Tractor-trailers and other commercial trucks increasingly are using technology to help make them safer to drive on the nation’s highways and local roads. Many of the safety features are similar to ones commonly used in private passenger cars and other vehicles.
If you are driving a recently built car, it might have blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and other systems that help to prevent accidents. Newer commercial trucks often have many of the same safety features to help make them safer.
Technology is helping to improve vehicular safety on cars as well as semis. So is the design of the vehicles to help make car and truck accidents less common and more survivable.
Two Types of Safety Features
All current-production vehicles have two types of safety features: passive and active. ‘Passive’ safety features are those that only work when a collision happens. ‘Active’ features help to prevent accidents from happening.
Seatbelts, air bags, and shatterproof windshields are common examples of passive safety systems used in commercial trucks and private passenger vehicles. Commercial trucks also have underride guards that help to protect other vehicles from driving underneath a trailer or the rear of a commercial truck.
Commercial trucks also use many active safety features that are found in cars. Some of the more commonly used ones are discussed below.
Smart Cruise Control
Cruise control systems in big rigs help to conserve fuel and reduce driver fatigue. Newer versions often include smart cruise control that uses technology to help adjust speeds and maintain safe following distances.
Like private passenger vehicles, smart cruise control systems in trucks often include automated braking that helps them to come to a stop when a vehicle or another object is blocking the way. The active safety system can help to reduce the energy when a commercial truck runs into the back of another vehicle or object.
Road and traffic conditions can vary greatly. Rain, snow, or ice make it harder for a commercial truck to stop, so longer stopping distances are needed. An oil slick or similar slippery substance also could make it harder for a commercial truck to stop safely.
Adaptive braking helps to give a truck its maximum stopping power without causing it to slip and slide out of control. The adaptive system actively can help to prevent serious accidents and minimize damage.
Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
A commercial truck generally has side mirrors and little else to help the driver to see what is behind it. A rear cross-traffic alert system can keep a camera on the spaces behind the truck.
If another vehicle or pedestrian in the way, the system alerts the driver. The driver then can stop until the way is clear. Many trucks also can use the systems to make it easier to hook up to a trailer.
Blind-Spot Monitoring and Lane-Departure Assistance
A commercial truck has a large blind spot. Side mirrors help to reduce the size of blind spots, but they still can have significantly large blind spots. Radar and camera technologies can eliminate blind spots by identifying vehicles that are alongside the trucks.
Similar technologies enable many commercial trucks to help alert truckers when their rigs are drifting out of their lanes. The increased ability to monitor blind spots and warn truckers when they are drifting out of their traffic lanes helps to prevent accidents
Electronic Stability Control and Tire Monitoring
A trucker can drive safely if the commercial rig is unstable. It is very important for trucks to have good suspension systems to maintain stability while hauling their loads. Electronic stability control helps to do that.
The system can detect the loads on the wheels and adjust wheel speed to help maintain traction and stability. The system also can help to adjust the suspension to maintain stability and prevent jackknifing and rollover accidents.
Tire monitoring systems also can help to track tire pressures and indicate when one or more tires are losing air. The truck driver can inspect any suspect tires and better judge how to handle any tire issues that might occur.
A truck tire is relatively large and heavy. If one or more of them fail, the trucker could lose control of the rig. The tire also might become a danger to other motorists. That is especially true with tread separations that send large chunks of truck tires flying beyond the rear end.
High Cost of Truck Accidents
Accidents with commercial trucks are especially dangerous. A fully laden tractor-trailer could weigh up to 80,000 pounds versus about 4,000 pounds for a private passenger vehicle. Commercial trucks also are taller and have higher centers of gravity.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says 4,014 people died in accidents with commercial trucks in 2020. About two-thirds of those fatalities were people in other vehicles. Another 16 percent were motorcyclists or pedestrians. The IIHS says the rest were occupants of commercial trucks.
Commercial trucks have a high potential to cause significant damage and catastrophic injuries to those in a private passenger vehicle. When commercial trucks and cars collide, the IIHS says 97 percent of the fatalities are people in private passenger vehicles.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says the costs of a fatal accident with a big rig average $3.6 million. An injury crash averages $200,000 in costs. The FMCSA says the average cost of all accidents is $91,000, which illustrates the costly nature of accidents with large commercial trucks.
Factors that Contribute to Truck Accidents
Truck drivers have to successfully complete training programs and obtain and maintain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The special training and need to pass CDL road tests to maintain their licenses help to make truck drivers generally better and safer drivers than car owners.
Despite their professional training and licensing requirements, the IIHS says there are common factors that cause truck drivers to get into accidents.
Fatigue is a major factor in many accidents with commercial truck drivers. Many drivers are on the road for up to 11 hours per day. Long hours behind the wheel cause fatigue, which leads to driver error and accidents.
Truck drivers also could engage in common driving behaviors that make accidents more likely. They include distracted driving and driving under the influence. Relying on additional safety features still requires drivers to pay attention and abide by traffic laws.
Defective Equipment Causes Many Truck Accidents
Defective equipment is another common factor in truck accidents. The owners and operators of commercial trucks are responsible for ensuring that they are in good running condition.
Unfortunately, poorly maintained trucks still find their way onto our roads, which makes them more dangerous for all motorists. The IIHS says a tractor-trailer with defective equipment is 200 percent more likely to end up in an accident.
The IIHS says defective brakes were found on 56 percent of commercial trucks that were involved in accidents. Defective brakes are especially dangerous due to the longer stopping distances required for commercial trucks and their height and weight.
Whether defective brakes or another defective system caused an accident, the driver and owner of the rig could be held liable. So might other third parties, including manufacturers and maintenance-services providers. A truck accident lawyer could help to sort out liability and hold offending parties accountable for accidents.
A New Jersey Truck Accident Lawyer at Ellis Law, P.C., Can Help to Hold Liable Parties Accountable
If you or a loved one were injured in a truck accident, a New Jersey truck accident lawyer at Ellis Law, P.C., can help you to hold the offending driver accountable. You can call 732-308-0200 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation at our law office in Freehold, New Jersey. Our clients generally are located in Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.