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Study: Electronic safety systems could cut truck crashes by 40%

When a semi-truck rear-ends you, you are in big trouble. The sheer size and weight of the truck makes commercial trucks especially deadly. They often weigh 20-30 times as much as a passenger car.

In the U.S., most traffic fatalities are down, but fatalities from truck accidents have ben rising since 2009, when they hit an all-time low. In 2018, 4,136 people died in crashes with big rigs. Among them, 119 died when trucks rear-ended them.

Many of today’s vehicles have advanced safety features that can help reduce crashes. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), equipping commercial trucks with two critical systems could eliminate over 40% of fatal rear-end collisions with those trucks. Those are forward collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems.

Forward collision warnings and AEB cut rear-end collisions by more than 40% each

According to a recent study by the IIHS, forward collision warning systems reduced rear-end collisions by 44%. AEB reduced them by 41%. The systems also reduced overall crashes by 22% and 12%, respectively.

The study examined about 2,000 crashes occurring between 2017 and 2019. This covered over 2 billion vehicle miles traveled. Incidents that didn’t involve injuries or significant property damage were excluded.

Forward collision warning systems, like other front-crash prevention systems, involve cameras, sensors and radar that monitor the road ahead. A forward collision warning system senses when a crash is likely and alerts the driver. An AEB system goes a step further and applies the brakes to prevent the upcoming collision or reduce its seriousness. AEB systems generally have forward collision warning systems included.

According to the IIHS, the EU requires both systems on most new large trucks. Unfortunately, the systems are not standard on either trucks or passenger cars. That said, the 20 car makers that account for 99% of the American market are working toward making AEB standard on almost all passenger cars by 2022 -- but not on tractor-trailers.

Previous studies had established that AEB reduces rear-end collisions by 56% in passenger cars. Additionally, AEB reduces injury claims by people in other vehicles and cuts down on property damage claims. In cars, AEB has been shown to be significantly more effective than a warning alone. So, it was a surprise to find that forward collision warning systems had nearly the same protective value in commercial trucks.

In fact, when the IIHS examined rear-end collisions in trucks with one of the two systems versus trucks without either, the group found that either system caused a speed reduction of over 50% between the system’s first warning and the impact.

The benefits could be even more substantial

The IIHS also found that either a forward collision warning system or an AEB could reduce the severity of those crashes that they could not prevent. This was true when the driver received an early warning and has that moment of extra time to react. It was also true when the system applied the brakes automatically. Both interventions reduced the impact speed, which reduced the overall severity of the crashes that did happen.

“The potential benefits are great enough that these crash avoidance systems should be standard equipment on all new large trucks,” said a spokesperson for the IIHS.

So why aren’t they?

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