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Crash Warning Systems Take Commercial Truck Safety to the Next Level

By Randy Mullett | 10/27/2010 | 11:44 AM

 Addressing driver distraction has been a major priority for the trucking industry, as we seek ways to improve safety on our nation’s highways. As Scott Belcher points out in his post, there are three basic types of distractions for drivers: visual, manual and cognitive, and texting is one technology that involves all three. Research from a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) shows that drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting. At 55 miles per hour, texting drivers will travel the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road!

The same study found that drivers who texted while driving were 23 times more likely to have a collision. 

 Even before data from the VTTI study was released just over a year ago, Con-way Freight recognized the danger of texting and instituted a texting ban for all of its 15,000 drivers, but texting is just one of many distractions that drivers face. Safety advocates agree that the solution for distracted driving must include upgraded technologies that help warn drivers of impending crashes.

That’s why Con-way Freight joined with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) for a 10-month field test investigating driver distractions and recording driver behavior using an in-cab camera along with other data gathering tools. 

Con-way Freight provided 10 Class-8 commercial freight tractors for the study. Over the course of the study, 18 Con-way Freight drivers operated the trucks out of the company’s Detroit service center as part of its normal business operations, logging 601,844 miles; 22,724 trips; and generating 13,678 hours of data. While the test vehicles were driven, data acquisition systems recorded driver actions and reactions as they went through the course of their trips. UMTRI researchers then analyzed the data to study the effect that the integrated warning system had on driver acceptance and changes in driver behavior.

 Key findings from the study include:

  • Seven drivers reported the integrated system prevented them from potentially having a crash
  • Fifteen out of 18 drivers said they prefer a truck equipped with the integrated safety system and would recommend that their employers purchase such a system
  • In terms of satisfaction, drivers rated warnings for lane departures the highest, and second highest in terms of perceived usefulness
  • The integrated crash warning system had a statistically significant effect helping drivers maintain lane positions closer to the center
  • Overall, drivers responded more quickly to potential rear-end crash scenarios with the system

 The results of the study were so compelling that Con-way Freight chose to invest in new  safety technologies for our fleet this year, ahead of any government mandate, equipping 1300 new road tractors. The technologies included an adaptive cruise control system that automatically maintains a safe distance behind the vehicle ahead; a roll stability control system that can sense an impending rollover and warn the driver via an indicator lamp on the dash and even apply brakes if the driver does not act; and an accidental lane departure warning system that sounds an alarm to alert drivers if they are inadvertently driving out of their lane. For our drivers, it was a worthwhile investment to make them better and help improve their safety and those with whom we share the nation’s highways. 

 While we can never remove all driver distractions, we have the technology to alert drivers to impending crashes and improve safety records significantly. As motor carriers move quickly to implement these safety measures in advance of changing policies, the good news from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) is that trucking safety has improved dramatically since 2004. ATRI’s analysis of data from approximately 260 motor carriers representing 127,000 commercial drivers shows that the total collision rate dropped 11.7 percent from 2004 to 2009. Preventable collisions declined 30.6 percent. 

 As more and more of these high-tech measures are deployed nationally, we should continue to see a reduction in collisions involving motor carriers and an increase in driver safety. Investment in these technologies can provide real-world, lifesaving results and that’s an investment we are proud to make.


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About Randy Mullett

Randy Mullett

C. Randal (Randy) Mullett is vice president, government relations and public affairs for Con-way Inc., a $5.6 billion freight transportation and logistics services company headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich. Mullett is responsible for all government relations activities for Con-way and its subsidiaries at the federal, state, and local levels. He also maintains the company's relationships with various national trade associations and serves as Con-way's "point man" on homeland security issues. In addition, he leads Con-way's corporate sustainability initiatives.

Mr. Mullett was named director of government relations in 2002 and vice president government relations in January 2005. In September 2007 his title was changed to add public affairs reflecting his expanded role in the public sphere beyond government relations. He previously served for 13 years as a service center manager for Con-Way Southern Express, one of the less-than-truckload carriers of Con-Way Transportation Services (now known as Con-way Freight).


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