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Study: Existing safety tech ready to reduce commercial truck crashes

Everyone who has driven on the interstate highways near Phoenix knows that the biggest, heaviest, most dangerous vehicles are the 18-wheelers rolling through our state. Because large commercial trucks can weigh up to 90,000 pounds in Arizona – that’s 15 to 30 times the weight of a passenger vehicle – there’s a high risk of serious injuries or fatalities in truck crashes.

Crash-reducing tech already exists

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that existing, affordable safety technology could reduce both the frequency and severity of truck crashes in which a big rig slams into the back of another vehicle.

The IIHS says outfitting large commercial trucks with forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems could prevent more than 40 percent of crashes in which big rigs rear-end other vehicles.

When collisions can’t be avoided

In situations in which crashes are unavoidable, the safety systems would nevertheless dramatically reduce risks of serious injuries and fatalities by decreasing the impact speed of the large truck by more than 50 percent.

“The potential benefits are great enough that these crash avoidance systems should be standard equipment on all new large trucks,” said IIHS president David Harkey.

Significant truck accident reductions

The research group analyzed truck crash data from 2017 through 2019 from 62 commercial truck fleets that operate 18-wheelers and other trucks that weigh at least 33,000 pounds. The results from the approximately 2,000 truck accidents studied: Trucks equipped with AEB only had rear-end crash reductions of 41 percent. Those equipped with forward-collision warning systems were in 44 percent fewer rear-end crashes.

“This study provides evidence that forward-collision warning and AEB greatly reduce crash risk for tractor-trailers and other large trucks,” said an IIHS researcher.

In a statement accompanying the study, the group noted that in 2018, more than 4,100 people were killed in U.S. crashes involving large commercial trucks – with 119 of the deaths in crashes in which the truck slammed into the back of a passenger vehicle.

Technology sees ahead

Front-crash prevention systems use an array of cameras, radar and software to monitor the traffic and road ahead. A forward-collision warning system issues an alert to the driver of a possible crash, while AEB systems automatically apply the brakes to prevent a collision (or to reduce vehicle impact speed).

While neither system is required in heavy trucks, some fleet operators are taking the initiative and outfitting their rigs with the affordable technology on their own. Let’s hope that one day soon, all large commercial trucks are equipped with this life-saving gear.

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