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Meritor WABCO's OnGuard ACC system is tested with an artificial target.

Skilled drivers, mechanics, and supervisors are precious assets, especially in an economy where any concrete producer is operating as lean as possible. Vehicles are also part of the equation. Recently, we looked at the financial impact of crashes, which grows exponentially as the severity of injuries increases.

“Seat belts save lives” is the National Safety Council's mantra, and the best advice for any driver, but restraints are just the beginning. Today's high-speed computers make evaluating vehicle dynamics virtually instantaneous. But it was not always so. Technology started in trucking in the 1970s, with the earliest antilock breaking systems (ABS).

Computers were primitive compared to today. The first systems didn't work, and it took a lawsuit to have the requirement removed from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Standard 121, the standard regulating air brakes. But suppliers continued to develop ABS.

ABS senses and compares wheel speeds. When one wheel slows more rapidly than all of the others, indicating the start of a lock-up, the system releases pressure to that wheel's brake until it is what it should be. The same concept, the independent control of braking pressure to one or more wheels, can independently apply brakes, not just release them.

Today's computer chips are roughly 32 times more capable than a decade ago. Even more importantly, electronic devices have become miniaturized. Sensors and accelerometers are far more sensitive and responsive than ever. They can detect rates of changes in motion, process the information, and determine the best corrective action when abnormalities occur, all in far less time than a human can even detect that problems are starting.

Types of crashes

Let's examine several common crash scenarios. In order of frequency of involvement in all truck driver deaths, rollovers lead. Injuries and fatalities to occupants of other vehicles happen most often when trucks rear-end cars. Other crash causes include sideswipes from lane departures, loss of control when tires blow out, and poor visibility due to weather.

Modern technology has given us devices that can help mitigate or even eliminate many of these crashes. They exist today, but many just need higher volume production to make them affordable. Some stability systems are already standard on new trucks. Meritor WABCO and Haldex have rollover control systems for trailers which can be retrofitted.

Eaton VORAD pioneered forward-looking warning radar on trucks, and now ArvinMeritor and Bendix offer radar-based adaptive cruise control with full braking, if needed. The military uses millimeter-length radar waves that not only detect an object hundreds of miles away, but also determines the object's shape, size, speed, and direction.

Iteris uses optical recognition to determine where a vehicle is in its lane. The device alerts the driver if the truck makes an unintended deviation without signaling. Mobileye couples lane departure warning with frontal distance warning. Experimentally, lane recognition technology has been used with computerized electric power steering in a car.

These systems issue alerts, but if ignored, the systems take over to mitigate the severity of the crash, or even eliminate it completely. If the driver takes control by steering away or braking, the driver overrides the system.