High-tech society with low-tech trucks: A dialogue for safer roads

Guest editorial
Will Ballas
Generation Next Governor-at-Large
The American Road Machinery Company 

This article was published in the December 2018 edition of NTEA News.

We are all guilty of it at one point or another — heads down and eyes fixed on a phone screen as we scroll through emails, social media, and anything else that distracts us from reality. This is commonplace and routine in our everyday lives — this high-tech, high-speed exchange of information. However, as we scroll and stroll, we seem to have forgotten the rule we learned as children: look both ways before crossing the street.

Because of high-tech distractions and human forgetfulness, there has recently been a rise in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities throughout America, specifically truck-related.

We can sit here and blame this emerging issue of pedestrian fatalities on cultural arrogance or social Darwinism, but organizations like Volpe Center, a unique federal agency under the U.S. Department of Transportation, have taken it upon themselves to advance transportation for the public good, one safer truck at a time.

What is Volpe Center?
Volpe Center, fully funded by sponsored projects, operates as a centralized think tank. With 45 years of multidisciplinary knowledge, its mission is “to improve transportation by anticipating and addressing emerging issues and advancing technical, operational, and institutional innovation across all modes.” They partner with public and private organizations to assess the needs of the transportation community, and ultimately inform decision- and policy-making through analyses, driving toward enhanced quality of life for the traveling public, today and into the future.

Vision Zero
One of the Center’s newest undertakings is the establishment of Vision Zero, an aggressive countermeasure to prevent pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. According to Volpe’s Dr. Alex Epstein, 374 bicyclists and 1,372 pedestrians were killed in collisions with trucks in the U.S. over a recent five-year period. In many instances, these loss-of-life circumstances could have been prevented with modernization of a so-called low-tech truck.

Transforming low-tech to high-tech
Many fleets spend a significant sum each year on new work trucks; often, the simplest pieces of safety equipment are neglected. The following four vehicle-based components can be easily integrated into any work truck and meet Vision Zero initiatives while providing a safer truck for the public.

  • Side guard systems: Safety devices designed to keep pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists from being run over by a large truck’s rear wheels in a side-impact collision.
  • Rearview camera systems: Safety devices designed to prevent back-up incidents.
  • Lane departure/blind-spot detection: Camera system that provides specific warnings when objects are outside the typical range of vision.
  • Collision-mitigation systems: Forward-facing sensor camera combination designed to alert the driver of immediate collisions, including pedestrian traffic.

One safer truck at a time is the end goal for Vision Zero. Continuous education within the public and industry is key. There is no silver bullet to prevent vehicle-related fatalities, but truck safety initiatives are being put into place to address emerging issues of a high-tech culture with high-tech solutions. There will surely be industry pushback on possibly prohibitive costs to upgrade fleets, but if any fleet — whether private or public — can avoid one loss-of-life incident, then the costs have paid for themselves many times over.

NTEA’s Generation Next gives new industry professionals support in developing skills and building peer relationships in the work truck industry. Visit ntea.com/generationnext for more resources.