Commercial Trucks Need Collision Warning and Braking Technology

graphic of commercial truck collistion warning By Christopher Hart

Last week, host Mark Willis of Road Dog Trucking News interviewed me about a recent NTSB report on collision avoidance systems (CAS). He wanted to share with his listeners the benefits of technology that not only warns a driver of an imminent crash into something ahead, but also stops the vehicle if the driver doesn’t.

The show’s call-in format gave me the opportunity to talk directly to truck drivers who would benefit from this technology—and to listen to them as well. (The host frequently reminded drivers not to call in while driving.) It was a conversation with an audience whose business is on the highway, hour after hour, week after week, and whose business is crucial to our country’s economy.

Without a doubt, commercial truck drivers are aware that heavy trucks require longer stopping distances. That is why collision mitigation can be so beneficial for commercial vehicles.

For trucks, a complete CAS includes collision warning, which warns drivers about an imminent obstacle ahead, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) to stop the truck if the driver does not heed the warning.

image of the report cover
The NTSB released its special investigation report, titled “The Use of Forward Collision Avoidance Systems to Prevent and Mitigate Rear-End Crashes” in early June.

Some skeptical callers said that AEB would destabilize the vehicle by stopping it abruptly. That concern is why our June report recognized that AEB should be paired with electronic stability control (ESC), something that many commercial trucking fleets recognize. ESC would be essential, as it would prevent jack-knifing and loss of control during AEB applications.

Last month, following our report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final ruling mandating ESC on every new truck tractor weighing 26,000 pounds or more within the next four years.

The commercial vehicle industry estimates that about 10 percent of new truck-tractors are already equipped with collision warning and AEB systems. Some companies are already transitioning their fleets to CAS-equipped truck-tractors, not only to improve safety and save lives, but also to save money (e.g., workers comp and numerous other costs resulting from a crash).

The NTSB has been pushing for crash mitigation technology for commercial vehicles for two decades. We issued our first recommendations on testing these technologies in 1995.

In 2001, we urged NHTSA to develop adaptive cruise control and collision warning system performance standards, and then to use those standards to mandate standard collision warning on all new commercial vehicles. NHTSA has yet to satisfy these recommendations, although its new ESC rule is a good and necessary first step.

The recommendations we released in our latest report would help bring CAS technology to members of the Road Dog audience. The NTSB called for truck-tractor and single-unit truck manufacturers to immediately install, at a minimum, the collision warning component of CAS. Further, we asked manufacturers to add AEB systems once NHTSA completes performance standards for those systems.

Along with our 2015 report, we issued a safety alert to fleet owners and consumers of passenger vehicles. This alert advises purchasers about the safety benefits of CAS, and urges them to request vehicles with AEB and collision warning. And if truckers don’t see CAS in their trucks, they should ask their companies for it because their lives and the lives of the traveling public could depend on it.


Christopher Hart is Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

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