Tractor-trailers are the tallest, widest, heaviest vehicles rolling into and out of Weirton. While 18-wheelers are an essential part of the West Virginia supply chain, their bulk also makes them the most difficult vehicles to maneuver and to bring to a stop in emergencies.
The U.S. House of Representatives just passed legislation designed to reduce the number of commercial truck wrecks that so often result in severe injuries and fatalities. The bill would mandate two safety technologies: automatic emergency braking systems (AEB) on all new heavy commercial trucks and rear underride guards on trailers.
A look at the safety systems
Underride guards are made of metal bars attached to the back ends of trailers. The guards prevent cars from sliding beneath the trailers in crashes in which cars strike the rear of the trailers.
Automatic emergency braking systems are already included in most new cars but are typically not included on large trucks that can range in weight from 10,000 up to 80,000 pounds. Note: the heaviest passenger vehicles weigh about 6,000 pounds.
Slamming the brakes on truck crashes
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says AEB systems need further refinement before they’ll work properly on 18-wheelers. However, safety advocates point to last year’s study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that showed that AEB and forward collision warning systems could dramatically reduce some truck accidents.
IIHS researchers found that the safety technologies could prevent more than 40 percent of crashes in which commercial trucks rear-end other vehicles.
The organization said that even when those rear-end crashes do happen, the inclusion of AEB and forward-collision warnings reduce speeds by more than half, which decreases the number and severity of injuries to occupants of passenger vehicles.
AEB and forward-collision systems use cameras to identify objects in front of the vehicle, and then either warn the driver or apply the brakes to prevent crashes into vehicles or pedestrians ahead.
One more safety measure
The bill passed by the House also raises the minimum amount of insurance carried for commercial trucks to $2 million, an increase safety advocates say is needed to pay medical costs, lost wages and more to injury victims in big rig crashes.
The Senate is working on its own version of the bill. The two measures will have to be reconciled and approved before going to the president’s desk for a signature.