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As Fleets Adopt Technology, The Public Remains Skeptical Of Safety Focus

FreightWaves

Commercial drivers are among the safest drivers on the roadways, but based on general public perception, and anti-trucking safety groups that highlight the number of yearly incidents involving big rigs, it would be difficult to tell that.

According to data within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), there were 164,529 large trucks involved in crashes in 2018, with 79,879 injuries and 4,708 deaths reported. Those numbers were comparable to 2017's figures, with 154,634 crashes, 75,985 injuries and 4,858 deaths.

In 2013, the American Trucking Associations released results of a research project conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. That study looked at 8,309 fatal car-truck crashes and found that in 81% of the incidents, the car driver was assigned fault, versus just 27% of truck drivers to which fault was assigned. Similarly, a 2003 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identified 10,092 fatal car-truck accidents and assigned blame to the car driver 91% of the time in head-on crashes. It also found that 71% of the time the car driver was responsible for rear-end crashes.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) said that commercial trucks traveled over 9.4 billion miles in 2017. While the numbers can be significant, when putting them in context based on the number of miles traveled and compared to automotive-only numbers, a different story emerges.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 0.94 passenger car occupants were killed in 2017 per 100 million truck miles traveled. Conversely, 1.16 people were killed per 100 million miles traveled overall in 2017. Statistically speaking, fewer people die in truck-car crashes than in car crashes alone.

Whatever study is used, the fact remains that the car driver is more often at fault in incidents involving commercial trucks than the truck driver. But, this fact doesn't show up polls.

Poll: Drivers Worried About Schedules

In a recent Verizon Connect survey of Americans' opinions of truck drivers, the research found that 83% believe they are safer drivers than commercial vehicle drivers, and 67% think that commercial drivers are more worried about their schedule than they are about safety. This, despite the fact that only 3% of severe crashes in the U.S. involve a commercial truck.

With hundreds of thousands of commercial vehicles on the road, it only takes one to create a negative impression among the general public. The Verizon Communications Inc (NYSE: VZ) survey reported that 81% of respondents say they have witnessed a commercial vehicle being driven dangerously, with speeding (69%), abrupt lane changes (55%), driving erratically (46%), running or nearly running off the road (38%) and taking turns or corners too quickly (37%) topping the list of dangerous maneuvers.  

Another misconception the survey found is that 58% of people believe more commercial vehicle accidents happen on highways. The truth is, Verizon said, that 70% of fatal commercial truck crashes occur on roads that are not interstate highways.

When asked whether commercial vehicles should include video monitoring of driver behaviors, 84% of adults living in cities and 69% of adults in the suburbs said they should.

Advanced Safety Deployment

Many big fleets, and a growing number of smaller fleets and owner-operators, agree with that statement. Video, though, is only one part of the safety equation that fleets are employing. Others include collision mitigation and lane departure warning technologies to name a few.

In 2017, then-Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR) CEO Chris Lofgren said the company had reduced rear-end collisions by 69% following investment in collision mitigation systems, which monitor objects in front of commercial trucks and provide alerts and even braking power if the following distance is not adequate.

A 2017 U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing addressed the subject of mandating technology for commercial vehicles.

"We need to get the best of technology into trucks, something I've learned a lot since I've been serving on this subcommittee, where some in the industry are leading and some are lagging. We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to help trucks automatically brake, even when the driver might be tired or distracted," Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) said in his opening statement.

While there hasn't been a mandate, the benefits of technology, including the use of artificial intelligence, are becoming clear.

Speaking at a December 2018 Piper Jaffray conference, Steve Mitgang, CEO of SmartDrive Systems, said that personal injury claims can push a vehicle accident well past $15,000.

"We're talking average annual premiums of $10,000, $12,000 or $13,000," Keep Truckin CEO Shoaib Makani said. In-cab video "pays for itself, immediately and multiple times over the minute you deploy it."

Dash cameras help exonerate commercial drivers when they are not at fault in an accident. This is among many other benefits such as driver behavior improvement through video-based coaching opportunities.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence

It's not just collision mitigation systems and cameras that are improving vehicle safety; artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a larger role. Netradyne, an AI-based safety company, recently said that its Driveri vision-based platform has led to a 61% improvement for non-stop events and 51% improvement for rolling stops for fleets that have installed the system. Additionally, the company noted that stop sign compliance has improved 55% across its entire customer base, and up to 90% at select fleets.

Driveri utilizes AI to capture every minute of the driving day to visually recognize and analyze driving events, enabling fleets to not just measure violations, but overall compliance. Netradyne said that this approach allows the system to see events that trigger-based systems would not. NHTSA said that 37% of vehicle-related fatalities are from intersections, with 15% of those related to a stop sign violation. 

"The very fact that this improvement can be recorded illustrates the power of AI within our industry," Adam Kahn, president of fleet for Netradyne, said. "Just a few years ago, things like rolling stops would have not been captured. Today, our intuitive, deep-learning, vision-based technology allows us to highlight your drivers' great driving while gaining visibility into other incidents with full context for more productive conversations between fleet managers and drivers." 

AI, cameras and advanced safety systems do not replace the due diligence of a professional driver, but they are contributing to a culture that places safety at the forefront of every task commercial drivers are asked to undertake. And that is leading to lower insurance premiums, fewer claims, and most importantly, fewer incidents.

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