This has been a tough couple of years for heavy-truck drivers on our nation’s highways. A U.S. Department of Transportation report compiling crash data for 2019, the most recent year for which these figures are available, shows that fatalities for large-truck occupants reached their highest level in more than 30 years. U.S. trucking fatalities for 2018 also exceeded a level not seen since 1988.
There are many factors that may play into this trend. There is no secret that the industry has been challenged to attract and train drivers to fill the pipeline. Manufacturers of on-highway trucks have stepped to the plate with upgraded collision mitigation technologies. But up until recently, many of these technologies were not available to vocational trucks customers.
That began to change with the most recent generation vocational truck introductions. These technologies promise to greatly enhance jobsite safety since it is more than the driver who is at risk. "Struck by an Object" accidents, which include contact with machinery and vehicles, continually rank in the top four reasons for construction worker fatalities. This situation is potentially compounded by the dynamic, ever changing work environment. Even the most experience operator will encounter unexpected elements on the job.
Safety Technologies Make the Leap Off Road
Contractors need to investigate any tools available to mitigate ‘Struck by an Object’ risks as well as risks traveling to and from the jobsite. With the latest vocational truck offerings, new technologies are allowing trucks to monitor and react to their surroundings. These technologies help alert drivers of potentially dangerous situations and even intervene when necessary.
A notable example is the recently introduced Western Star 49X. It is the first vocational truck in the company’s line to come equipped with the Detroit Assurance 5.0 suite of active safety systems. While this technology is well-proven in the on-highway market, some have questioned its viability for vocational applications.
Western Star“We believe that safety is critically important, obviously to protect the truck, but it's more important to protect the driver,” notes Dave Carson, senior vice president of vocational sales, Daimler Trucks North America. “We know that drivers are extremely confident of their skills and abilities, but there are conditions that exist that sometimes may create hazards. This suite of safety technology is really outstanding in its capabilities for preventing collisions and lane departure.”
As far as jobsite safety is concerned, this same technology can also prevent jobsite collisions. “In situations where you have different types of equipment and placement of material, there's all different hazards that exist on a worksite,” says Carson. “There are customers who end up having different types of collision or damage, and anything that we can do to mitigate that through technology, training just creates a better value proposition for the business. We believe that technology is a significant leg up in the process of ensuring safety.”
Often vocational trucks are operated in urban environments notes Carson. “It may not be a big city, but they're usually operating within five miles of a town. In towns you've got people, you've got automobiles.” This makes on-road focused technologies, such as pedestrian detection, valuable assets. “Say you're going to the job site and somebody walks out in front of the vehicle, it will detect the pedestrian and apply the brakes.”
Vocational trucks in these environments also need to contend with traffic and features such as adaptive cruise control can provide an additional measure of safety. Detroit Assurance includes Side Guard Assist, Active Brake Assist 5 and Adaptive Cruise control to 0 mph. “If you are in stop and go traffic, because you are in a more urban environment, it has cruise down to zero," says Carson. “You can set your cruise control and the truck will crawl along. Talk about something that fatigues people, stop and go driving is really a big drain on that operator. It's more than just the job site, it's the getting to and from the jobsite. I encourage everybody to consider it and least learn more about it.”
Side Guard Assist detects objects on the passenger side of the truck and alerts the operator. Active Brake Assist 5 detects distance and speed to moving and stationary objects in the truck’s patch and determines if braking is necessary. The system works down to 5 mph, making it well-suited for travel in congested urban areas. It also recognizes pedestrians who are about to cross in the truck’s path, alerting the operator while partially braking. It will then apply full braking if the operator does not react and will bring the truck to a complete stop, if needed.
Adaptive Cruise Control reduces driver fatigue in stop and go traffic. It automatically adjusts your cruising speed to maintain a safe following distance from other vehicles in the truck’s path. This allows the truck to remain in cruise control longer. When equipped with the DT12 transmission, the adaptive cruise control will adjust the truck’s speed all the way to 0 mph. It also helps mitigate front and rear collisions as operators travel from one jobsite to the next.
Tailgate Warning alerts operators when they follow another vehicle too closely while traveling over 20 mph. It can report these events via Detroit Connect to help you improve driver training.
Automatic headlights and wipers help keep your view clear and your attention on what is ahead. Intelligent High Beams automatically disengage high-beam headlights when the camera detects tail lights, headlights or city lights – and turns them back on once these light sources are no longer visible.
Lane Departure Warning helps keep an eye on the road. It alerts the operator with a rumble sound and dash warning if the truck veers from its lane without signaling.
Detroit Assurance also offers forward- and driver-facing video capture. You can set the system to automatically take a 20 to 30 second snapshot of both the truck and driver activity during a severe traffic event and have it automatically loaded to a web portal for review.
Collision Avoidance Goes Mainstream
The Bendix Wingman Fusion collision mitigation system has become a popular option across many vocational trucks. Bendix Wingman Fusion is a camera- and radar-based driving assistance solution. Now in its second generation, Bendix Wingman Fusion offers Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) upgrades, as well as enhanced lane departure warnings.Navistar
The next generation of Bendix Wingman Fusion features improved following distance alerts with up to 3.5 seconds of warning before impact and offers three levels of driver notification before the technology automatically applies the brakes using AEB. New detection feature upgrades also enable Wingman Fusion to reduce vehicle speed by up to 50 mph to help mitigate collisions.
The improved Bendix Wingman Fusion technology also offers the ability for the system to brake if it detects a slow or stopped vehicle in the adjacent lane when changing lanes. If the object is definitively identified as a vehicle, the system alerts the driver. If necessary, the system then applies brakes through AEB.
Windshield-mounted cameras warn the driver should a truck begin drifting outside the lane or off the road. If multiple alerts are needed at the same time, enhanced Bendix Wingman Fusion organizes them in order of importance, delivering only the most crucial alert to the driver to minimize distraction. At speeds above 37 miles per hour, the system also alerts the driver when unintended lane departure occurs.
A driver-facing camera can monitor driver behavior. Along with a forward-facing camera, this feature can capture data for event recordings. The forward-facing camera can also detect highway speed limit signs and warn the driver if the speed limit is exceeded.
Navistar International Corporation now offers the enhanced features of the Bendix Wingman Fusion collision mitigation system on the International LT Series, RH Series, MV Series, HV Series and HX Series. “Our DriverFirst philosophy drives us to continually improve product features that matter most to our customers, and safety is always a significant concern,” said Charles Chilton, vice president of Navistar’s Product Strategy and Planning function. “With our shared commitment to the driver, vehicle and highway safety, we’re proud to advance the safety features available on our products in collaboration with Bendix. By putting drivers in trucks equipped with safety aids, we are all contributing to a safer transportation network, from which everyone will benefit.”
Mack Trucks also added the next generation of Bendix Wingman Fusion to its Granite vocational truck line, improving safety for those on the road or traveling to a jobsite. Mack Trucks made the announcement during World of Concrete 2020, which took place Feb. 4 to 7, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Driver Assistance Features Improve Safety
Volvo AB and its subsidiaries, Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks, have been at the forefront of safety technologies for vocational truck technologies.
The company’s approach to safety technology was on full display when the company recently launched the new Volvo VHD. “Everything we’ve done to improve the model to make it more versatile and reliable also extends the life of the vehicle and increases driver productivity, safety and comfort,” says John Felder, product marketing manager, Volvo Trucks North America.
Volvo Trucks North AmericaSafety and productivity features being introduced on the VHD include Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS) and the next generation of Volvo Active Driver Assist (VADA). The VDS system delivers a safer, more comfortable driver experience by adding torque to reduce steering strain at lows speeds and remove vibrations caused by rough terrain. “VDS reduces the force in the steering wheel up to 85%,” says Andy Hanson, vocational product marketing manager. “It also reduces steering wheel inputs from rough surfaces. Both of these elements help reduce driver fatigue. VDS is only available on VHD axle back versions.”
VDS also adjusts to improve stability at road speeds when encountering crosswinds, highway crowning, soft shoulders, or emergency situations like tire failure. The system features a powerful electric motor mounted above the hydraulic steering gear to provide additional torque when necessary. It receives input 2,000 times per second from sensors throughout the truck monitoring yaw rate, steering angle, wheel speed and the driver's own actions.
The next-generation VADA provides integrated radar/camera capabilities, automatic emergency braking, highway departure warnings and adaptive cruise control. VADA reduces front and rear end collisions by up to 82%. Volvo Active Driver Assist combines camera and radar sensors to detect metallic objects and vehicles that are stationary or vehicles braking in front of a truck. If a metallic object of size is detected, audible and visual warnings are made to alert the driver, including red warning light flashes reflected on the windshield. Warnings are displayed up to 3.0 seconds before an imminent impact with the stationary object. If the system recognizes the stationary object as a vehicle, and the driver does not take action, Volvo Active Driver Assist will automatically alert the driver and engage the brakes to help the driver mitigate the potential collision.
Mack Truck’s version of driver steering assist technology is named Mack Command Steer and it’s available on Mack Granite axle back models. Mack Command Steer reduces driver fatigue and can help cut muscle strain up to 30 percent by combining an electric motor with the existing hydraulic steering.
In addition to significantly reduced steering effort at slow speeds, Mack Command Steer also helps filter out uneven terrain such as the holes, dips and ruts common to most jobsites. When such an irregularity is detected, the system reacts to counter the steering force, smoothing steering feedback and reducing the possibility of steering wheel “kicks.”
“While drivers will experience a significant reduction in steering effort, particularly on uneven jobsite surfaces, Mack Command Steer brings many benefits to on-road driving as well,” says Roy Horton, Mack Trucks director of product strategy. “The system will also compensate for situations, like strong winds and crowned roads, helping drivers maintain greater control so they can focus on the task at hand.”
The system also features a return-to-zero capability that automatically returns the steering wheel to the zero or center position in forward and reverse. This helps simplify tight maneuvers, such as backing a trailer or positioning a dump or mixer to unload.
Electronic Stability Control Continues to Gain Traction
Electronic stability control technologies continue to gain acceptance in the vocational truck market. Often trucks used in the construction industry utilize upfits that rase the center of gravity, making the trucks more prone to rollovers during aggressive cornering or maneuvers.
Loss of control, jackknives and rollovers are three of the most dangerous incidents a driver can face. Volvo Trucks offers Volvo Enhanced Stability Technology (VEST) on its line of VHD tractors. VEST continually monitors driver inputs and driving parameters. When it detects the truck is dangerously close to an event, such as a rollover, the system automatically reduces engine torque, down shifts the transmission and selectively applies the necessary wheel-end braking to help get the truck back on course.
Kenworth recently announced that the Bendix ESP Electronic Stability Program is now available as an option for the C500 truck, which offers a GCWR up to 500,000 lbs. The system comes with a 6S/6M configuration, which has six sensors and six modulators. It also includes Bendix Smart Automatic Traction Control and Bendix ESP.
The technology is designed to help stabilize the vehicle during loss of control situations on dry, wet, snow and ice-covered roadways. In addition to using sensors that monitor lateral acceleration, as found on some roll systems, the Bendix full-stability system also uses sensors to monitor steering angle and vehicle direction. This allows for detection of a vehicle’s impending loss of stability and automatic intervention through de-throttling of the engine and selective application of tractor steer and drive axle brakes, along with trailer brakes, helping the driver to maintain control of the vehicle in a variety of situations.
Bendix notes that its safety technologies complement safe driving practices and are not intended to enable or encourage aggressive driving. While these technologies will help reduce risks, it is worth noting that safety technologies cannot replace a skilled driver and comprehensive driver training.