manufacturing jobs. Nearly all fuels, including gasoline and diesel, are delivered by truck from pipeline terminals; and intermodal freight carried by rail is carried the “last mile by trucks.

Technology is moving swiftly as the confluence of automotive vehicle communications technology, infrastructure technology and computing begins to show results that will reduce some crash types by as much as 80%.
About 70% of new trucks already have some form of stability control. Crashes are the leading cause of on-the-job death for those who drive trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, according to the CDC.

Effective August 24, 2015
The final ruling by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) is effective on August 24, 2015 and establishes a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (No. 136) to require Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems on truck tractors and certain buses with a gross vehicle weight exceeding 26,000 pounds.

Roll-over crashes accounted for just 3.3 percent of all large-truck crashes but were responsible for more than half of the deaths to drivers and their occupants in 2012. (Roll-over incidents are also a leading cause of fatalities within work zones.) Safety experts blame distracted and sleepy drivers, other motorists; and freeways, ramps and shoulders designed in a simpler time for different types of traffic.

Roll-over Hot Spots.
ESC will not solve the roll-over problem alone. There certainly are other variables beyond human and vehicle behavior as causal factors in large truck roll-over crashes. Highway and ramp design, lack of shoulders, wind and weather conditions also contribute. There are statistical roll-over “hot spots.”
The American Transportation Research Institute has developed a useful map showing locations (termed “hotspots”) where rollovers commonly occurred in many states through 2009. The state-by-state roll-over statistics show that a widespread roll-over problem exists but has gradually improved. NHTSA expects the ESC ruling to eliminate 2,329 crashes per year.

The full report, Mapping Large Truck Rollovers: Identification and Mitigation through Spatial Data Analysis is available from ATRI at www.atri-online.org for methodology and data sources.

The author lives in Nebraska. He can be reached at jim.mcgee.ne@gmail.com

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