Addressing Crash Worthiness
Unlike passenger car drivers, truck drivers are given little protection from their truck cab in the case of an accident. While “accident prevention” technologies are being advanced by manufacturers and regulatory agencies, these devices can only do so much, especially when 60-80 percent of all truck-involved accidents are the fault of the passenger car driver. Trucker deaths increased by 20 percent over the past year, and a greater effort towards addressing the crashworthiness of the truck cab is long overdue.
Further, truckers are given little to no information about the crashworthiness of the truck they may be considering purchasing. On the passenger car side, there are significant efforts to rank and rate car and light-truck crashworthiness and occupant protection, but little to no attention in this area is present with heavy-duty trucks. All of this is more troubling as regulations regarding fuel economy are placing greater incentives on truck manufacturers to lighten the weight of truck cabs.
The crashworthiness of a truck cab and its ability to protect the occupant trucker appears to be a low priority for NHTSA, even while it is conducting heavy-duty related rulemakings. For instance, the agency is currently developing a final rule on electronic stability control systems. While this may certainly prevent some roll-over accidents by trucks, the vast majority (more than 90%) of truck roll-overs occur after the first event. The system that NHTSA will mandate will not be able to do anything to prevent second-event roll-overs, leaving truckers in a position where they will have very limited protection – basically only their seat belt.
The same holds true for other technologies designed to avoid collisions. NHTSA is conducting important research in this area, but it is not focusing on the issue of the crashworthiness of the cab. To compare this situation to the passenger car industry, today cars benefit from tools like structural improvements, air bags, specialized padding and other technologies that increase the likelihood that an occupant will survive in the case of a crash. In a few years, almost all cars will also benefit from crash avoidance technologies that are optional features today, but they will still retain the occupant protection technology. If the pattern for trucks were followed by cars, all of the occupant protection features would be removed because of the addition of the crash avoidance technology.
Improving Cab Crashworthiness
Ensure that truck manufacturers and DOT work together to implement the recommendations from the MAP-21-required cab crashworthiness study, either through voluntary action, industry standards, or federal motor vehicle safety standards.
Measuring Crashworthiness and Informing Truck Purchasers
NHTSA shall develop a tiered system for rating a truck cab’s occupant protection and structural integrity during an accident.
System shall in a simple and understandable form (potentially based on the existing 1- to 5-star safety system found at SAFERCAR.GOV) be available online for truck purchasers to access on information provided to purchasers by manufacturers.
NHTSA will develop criteria for each level of the safety designation system and testing methods to assess the performance of occupant protection systems and the cab’s structural integrity. System shall also consider the performance of these systems in previous crashes.
Presence of crash avoidance technologies on a truck shall not improve the truck’s score; the sole focus of this system is to measure occupant protection.