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Safety Systems: Saving lives, equipment and millions of dollars

One of the most well-attended seminars at the recent annual meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) in Atlanta focused on safety systems and how they are greatly impacting trucking. Five senior-level industry executives each presented statistics, information and viewpoints on this crucial topic to a standing-room-only audience of many hundreds of people from fleets and other companies all over North America. What follows are reports of each presentation.

Rick Reinoehl, senior vice president of safety and risk management at Covenant Transport Services, is responsible for the safety of over 3,000 tractors, 7,000 trailers, and 3,750 drivers.

“I’ve met with families involved in catastrophic accidents since about 2004, and after enough of those meetings in living rooms and mediation rooms, you develop some sense of obligation towards those families,” he began. “And I’ve got to tell you that this is a very exciting time, and I’m thrilled to see where this technology is going. The first question is, does it work? Different companies will have different experiences with the devices and different business models of operational risks and that sort of thing. This has been our experience.”

Using slides projected on two large screens, Reinoehl explained how over the last few years Covenant has seen dramatic improvements in road safety as more and more safety systems have been included on his company’s trucks.

“We started in 2012 with roll/stability control [technology] and in a short period of time, we achieved a 30% reduction in preventable rollovers,” he said. “And it’s 40% at this point because of the addition of lane departure warnings.”

Covenant’s rear-end collisions have declined 22% via the deployment of forward-collision mitigation, with an accompanying lessening in the severity of such accidents. Reinoehl cited driver fatigue as a cause of ran-off-road accidents.

“We had targeted a higher reduction rate [50%],” he admitted. “Fatigue is a big issue for a company like Covenant because of a lot of expedited freight. We’ve not achieved that, but I’m happy with the 14% [reduction] with trucks having this [lane-departure warning] equipment being less likely to have a fatigue-related accident.”

Significantly, with all the safety systems in place, Covenant has seen Dept. of Transportation recordable accidents drop 23%. “What’s truly remarkable, and not built into our ROI, was that reduction,” he said. “I thought we’d be lucky to get a 5% reduction.”

Safety system challenges were discussed next. They included installation issues, the systems not being checked when deployed, driver manipulation of the systems, and when the systems sometimes stop functioning.

“We expected some driver manipulation issues and ultimately had to put in a zero-tolerance policy,” Reinoehl noted, “and actually had to lose some drivers over it before we saw improvements.”

Keeping the safety systems products operational is also a must, he stressed.

“Once we know about something [wrong], getting operations to realize it’s more urgent than it seems to get repairs done so as not to interrupt productivity is a challenge,” he said. “We have over 10 different pieces of [safety system] equipment from providers, and each one sees upgrades from time to time. It’s challenging to identify those trucks and bring them in for repairs.”

Safety systems improvements points made included:

  • Understanding the problem.
  • Getting everyone on board, from senior management down to the front lines.
  • Identifying how to tell issues remotely.
  • Using an inspection checklist that evolves.
  • Mapping out communication expectations.
  • Auditing the communication path.
  • Ensuring that everyone who needs to be trained is trained.

Reinoehl said he was excited for the future of safety systems technology, citing these factors:

  • Each iteration is better and seemingly more intuitive.
  • “Engineering safety” as a top priority has taken hold.
  • Coaching is only optimal when the coaches understand the technology.
  • Video continues to have real value in claims cost.

To illustrate the last point, video from two accidents was shown, both of which proved the truck driver was not at fault.

“I’m here to tell you that after all the accidents I’ve watched on video, not a single time did I see it cost us money,” said Reinoehl. “It might make us behave differently, and we might react faster, but typically things are interpreted against us anyway. There is just no end to where technology is going to help us with our claims mitigation costs.”

VIDEO ‘WITNESSES’ ARE CRUCIAL AFTER ACCIDENTS

Chris Reynolds, Southeastern Freight Lines (SEFL) director of safety and security, extolled the virtues of safety systems.

“If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then what’s video worth? It’s priceless in a lot of these instances,” said Reynolds about having no-doubt proof of what happened to cause an accident. “Video equals the most accurate witness.”

Video was what Reynolds primarily stressed in his presentation, using actual footage of some very scary ‘events’ to hammer home his points.

“Without video you just don’t have the best level of accountability,” he continued. “What would happen in an accident if there were no witnesses in a red light/green light scenario? Drivers face this every day. No witness. It becomes ‘I had the green light. He had the red light.’ If there are severe injuries, what does that end up being in a litigation case? A lot of dollars. It only takes one of these to pay for a [safety] system.”

SEFL’s own statistics help prove the point. In 2018 the fleet had a 2.61 accident rate per million miles on trucks without safety technology. On trucks with it? A 1.05 rate per million miles. Those numbers speak for themselves. Reynolds and SEFL are in lockstep wanting all company trucks to have the best equipment. He leads a staff of six regional safety managers and 18 field safety supervisors, and he is responsible for the safety programs that support 90 service centers and over 8,700 associates.

Reynolds posed a question to the audience about where their companies were at technology-wise. “Are you at a full implementation of a safety system—with cameras, with telematics, and with follow-up?” he asked. “The technology is great, but without a robust follow-up system it’s only going to be sustained at a certain level, because people will revert back to old behavior if there is no follow-up.

“We have partial implementation. Are you still gathering data and trying to select vendors? Are you testing equipment? Or are you just kind of frozen, waiting… the information overload scenario.”

Reynolds explained that there is no better time than right now for fleets to get moving on installing safety systems on their trucks.

“Let’s look at justification and implementation,” he said. “If you’re not doing anything, do something. Do a test. We started in 2014 with a test, with 10 sleepers. We liked what we saw. You have to figure out what fits your organization. Are you over-the-road line haul only? Local?  Are you going to purchase all new equipment? Retrofit old equipment? What is the ROI?

“And what hat are you wearing? Are you wearing the fleet service hat, the operations hat, safety hat, legal, maybe HR, maybe all of the above? This is a process that encompasses every department of your organization. Because if only one department is fully engaged and fully involved, it will not be successful to the level that it can be.”

One of the difficult things for fleets to do is to convince their drivers that the safety systems in place are worthy. Drivers can consider them nuisances in some respects, with the beeps alerting them to excessive speed or missed road signs, telematics recording hard braking, and video showing the truck in motion all the time.

Reynolds noted that a single episode where the driver needed proof they did nothing wrong converted them to the technology forever.

“Drivers come up with excuses or reasons why they don’t need it, but as soon as they have an event that’s captured on video that saves them, they are then your lead spokesman as to why they like the system,” he said. “They become believers quickly. We ask some of the hardcore ones if they would buy it for their family. They say yes, and we say that’s why we’re buying it for you.

“I can’t emphasize that enough. Let drivers know the company cares about them, the motoring public and safety. That this is the type of equipment we’re going to keep purchasing and implementing.”

Reynolds sounded a bit like a college professor when he invoked the Hawthorne Effect into his lecture. That is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. For truckers, it equates to them being more likely to follow the rules of the road knowing video and telematics are tracking their behavior.

Keeping everything in perspective when it comes to what SEFL checks regularly is also important, as drivers shouldn’t be worried about every little thing they do.

“With the telematics, you can actually see, depending on what system you have, what’s happening, what the driver is doing, what’s the rpm, what’s his braking force, does he have cruise control on, does he have a distance alert,” Reynolds said. “All of those things help you determine the root cause of what’s going on when there is [an accident]. There’s so much telematics information that’s given. If you have thousands of trucks and thousands of ‘hard brakes’ a week, are all hard brakes bad? Absolutely not. That’s why you need the video for the hard brakes. Because if you try to chase every hard brake, you’ll have to open up a new department.

“Speed and distance are the two factors that create severe accidents. We like to take portal information gathered and track drivers over time. You don’t have to track down every driver and every telematics event. Does every driver that works for your company always do the right thing? No. They have bad habits sometimes. Telematics provides coaching opportunities for that. These systems, they don’t just plug and play and are maintenance-free. There’s a lot of follow-up. You have to be involved on all levels.”

ADVANCEMENTS ARE COMING ON STRONG

‘Autonomous’ is the big buzzword in the trucking industry these days, and for good reason. The idea of trucks safely driving themselves is futuristically cool and fun to envision, even if its reality isn’t much past toddler-steps development.

While there are steady gains being made to that end, fleets today have already-perfected commercial safety systems products that are pretty sweet in their own right, with more on the horizon.

Brian Daniels, manager of powertrain and component product marketing for the Detroit brand of Daimler Trucks North America, provided a comprehensive overview of just such advancements.

“One hundred percent of you have a collision mitigation system on your trucks, and that collision mitigation system is your driver,” Daniels asserted. “What collision mitigation systems and safety systems are meant to do is supplement the driver as the key number one safety system.”

As such, the Detroit Assurance safety system, he noted, has reached close to a 75% sale rate for all new Freightliner trucks ordered.

“When we started in 2015 with our product, it was primarily a collision mitigation system,” Daniels said. “It was about how to avoid that vehicle [in front] in a hard-braking event, an emergency event. Then you look at where we are now, and where things are headed. Now it’s not just about safety of the collision mitigation system; it’s also about safety in reducing driver fatigue, with adaptive cruise control technology. We follow the vehicle in front. As that vehicle slows down, we slow down. As it speeds up, we speed up.”

Daniels detailed some of the specific safety systems that Detroit Assurance has incorporated, and others it will shortly incorporate, with its 5.0 version expected this September.

Active lane assist. “If I start to depart the lane, I will get a little chirp to tell me to come back in my lane,” he said. “If the driver does not make that corrective behavior, the steering on the truck will actively steer the vehicle back in that lane. The second part of the technology is lane-keep assist. It uses cameras on both sides of the lane to keep the vehicle perfectly centered down the road.

“A yellow caution means [the safety system] sees some object … a person, pole, or car in our presence,” he said. “If we give steering input or a turn signal, that warning goes to red and sounds an alert.”

Traffic sign display. “For when we’re driving for a long period of time and forget what the road speed is,” Daniels explained. “It tells the driver what signs he may have missed, like road speed signs, and always gives the driver heads-up feedback.”

Intelligent high beams. “The idea here being that when we’re driving in a very dark area and don’t see brake lights or tail lights, we can turn on our high beams,” he said. “As soon as we come into contact with bright lights, tail lights, or city lights, [the safety system will] dim the high beams.

“Same thing with auto wipers and auto headlamps. The [safety system has the] ability to turn those features on if we’re in dark or dusk or raining situations,” Daniels said.

Side guard assist and side-mounted radar. “It is looking for pedestrians and bicyclists. And when the truck and trailer is turning, it will predict if the truck could come into contact with a pole or something else,” said Daniels.

Acknowledging that there are often situations when the driver must make decisions regardless of what the safety systems suggest, Daniels said that has been taken into account, with options available.

“What happens in a construction zone or when you have to drive over marked lines?” he asked. “You don’t want to have to fight the safety system. We have a lane-keep assist and lane departure warning off switch. Lane-keep assist is an on/off switch. Lane departure warning is a 15-minute on/off switch. These are good things to know from a driver coaching perspective.”

Daniels related that even professional drivers sometimes have their hands off the wheel. The new safety system addresses that.

“What happens if the driver for whatever reason decides not to keep his hands on the wheel?” he asked. “After 15 seconds, he’s going to get a visual hands-on warning along with a visual and audible alert. After 30 seconds, it’s a red warning and the frequency increases until they put their hands back on the wheel.”

Finally, Daniels explained that coaching drivers and making sure they understand the systems in their trucks is imperative.

“There are multiple versions of safety systems, and how in the world as a driver am I supposed to know what I’m driving and how I’m supposed to drive it?” he asked. “We’ve put in place a VIN lookup tool. It will tell them what [safety system] features they have [on the truck], and there is a 45- to 60-second video that shows how the features work. That’s part of the acceptance, and it is important for driver comfort.”

HOW TO WIN OVER UNDERHANDED DRIVERS

It might be considered a witty cat-and-mouse game if the stakes weren’t so high. But when lives could be lost in worst-case scenarios, having truck drivers disable safety systems in any number of imaginative ways, and for whatever reasons, isn’t the least bit amusing.

Brad Aller, regional director, fleet sales and service, for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, said fleets must do more than simply add the new technology to their vehicles.

First and foremost, he said fleets must make sure their drivers and technicians are well-versed in how to use what’s available, and why they should.

“It’s all about implementation and maintenance,” explained Aller. “Most of you have this technology today. Do your drivers like it? Are they tampering with it? If you spent thousands of dollars on safety technology and have a driver putting aluminum foil over the radar, you’ve wasted your money.

“Technology has changed. Have we taken the time to introduce it to the drivers and technicians correctly?”

Before joining Bendix in 1999, Aller was a trainer at a truck dealership and spent 15 years as an instructor in heavy-duty truck systems and diesel engines. He’s been ASE-certified for 25 years and emphasized that compliant drivers are key for safety systems to be effective.

“If we put a driver in a vehicle and do not train them correctly, they will not know how the system is going to work,” he said. “The driver assistance is not there to replace the driver. It is there to assist the driver. They need to know what the system does and does not do.

“For instance, take speed-sign recognition. If you go five miles over the speed limit, we give the driver an alert. At 10 miles over, we give the driver an alert and take the throttle away for one second. But it does not apply to the brakes, and the driver needs to understand it does not.”

A forceful speaker, Aller queried the audience to make a point.

“How many people here have texted while driving? Or received a phone call while driving? Or have a Dick Tracy watch?” he asked. “As technology changes and we add components in our personal lives, it affects our driving habits. And now that we have WiFi in our cars, I can send an email instead of a text.”

While technology continually moves forward, drivers are still drivers, Aller noted, and they must be heard.

“We need to listen to them,” he stressed. “A driver who’s in that vehicle day in and day out knows how it should work. And a lot of times when they tell you there’s a problem with the system, there could be. Maybe someone replaced the camera on the windshield and didn’t put the bracket on correctly.

But it’s also important that technicians understand this technology as well. In many cases, the technician is the interface between the driver and the driver’s manager or safety person. If the technician understands how the system works, when the driver has an issue, the technician will know how to troubleshoot and repair the system.”

If drivers are not up to speed and accepting of safety systems, it can lead to trouble.

“If you don’t listen to the driver, then what you’re going to get is driver tampering,” warned Aller. “Drivers are smart. I go to YouTube to learn how to repair a faucet. They go to YouTube to learn how to tamper with safety systems. And we see this constantly. Someone will cut the wires going to a camera, or they’ll disconnect it. A business card will slide behind a camera. We know that because I’ve seen an accident video and the video was the business card.

“Through YouTube, they have learned how to go to the steering-angle sensor and disconnect it. I have seen them take aluminum foil and put it over the radar. I’ve seen them take the cover off the radar,” Aller said. “I’ve put aluminum foil behind the cover and put the cover back on.

“With the lane departure switch, they will push it in, take a piece of paper and stick it down in there so it doesn’t work.

“They will unplug speakers. The smart drivers will put them back together before the truck comes back into the shop,” he continued. “Some of them forget and we catch them. So when we release new technology, it’s important that everyone is trained. If we don’t get driver buy-in today, we’re not going to get driver buy-in tomorrow.”

Older drivers in older trucks also present challenges. Those truckers need to be taught whatever new technology they must deal with.

“Some fleets keep their tractors for a long period of time,” Aller said. “They’re taking some of the technology that’s available today and retrofitting their existing truck fleet. Some are doing lane departure; some are doing the collision mitigation system. So retrofits are growing in popularity.”

TAKING A PEEK AT SAFETY SYSTEMS OF THE FUTURE

When Doug Donaldson, chief engineer for steering and product innovation at Wabco Americas, stepped to the podium, he was in the unenviable position of being the fifth speaker out of five.

Doubling down, he began his talk by quoting numbers, percentages and financials, a potentially dangerous strategy when you’re the last 15 minutes out of 75 and folks are getting a bit antsy.

He knew what he was doing because he knew his audience.

“There are plenty of reasons why we need safety systems,” he said. “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 4,761 fatalities in large truck collisions in 2017, a 9% increase from the year before. While 72% were occupants of other vehicles, 18% were occupants of large trucks, and 10% were non-occupants, such as pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that for the automotive industry as a whole, there were 37,113 fatalities the same year. The total cost of all fatalities and accidents was $44 billion in 2013, slightly out of date but still a very relevant data point.”

That last point surely perked up attendee's ears.

“So just how do you take those statistics and distill and prioritize the opportunities to assist the driver?” posed Donaldson.

Answering his own question, he said it was a combination of more new technology along with drivers not being overwhelmed by it. He then presented how certain accidents can be addressed with the technologies of today, and what’s on the horizon.

“Many pre-crash scenarios essentially result in a collision,” he said. “One is road edge departure without prior vehicle movement. What sensing technology do I have to mitigate that? You can start off with lane departure warning and move to lane-keep assist.

“Another point…lead vehicle stopped. This is where the forward collision alert and collision mitigating braking come in. It’s another area where you can quantify how many accidents there are and prioritize your resources.

“By correlating this data to the current sensing and control technology, you can create a roadmap and continually improve and develop vehicle safety systems.”

Donaldson showed a visual that bullet-pointed where things are going in 2019 and beyond. They included:

  • Multi-lane autonomous emergency braking.
  • Highway departure braking.
  • Faster-reacting autonomous emergency braking.
  • Automated parking/anti-rollaway.
  • Retrofit existing truck fleet.

“It’s continuing on the path to added driver assistance and safety,” he noted.

Addressing driver concerns that too much technology without their input could be counterproductive, Donaldson stressed the importance of not overwhelming drivers.

“Let’s take lane departure warning to start with,” he said. “That technology with cameras started getting released around 2009, and the sensors continue to evolve so you can do better lane detection, which allows you to do better and better driver assistance.

“What’s the next technology for lane departure warning? That’s where you merge to lane-keep assist. It essentially starts to actively assist the driver. The system becomes less and less intrusive and more and more driver-intuitive. That’s when drivers start to appreciate the system.”

Donaldson said even more impressive safety systems are getting closer to reality, “like side blind spot detection and intersection alert for vehicles coming toward you. Then it will evolve into platooning, enhancing the communication between two vehicles, which will allow drivers to control the vehicles with much more precision,” he continued. “The key is to continually keep developing
the technology.”   

 

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