Electronic systems boost truck safety

Electronic systems boost truck safety

Best of 2014: Bendix anti-rollover system gains users.

January 3, 2015

A compact car swerves in front of the tanker hauling 30 tons of fuel, and then slams its brakes. The tanker driver has to react instantly. There’s no room to stop such a heavy load, so the only way to avoid a collision is to swerve out of the way. Because of the massive weights and forces from heavy loads, such emergency maneuvers can tip trailers.

Even at slow speeds, when the driver hits the brakes and pulls the steering wheel sharply to the left, a loss of control is possible. But trucks equipped with advanced safety systems can do things that even a skilled driver can’t. For the driver, the only choice with the brake pedal is how hard to push down. Advanced safety systems, however, can brake different wheels with differing levels of force. By cycling braking on and off quickly on the tractor’s and trailer’s brakes, systems effectively tap the brakes faster than any driver could imagine doing. Engine power drops immediately, and all 18 wheels usually stay on the ground.

Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems’ electronic stability control system has been on the market for a nearly a decade, but the company’s marketing director for customer solutions – Controls Group, TJ Thomas, says orders have increased steadily as truckers and fleet owners spread word of accidents mitigated.

“Once people experience it, they understand how important these systems are,” Thomas says. “Our re-order rate, especially when Bendix ESP is specified on even one truck in their fleet, is very nearly 100%.”

A key, he adds, is that the system reacts to the intent of the driver. The professional, highly trained truck driver makes all of the decisions on where the truck should go and what it should do. The safety systems support those intentions.

“The ultimate responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle remains with the driver at all times. We don’t want to change that. There are systems that can improve safety, but the driver needs to be the center of the focus,” Thomas states. 


Bendix truck safety systems

At recent demonstration events, Bendix showed off updated versions of its safety technologies:

ESP Full Stability System – Mandated on passenger cars and light trucks for years, the system measures yaw and other forces to determine if a vehicle is likely to tip, then takes steps to mitigate those conditions. ESP cuts engine power and selectively brakes each wheel to help drivers maintain control and avoid rollovers.

Wingman Advanced, a collision mitigation technology – Radar systems and cameras track conditions in front of the truck. If the driver gets too close to cars in front of him, the system will flash warnings and audio alerts to inform him of a possible collision. If the driver still does not act, the system will apply brakes and cut engine power to limit the damage of the upcoming crash.

Trailer Information Module (TIM) – A separate display module that is usually mounted to the front of the trailer that can display key information from the trailer antilock braking system. The module can also tie into tire pressure monitoring systems and axle load data, as well as read diagnostic trouble codes from the trailer.

Blindspotter – Mounted to the side of the truck’s cab, the hockey-puck-sized radar sensor monitors the 15ft space next to the truck’s right side, warning drivers if there’s a small car hiding in that blind spot. A small series of lights near the side-view mirror offer yellow- and red-light warnings if there’s a car present, and if the driver starts to move into that lane, it sounds an audio alarm.

AutoVue by Bendix CVS – A camera follows lane markers in front of the truck and senses if the driver is drifting into other lanes, a common sign of driver fatigue. If the truck begins to drift, the system can flash warnings and give audio alarms.

SafetyDirect by Bendix CVS – Trucks with Bendix safety systems can feed data back to the central SafetyDirect system. Fleet managers can monitor which drivers are getting more alerts for emergency maneuvers, near-collisions, lane wandering, and other accident-creating conditions. Managers can set the system to text them whenever a driver uses a safety system or has an accident. Such data can direct which drivers get more training.


Autonomous driving vs. driver support

Google and others are testing self-driving cars in California, with Tesla going as far as adding hardware to support an autopilot mode in upcoming electric vehicles, as soon as the use of such systems become legal. At a European trucking show earlier this year, Mercedes showed off a concept for the Future Truck 2025 in which a person in the cab would manage cargo and set trip destinations, but the truck would do the actual driving.

Proponents of autonomous driving often refer to safety as a major reason to pursue the technology. One of the oldest jokes in the auto industry is that you can fix every part on a vehicle, except for the nut behind the steering wheel. With radar systems, laser trackers, and cameras, vehicles can track everything on the road – smaller cars, pedestrians, road signs, etc. By feeding that data into powerful computers, the vehicle could theoretically react to changing conditions faster than a person could.

“All sensors on board the Future Truck 2025 are networked and, through a process of data fusion in the central computer, provide a complete image of the surroundings,” Mercedes officials say.

Kim Korth, president and owner of IRN Inc. and president and CEO of Dickten Masch Plastics, said self-driving systems sound great – better safety, lower fuel usage, less effort in driving – but eventually there will be a crash with an autonomous vehicle, and a lawsuit will follow.

“What will the system do in a situation where someone has to die?” Korth said at the AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology’s Global Forecasting and Marketing Conference in October.

Take the ‘compact car cutting off the truck’ scenario. If there was traffic in the adjacent lanes, the driver would have to choose between hitting the car in front of him, the one to the left, or driving off the road where pedestrians could be walking. Two of those scenarios would likely lead to the deaths of people in the cars. The third would likely kill the truck’s driver and pedestrians. Korth asked who was comfortable with a computer making that decision. 

Return on investment

Fleet managers and individual owner-operators are very sensitive to truck prices, so adding extra systems can be a financial challenge. Bendix’ response to that concern is to point to the costs of a major accident. As Marketing Director for Customer Solutions for the Controls Group, TJ Thomas explains, “If we can help prevent one major accident, that can be lower than putting all of our systems on 100 trucks.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Commercial Motor Vehicle Facts Report (March 2013) shows  the average costs of commercial truck crashes are:

  • $10.9 million in damages for a fatal accident
  • $438,000 in damages for a non-fatal injury accident
  • $63.5K for non-injury, property damage crashes


Informed, not autonomous

Thomas says many of the technologies that Bendix develops – stability control systems, adaptive cruise control systems, blind-spot warning devices, and advanced brakes – tie into system computers, a possible building block for autonomous vehicles. But for the foreseeable future, he says safety companies will focus on keeping drivers informed about what’s going on around their vehicles, not taking control from the driver.

The Bendix Wingman Advanced system uses radar to track what’s taking place in front of the vehicle. When drivers are using cruise control, the system can keep trucks a specific distance behind the vehicles in front of them. And when trucks are approaching a stationary object too quickly, the system can warn drivers.

Thomas notes that in next-generation systems, due in 2015, when the system recognizes the stationary object as a car, it will, eventually, apply the truck’s brakes to mitigate the severity of an impending collision. Through Bendix’s SafetyDirect online monitoring system, a camera is constantly recording road conditions, and when a trigger event occurs – such as a hard brake event – it retains 10 seconds of video data – 5 seconds from before the accidents and the 5 seconds following it.

“Our industry is full of professional drivers who are highly skilled. When we go over our videos, many times, the driver is doing the right thing when the accident takes place,” Thomas says. “Our ultimate goal is to turn fatalities into accidents and turn accidents into non-events. What we’ve found is that drivers need more information, or in some cases, a little more training. They don’t need to be replaced.”


Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems