Semi-Truck Safety on Today’s Roads
Driving on today’s roads is dangerous. Distracted driving, impaired driving, and hazardous road conditions are just a few of the unsafe conditions one sees from behind the wheel. Now imagine an 80,000-pound semi-truck with braking problems while the driver stares at Facebook videos. Even at speeds of 45 MPH, a fatality can result from a collision. Autonomous safety features in cars could be common as soon as 2022. So why aren’t truck companies and manufacturers making semi-truck safety a priority? Semi-truck accidents have risen 27 percent since 2009 and are projected to continue to increase. Nearly 4,000 drivers, passengers, and pedestrians die due to semi-truck accidents. If that number doesn’t scare you, it should. To put it in perspective, that is the equivalent to “a 737 airliner crashing twice a month, killing all on board.” Unacceptable, right?
Current Semi-Truck Statistics
As of 2016, 3,986 individuals died in crashes involving semi-trucks. 66 percent of these fatalities were from passenger vehicle occupants, 17 percent were from the truck occupants, and 16 percent resulted from motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians. This is a 27 percent increase compared to semi-truck accident statistics from 2009. Semi-trucks weigh 20-30 times more than cars and require 20-40 percent farther to stop. This distance grows when you factor in dangerous road conditions such as snow, ice, rain, poor maintenance, and debris. With 11-hour driver shifts, the monotony of the open road, and distractions, semi-truck safety should be a priority. Instead, accidents are waiting to happen. So why haven’t we increased semi-truck safety and adopted autonomous braking and lane-control monitoring? The answer is far more difficult than people think.
Inaction on starting these life-saving measures begins at the very top. By top, we mean United States Senate. After two rear-end truck accidents in Georgia, Congressman Hank Johnson introduced his 2015 Safe Road Act. This act forces regulators to “write a rule requiring automatic emergency braking systems on all heavy trucks.” Struck down in the House of Representatives, Johnson and supporters remained hopeful for the bill’s adoption. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), under the request of many safety groups, began the process of writing regulations which dictated all trucks be fitted with autonomous braking and lane-control monitoring systems. NHTSA began promoting the new tech by stating it “has the potential to save lives by preventing or reducing the severity of rear-end crashes.” Since the endorsement, nothing happened. In three years, thousands of accidents and fatalities occurred, but no law or rules demanding the use of life-saving technology in trucks passed.
Since the late 1990s, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has urged action. So this problem continues and has set on the backburner while studies continue. Safety groups across the country continue to be irked by NHTSA stalling or lack of care on the issue. One example stems back to a proposal in 2006. NHTSA considered installing mechanisms that limit the speed of trucks to no more than 68 MPH. New truck buyers would experience no new costs and even prevent 1,000 fatal crashes each year, according to NHTSA projections. Yet, NHTSA ditched the rule due to industry complaints and new-era business regulations. Although autonomous braking and lane monitoring systems stop 7 out of 10 car accidents, NHTSA continues to push limited resources to other projects such as autonomous vehicles while we continue to see horrific and costly accidents on our roads.
Benefits and Cost
Autonomous braking systems anticipate and detect an oncoming forward crash. The system first alerts the driver. If the driver takes no corrective action, the braking system automatically applies the brakes to slow down. By installing a front bumper sensor and a windshield camera, semi-trucks sense surrounding vehicles and make corrections before a crash. Currently, 2-8 percent of semi-trucks use either autonomous braking or lane-monitoring systems. More than half of trucking companies intend to equip their newest vehicles. Millions of older trucks continue operating, so it will take years before we see any significant changes. With the auto industry promising by 2022 to have autonomous braking systems the new standard, why are semi-truck safety standards lagging behind? The problem might stem from the price point. Trucking companies already pay $150,000 for a new semi-truck and adding a couple thousand dollars affects profit margins. In AAA’s 2017 report, Leveraging Large-Truck Technology and Engineering to Realize Safety Gains: Automatic Emergency Braking Systems, they calculate the costs of implementing autonomous braking systems. Hardware, installation, replacement, training, and maintenance all affect the value of installing autonomous brakes. Implementing these systems could add anywhere between $5,000-$6,500 onto the truck’s price. For smaller trucking companies, which are 82% of the industry, this price tag is steep. With accidents and fatalities consistently rising since 2009, trucking companies and governmental agencies need to decide whether saving human lives or saving profit margins is more important.
Semi-truck accident scenes change very quickly and the memory of witnesses soon fades. It may be critical for your claim to take action immediately. It’s important to preserve evidence of your medical condition and injuries, and evidence of what happened at the accident scene. Many professional trucking companies operate “SWAT team” style cleanups and get to the accident scene immediately. These corporate employees take the first photos and measurements as soon as possible after the accident. Patterson Legal Group, LC works on a contingency fee basis and does not charge a fee unless you collect. Our Kansas semi-truck accident attorneys are experienced with handling complex 18-wheeler and semi-truck accident cases. If you, or someone you love, have suffered an injury as a result of a semi-truck accident, contact our lawyers for a free case evaluation.