NTSB’s Most Wanted List Provides Path to Enhanced Commercial Trucking Safety

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In the first part of this series that will discuss a number of the steps and measures recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), we analyzed the problem of fatigued commercial drivers. Fatigued commercial drivers process information more slowly, have delayed reaction times and are more prone to being distracted. However, tired truck drivers are far from the only safety risk identified by NTSB.

Among other recommendations on its Most Wanted list, NTSB recommends for the widespread deployment of already-proven life-saving technologies. Two of the most promising and ready-to-go technologies include collision-warning sensors and enhanced underride protection systems. Furthermore, NTSB recommends enhancements in inspections of commercial vehicles. Inspections should be carried out so that they are routine and thorough. These safety measures could significantly improve highway safety by reducing the incidences of crashes and the severity of injuries when they do occur.

NTSB Recommends Mandatory Utilization of Proven Life-Saving Technology

As early as April 2014, letter NTSB began petitioning for nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to provide enhanced underride protection systems. The systems would be enhanced through two main measures: requiring of side underride protection systems for the first time and enhancing the requirements for rear underride protection systems.

Underride collisions are receiving special attention because many of the safety measures responsible for plummeting highway fatality rates are ineffective in accidents of this type. Crumple zones are typically ineffective because they are not impacted, and thus do not absorb energy, in an underride accident. Vehicle passengers are vulnerable to injury or decapitation regardless of whether they are wearing a seatbelt. Likewise, airbags often do not deploy in underride accidents because the sensors that control them are not impacted by commercial truck due to the truck’s height.

commercial truck on highway

NTSB reports that from 2005 to 2009 there were more than 40,000 instances where a passenger vehicle collided with the side of a commercial struck and rode under the vehicle. According to statistics provided by NHTSA, collisions of this type accounted for 15% of all fatal two-vehicle crashes between passenger vehicles and large trucks. NTSB also indicated that more than 15,000 people were injured in side collisions with tractor-trailers from 2001 to 2003. However, NTSB also cites a study finding that passenger vehicle occupant whose vehicle strikes the semi-trailer or the tractor-trailer cab would face more favorable outcomes with underride protection technology. 89% of injuries could be prevented in collisions where a passenger vehicle collides with the truck trailer and 83% of injuries could be prevented in collisions where a passenger vehicle collides with the truck cab.

Thus, NTSB has identified a number of potential technological solutions to address the risks presented by side underride collisions. Solution draw upon underride guard technology developed simultaneously, but independently, in the European Union and the United States. Other solutions have called for manufacturers to alter their designs for newly manufactured trailers or to reconfigure existing trailers. Past proposals by NTSB have called for side underride guards on trailers with gross vehicle weight (GVW) ratings exceeding 10,000 pounds and on highway tractors rated above 26,000 pounds.

NTSB also advocate for making collision-warning sensors and systems standard on large commercial trucks. Citing research performed by the Insurance Institute for Highways Safety, NTSB believes that forward-facing collision detection systems could prevent nearly 900 collisions annually. Furthermore, the agency believes that if lane departure warning systems were made the standard, an additional 247 crashes would be prevented.

In all, underride prevention technologies and crash avoidance technologies could potentially save thousands of lives each and every year.

traffic on busy highway curve

Routine Inspections of Commercial Vehicles and Proper Fleet Maintenance Must Be Improved

NTSB has also called on federal regulators to expand their oversight of vehicles, operators, and drivers. The agency has declared that a starting point for this goal should be in improving systems utilize to detect trucking company and operator non-compliance. By ensuring that vehicles are inspected and repaired regularly, instances of mechanical failure leading to severe trucking accidents should decrease significantly. In short, the agency is calling for more stringent guidelines that will identify safety problems more rapidly. Further, the system must have measures built-in that promote accountability and quick turn-around in correcting safety defects.

Additionally, the agency identifies the need to keep serial safety violators out of the system. In the past, on this blog, we have discussed the problem presented by chameleon carriers or reincarnated carriers. Essentially, these are motor carriers who due to negative safety history or out-of-service orders, form new trucking companies to avoid the consequences of their non-compliance. Such actions endanger the public safety, reduce the effectiveness of existing regulations, and encourages others to flout safety regulations.

 

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