Traffic merges into one lane after a fatal accident on Interstate 95 at the Maryland House rest stop near Aberdeen, Md., on April 27, 2005. / MATTHEW GIVE, AP
Installing video-based safety monitors in the nation's fleet of large trucks and buses could reduce fatal crashes in which the truck or bus driver was at fault by more than 20% a year and save 801 lives, according to new research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
At-fault truck and bus injury crashes could be cut by more than 35%, eliminating 39,000 injuries, researchers found. The projections are based on the use of in-vehicle video cameras that record driving behavior and send data back to the company.
The new projections grew out of research that the institute conducted in 2009 for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
In that experiment, 100 tractor-trailer trucks from two different commercial fleets were equipped with video-based devices that collected data for 17 consecutive weeks while the truck drivers made their normal deliveries. Risky driving behavior was captured by an on-board monitor and transmitted to safety managers who analyzed it, then coached drivers as needed.
One company reduced risky driving events - potential crashes - by 37% per 10,000 miles driven, the other by 52% per 10,000 miles driven.
Jeff Hickman, group leader for the Behavioral Analysis and Applications Group of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the institute, took those earlier results and overlaid them on data from a national crash database of 10,648 fatal collisions and 213,000 injury crashes involving large trucks and buses that occurred in 2010-2012.
Hickman said the value of his research is that, unlike previous studies of on-board monitoring systems, he was not focused on a specific crash type but on driver behavior. "If you want to get the most bang for your buck, you focus on driver behavior," he said.
Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents 150,000 truckers, dismissed his analysis. "We see no significant safety benefit based on the study as it relies on faulty methodology and leaps to conclusions based on inaccurate assumptions and wording regarding truck crashes," she said.
It apparently attempts to substitute technology for thorough driver training and experience, she said. "Correcting driver behavior should take place long before a driver gets a CDL (commercial driver's license). Also, a dash camera doesn't see everything going on that a trainer in the cab would observe such as traffic, weather and other correlating factors."
Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, the nation's largest trucking industry trade association, disagreed, saying the research "could serve as a model for other crash reduction research efforts."
"Though most serious truck crashes are not preventable by the truck driver since they are initiated by other motorists, this research shows that driver monitoring systems hold great promise for mitigating the remaining preventable crashes," Graves said.
A similar study using the same technology with newly licensed teen drivers found that they also cut down on risky behind-the-wheel behavior, by up to 58%.
The institute study looked at a video-based program called DriveCam by Lytx, which commissioned the new analysis. That system costs $50-$75 per vehicle per month and is installed in more than 950 commercial and government fleets worldwide, according to the company.
Hickman said similar safety results could be expected from any video-based system with the same capabilities.
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