NTSB Issues Call for Collision Avoidance Systems

They may not prevent all rear-end crashes, but how much will they help?

Earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report calling for collision avoidance systems (CAS) to be standard on all new passenger and commercial vehicles. Rear-end crashes killed about 1,700 people in 2013 and injured 500,000 more. The Board estimated that, in two-vehicle accidents involving tractor-trailers, a collision avoidance system might have prevented, or at the very least, lessened the severity of injuries by almost 80 percent during 2011-2012, especially when used in conjunction with active braking.

Some of the worst accidents have occurred when traffic has either slowed considerably or stopped due to weather conditions, breakdowns, or unexpected incidents. Braking that is slow by just seconds can mean the difference between short stopping and a crash. No matter how rested a driver may be, or how focused, a minor distraction can occur, and that can mean not realizing you need to suddenly brake until it’s almost too late. A CAS, by increasing response times, would hopefully decrease accidents.

This is not the first time the NTSB has made this recommendation; they’ve been doing it in one form or another for twenty years. However, it does not have the power or the authority to demand these changes on its own so it released the 60-page report in hopes that manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will act. The Board called out the NHTSA for slow deployment of performance standards and a lack of regulatory action. So what’s keeping this from happening?

NTSB Chairman, Christopher Hart cites the “let’s wait and see what new technology comes” reasoning, saying, “The promise of a next generation of safety improvements has been used too often to justify inaction. Because there will always be better technologies over the horizon, we must be careful to avoid letting perfection become the enemy of the good.”

But, according to a June 9 article on FleetOwner.com, there has been both progress and adoption of collision avoidance systems when it comes to the commercial vehicle side, especially in the Class 8 market. Government agencies may be slow when it comes to moving in this direction, but suppliers could also do much more in coming up with innovative technologies. The article quotes Alan Korn, Director, Vehicle Dynamics and Control at Meritor WABCO, who estimates that market penetration for this new technology could be near 20 percent for Class 8 trucks by the end of 2015. The reality is that the trucking industry has long been at the forefront when it comes to safety issues. When the NTSB released their Most Wanted List of safety improvements last year, Bill Graves, CEO of the American Trucking Associations said, “We appreciate NTSB’s persistence in addressing critical safety issues, especially those that affect the trucking industry’s workplace, our highways.”

As of this point, there aren’t final estimates on what this would cost. It’s highly likely, though, that making CAS technology standard would increase the production costs for manufacturers and for fleets. However, according to Hart, “You don’t pay extra for your seat belt, and you shouldn’t have to pay extra for technology that can help prevent a collision altogether.”

No doubt these new technologies can reduce injuries and save lives.  And, of course, we all want safer vehicles and we all want to take every precaution; but, there is a cost and who will pay for it?  Ultimately, we – and our economy – pay for it – are you willing to contribute hundreds or thousands of your personal dollars for the solution?  What is that tipping point…

Do you think the NTSB is correct in their assessments? How would a ruling on this issue affect your business?

Joe Puff

About Joe Puff

Joe Puff is the Vice President of Truck Technology and Maintenance for NationaLease. He has more than 35 years of experience in complex sales and fleet operations, including extensive experience in commercial vehicle maintenance. Joe is responsible for advising NationaLease members and the National Account team of new truck technology, industry trends, and maintenance best practices.

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