For all truckers, there are really only two specific ways to avoid a collision – do not hit anything and do not allow anything to hit you. While truck drivers do not have control over what other drivers are doing they can ensure that they behave rationally behind the wheel and drive defensively to avoid the unexpected.
In August 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) initiated its much anticipated “improved stopping distance” regulations to decrease accidents involving heavy trucks. Recognized as Phase 1, the new laws required three axle tractors (gross vehicle weight rating under 59,600 pounds) to be retrofitted with equipment that stopped the vehicle within 235 feet under specific conditions. The laws were enacted as a way to reduce fatality and injury numbers associated with rear end collisions involving large trucks with other vehicles.
Phase 2 was initiated in August 2013 and is expected to be fully implemented in three years or less. This phase places the highest priority on increasing safety by minimizing stopping distances of the most widely utilized semi-trucks and 18 wheelers traveling on American roads. These three axle tandem tractors are built with heavier axles, tire wheel ratings and suspension than the trucks that were targeted during Phase 1. Some of these trucks are equipped with lift axles.
When developing the laws, the regulators considered various factors of large commercial vehicles including their wheel bases, suspension types, axle loads and wheel ends that require monitoring by ABS (automatic braking system) sensors. This is because there are specific challenges with various types of axles that commonly lock up the brake system during “panic stops.”
Typically, an automatic braking system reduces air pressure to stop the wheels by calculating the correct amount of brake torque to stop the tire from slipping on the roadway. During panicking conditions where the trucker applies heavy brakes, the rear axle suspension can easily shift and transfer weight distribution so harshly that the weight handled by the rear axles is distributed over the steer axles, making it harder to control the vehicle.
A Need for Air Disks
As a part of Phase 2, many large commercial trucks will require the installation of air disks to ensure the vehicle can safely stop within the specific mandated range. In some installations, trucking companies can install S-cam drums to meet the new regulations. Some companies, like Peterbilt, have begun installing front axle air disc brakes as standardized equipment across the majority of its available newly manufactured trucks. This is important because air disc brakes provide a shorter stopping distance while minimizing weight, improving operating efficiency and reducing maintenance.
In statistics maintained by the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), more than 3750 individuals lost their lives in large truck collisions during 2011. Additionally, another 88,000 individuals suffered serious injuries in truck crashes the same year. The NHTSA estimates that more than 300 victims will be spared serious injuries and more than 220 lives will be spared each year once every heavy truck tractor is equipped with a mandated enhanced braking system.
Advancements in Braking Technology
The design of braking systems manufactured today might appear like much like their predecessors. However, the systems are quite different and the technology is nothing the same. In fact, the friction materials incorporated into the brake lining have much longer wearing capabilities than in previous decades. Truckers have access to high-performance drum brakes that have been specifically engineered to increase efficiency during shorter stops.
Many of the rules and regulations were amended to more realistic stopping distance standards that regulate commercial vehicles. Originally, the standards involved stopping distances for trucks traveling 60 miles an hour. In reality, many large commercial vehicles on highways nationwide are traveling much faster than that, whether doing so legally or not.
The final regulation enacted to improve safety standards is a crucial step in improving the stopping performance of many large commercial trucks sharing America’s streets, roads and highways. Even though the commercial vehicle industry has spent decades preparing for these changes in regulations, the future may be bright in saving the lives and health of many victims who would have otherwise been involved in a trucking accident.