New Technology Promises to Make Trucking Safer

October 16, 2015

Ask truck drivers about the most important aspect of their job and chances are you will get the same answer: safety.

Last year, about 78,000 total crashes were reported to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Of those reported, just over 5,000 – or 6 percent – were truck-involved crashes. That is a 6 percent year-over-year increase compared to 2013.

Along with fatalities, injuries and property damage to the parties involved, a traffic crash could spell the end of a career for truck drivers.

But a St. Cloud full-service commercial truck dealer is hoping to curb truck-involved crash rates by allowing drivers a hands-on opportunity to experience some of the latest safety technology in the trucking industry, the St. Cloud Times reported.

In July, Freightliner of St. Cloud made a $145,000 investment in a new Freightliner Cascadia semi cab outfitted with the Detroit Assurance Safety System in order to give trucking company owners and independent owner/operators the chance to get behind the wheel and feel for themselves the difference.

“It’s an expensive show and tell,” Freightliner of St. Cloud General Manager Jon Pearson said. “But we wanted to actually show customers (the safety features).”

Freightliner of St. Cloud allows drivers the opportunity to swap one of their trucks for the Freightliner Cascadia for a week.

Cascadia Detroit Assurance Integrated Safety System. Photo: Freightliner
Cascadia Detroit Assurance Integrated Safety System. Photo: Freightliner

“We want drivers to test it out,” Freightliner of St. Cloud Sales Manager Duane Wittowski said.

Not only is this demo truck a way to drive sales for the St. Cloud company, but it also has proven to be an effective way to emphasize the increase in safety the trucking and transportation industry is working hard to sustain.

“The Detroit Assurance Safety System is a whole suite of safety systems,” Wittowski said. “But the driver is still the number one safety control.”

Using a windshield mounted camera system and a front-mounted radar system, the technology provides active brake assist, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warnings to help curb accidents.

Pearson said the front radar system, found just behind the front bumper, can scan up to 40 different metal objects over the course of 600 feet that could pose a potential threat to the driver. This tracking system updates with the driver’s speed and distance between other vehicles up to 200 times per second.

“This system is not going to prevent every accident,” Pearson said. “But it is a great technology to assist the driver by making them more aware of the situation.”

The adaptive cruise control helps drivers maintain a safe following distance both on the interstate and in metropolitan traffic situations.

Wittowski said when a driver has applied the cruise control to a certain speed, the Detroit Assurance Safety System will determine a safe following distance and determine the amount of time it would take for the truck to span that distance.

For example, if a truck is traveling at 65 mph, to span 225 feet – a safe following distance for that speed – it would take about 3.5 seconds.

Working with the front bumper radar system, Wittowski said if the vehicle ahead of the truck were to decrease in speed, the adaptive cruise control will automatically begin to decelerate to help the driver keep a safe distance. Once the vehicle ahead begins to speed up, the truck will begin to return to its previous speed.

Active brake assist provides audio, visuals and partial braking action to help drivers maintain safe control in unexpected situations where cruise control is not in use.

Using the radar system, Wittowski said the truck will be able to sense when a driver is getting too close to a vehicle ahead of them.

“Once the truck feels that there is a threat in the way, the radio will mute and a noise will come out of the speakers,” Wittowski.

A visual alert will also flash across the dashboard.

If the driver ignores the initial warning, Wittowski said, the driver will start to feel the anti-lock brake system start up as the truck begins to slow. And if the second warning is ignored, Wittowski said the truck will begin full-on braking, de-fueling the truck, applying the engine brake and bring the truck to a gradual stop.

The final safety feature, the lane departure system, uses the windshield mounted camera to help the driver keep an eye on the road. If the driver were to enter a lane without using a turn signal, the Detroit Assurance Safety System will mute the radio. A high-pitch audio warning will continue until the action has been corrected.

The entire suite of systems can cost about $3,000 to install in a truck, provided the semi cab already has technology that would be compatible with the system.

“Our industry has a strong belief in safety, and tools like this are likely the next improvement to assist the driver,” Pearson said.

Last year was the first year Freightliner of St. Cloud began using demonstration trucks as a way to promote new technology in the trucks they sell.

“We are looking to obviously market Freightliner technology,” Pearson said. “And in doing so, show that we are a safety and technology leader.”

Wittowski hopes to send the truck out to about 15-20 customers before selling the demo truck to a prospective client.

Both Pearson and Wittowski said the demonstration truck has gained positive feedback for the company and for the safety system.

“It’s been overwhelmingly popular,” Pearson said. “It’s about brand awareness for Freightliner.”

Pearson said the decision to provide the “expensive show and tell” was not made lightly.

“We needed to think about what our return would be in the sales arena,” he said.

But Pearson said it was the commitment of the team at Freightliner of St. Cloud to providing the consumer with a hands-on sales pitch versus a verbal-only demonstration that was driving force behind the project.

“When we put people in the truck and let them test it, they are in disbelief,” Pearson said. “We really are helping the next generation of drivers get their jobs done safely.”

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