February 1, 2006
Thanks to the continuing advancement of technology, today’s trucks are safer by their very design. Nevertheless, there are components that can be spec’d and installed by the truck manufacturer or added aftermarket to help lessen the chance of a driver becoming involved in an accident.
Obviously, good visibility is paramount. Research shows that 90 percent of all driving decisions depend on vision alone. Therefore windshields, windows mirrors and lights are very important. While the visibility on most of today’s truck models is good, there are still things to be considered.
For example, the larger the cab, the farther apart the windows, which reduces the driver’s field of vision. Cut-down window sills and “peep” windows in the door allow a driver to see more of what’s going on alongside his truck.
The height of the truck cab and the hood design affect visibility. The bigger the windshield and the greater the slope and shortness of the hood, the better the driver’s forward and right-front view. Cab-over-engine and low-cab-forward trucks provide increased forward visibility as there is no hood to block anything ahead.
Motorized mirrors are easier to adjust than manual mirrors. Plus, they can be moved sideways and up and down. Some models have a convex spot mirror included in the housing and they, too, are often motorized.
Placing convex spot mirrors on front fenders can help eliminate the blind spot alongside the hood and help show what’s beside the rest of the truck. These mirrors can also be placed on the rear of vehicles to further help reduce blind spots.
Mirrors are available with specially coated glass that darkens to cut glare, similar to the way transition eyeglass lenses darken automatically when exposed to sunlight. Mirrors also are available with heating elements to resist snow, ice and fogging.
A variety of technologies are being developed to help make trucks safer, not just for the drivers but for the vehicles around them. These safety technologies are intended to assist the driver in making the right driving decisions. According to the research, some 93 percent of all accidents involve driver error.
A number of electronic systems are available that provide obstacle detection, accident avoidance and collision warning. These typically use side- and rear-facing electronic sensors to constantly monitor stationary and moving vehicles, compute whether a collision is likely and trigger an alarm to warn the driver of potential hazards.
The purpose of these early warning systems is to help drivers react more quickly to unexpected objects and avoid accidents.
Enhancements have been made to anti-lock braking systems. Some can electronically provide increased vehicle stability for a higher level of protection against the possibility of rollovers and jackknifes. Others alert the driver to a potential rollover and/or automatically slow the truck to reduce the risk of an accident.
A number of aids also exist to make backing safer. These include rear-mounted observation camera systems that eliminate rear blind spots, backup alarms and lights, and rear-sensing and collision-avoidance systems.
Depending on the truck manufacturer, different truck models come with different safety features, such as a driver’s air bag, “crash resistant” doors, collapsible steering wheel, etc.
When it comes to lighting, being seen is as important as being able to see. Here again, advances in technology have brought about improvements in lighting applications for trucks. Lights are available with higher power and brightness for enhanced interior illumination, better exterior illumination to make trucks more visible to others vehicles and improved forward visibility at night.
Light-emitting diode (LED) marker and stop/tail/turn lights provide instantaneous and brighter illumination than incandescent lights. Because LED lights are more efficient, they use less power and last longer.
Contributing to a longer life is the construction of LED lights. Because they don’t have a filament like incandescent bulbs, LEDs don’t burn out and are much more resistant to damage from shock and vibration.
Many truck manufacturers are equipping their newer models with LED lights.
More than half of all driver injuries are due to slips and falls from getting on and off trucks and trailers. Driver falls, especially from exiting the cab, are a main source of worker’s compensation claims. Consequently, the design, size, sturdiness and placement of steps and grabhandles are very important.
Do not overlook the rear deck of tractors, where drivers need to climb on and off to hook and unhooked trailer air and electrical lines. Depending on your operation, you may want to consider placement of steps and handles on trailers and truck bodies as well.
The driver has a critical role in safety. The happier and more comfortable a driver is, the safer and more productive he will be. Therefore, do not skimp on driver comfort and amenities. Consider such specs and items as:
Comfortable, quiet, smoothing-riding cab.
Tilt and telescoping steering columns.
Power window on the passenger side.
Functional layout of the instrument panel and switches.
An important element to safety is on-going training and safety programs to keep drivers’ skills sharp. Good programs will pay dividends in terms of saving lives, preventing injuries, avoiding property damage, helping to keep insurance costs low, staying clear of negative publicity and avoiding lawsuits.
When it comes to safety, it ought to be considered an investment, not an expense. BI
David Kolman is a veteran truck communicator, keynote speaker and long-haul trucker. Commissioned as an Honorary Colonel on the Kentucky governor’s staff for his work promoting traffic safety, he actively participates in trade associations and reports news and information about the trucking industry for broadcasting and print media.
The driver’s part
Drivers play an integral role in safety. Aside from being professionals in their driving and delivery responsibilities, drivers should be reminded to:
Follow the three-point system when climbing onto or down from a truck or trailer. That means having at least three points of contact at all times — two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand. This gives a driver maximum stability and support, reducing the likelihood of slipping and falling.
Wear their seat belts. Properly worn seat belts prevent drivers and any passengers from hitting the dashboard, steering wheel and windshield when involved in an accident. Seat belts keep occupants inside the vehicle and that increases chances of survival. Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that “more large truck fatalities come from single-truck accidents in which the drivers needed to be secured.”