Here and Now

As the logistics and supply chain industry grows, technology will be an anchor for fleet management safety programs.

By David Braunstein

Many companies are making progress in their environment, health and safety (EHS) programs, helping to deliver benefits to companies and the communities in which they operate. The logistics and supply chain industry in particular deserves kudos for managing fleets to be safer on the world’s roads.

However, the numbers are still troubling for fleet operator’s risk of road crashes. Globally, between 25 and 33 percent of road crashes are work-related and 36 percent of occupational deaths are due to vehicle-related crashes. There has been substantial activity by the private sector to curb these numbers, but now companies need to look to further advance and implement technologies aimed toward making vehicles safer.

As roads, vehicles and road safety management systems evolve to adapt to new safety benchmarks, new safety technologies have emerged. And I’m not referring to the now infamous promise of autonomous vehicles. We can now draw upon solutions like night vision, brake assist, rear-end collision avoidance systems and automatic collision notifications. These new technologies and specifications continue to help us make significant strides in safety.

As more and more technologies are introduced for fleet vehicle safety, the supply chain and logistics industry stands to benefit greatly from embracing new technological solutions that help avoid collisions. Collisions occur most often from situations involving sudden braking, speeding and limited visibility. Fortunately, there are solutions available to fleets that can help drivers mitigate these challenges on the roads, protecting themselves and other road users — ultimately saving lives.

Safe Braking

With commercial vehicles ranging from light trucks (up to 10,000 pounds) to extra-heavy truck trackers (45,000-plus pounds), it is no surprise that braking is a significant factor in road crashes involving fleet vehicles.

Sudden stops by do not allow enough space and time for the other vehicles to compensate appropriately. But, investments in solutions can mitigate the safety risk. Specifically, collision mitigation systems:

• Utilize data, cameras and radar technology to determine the speed and proximity of vehicles in front of the fleet vehicle;

• Use sensors and vehicle technology systems that work together to brake automatically when the minimum distance between vehicles is breached; and

• Warn drivers of an impending obstacle through visual signals (flashing lights) or vibration ala haptic notification (of the steering wheel or seat) when a driver is approaching a forward vehicle too quickly or the vehicle suddenly brakes.

Additionally, there are solutions to deploy to minimize damages, injuries and fatalities in cases where a crash happens from stopping short, such as underrun guards on tractor trailers. This extra piece of metal fastened below the rear bumper and sides of large commercial vehicles keeps smaller cars from going under the trailer in the event of a collision often resulting in serious injuries or fatalities. While the United States has not mandated these safeguards, Europe requires vehicles to be equipped with underrun guards.

Safe Speeds

Another dangerous position for fleet vehicles involves speed. Speeding not only increases the distance needed to come to a complete stop, but it also increases the risk of the vehicle rolling over when turning or overcorrecting. Single car crashes, head-on and rollover crashes, crashes involving multiple vehicles, and dangerous situations involving other road users, like pedestrians and cyclists, can all result from a vehicle driving too fast.

The chances of other road users being involved in these types of crashes is magnified because vehicles often end up crossing lanes after they slam on the brakes. To avoid rollovers on the road, fleets can utilize electronic stability control (ESC) technologies, which detect skidding or a loss of traction and help the vehicle to improve stability.

Some other common solutions are engine control systems or “limiters” that prevent vehicles from speeding, roll stability systems that correct speed and apply brakes when necessary and adaptive cruise control that adapts speeds to the distance of vehicles ahead.

Safe Sight

A serious safety hazard for fleet drivers is lack of sight. The larger or longer the commercial vehicle, the less visibility the driver has of the surrounding areas. Drivers who cannot see specific areas run the risk of crashing into objects, or running other vehicles off the road simply because they were not visible in the side or rear-view mirrors. As stated earlier, with roughly 90 percent of road crashes being caused in part by human error, technologies that assist with visibility are crucial to fleet and vehicle safety.

A myriad of technologies ranging from simple mirrors to more complex cameras can be installed in fleet vehicles for increasing visibility, including spot mirrors and cameras, as well as rear-view, side and backup cameras and reversing alarms.

In situations where the driver does not have enough visibility, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) signals such as “do not pass” warnings and “intersection movement” warnings, as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) signals like stop sign warnings and red-light violation warnings all help drivers avoid collisions.

Beyond equipping vehicles themselves with safety technologies, cutting-edge solutions are emerging to help fleet drivers “see” better, and then communicate and share the road safely with other road users, including:

• Responder-to-Vehicle communication that alerts motorists in real-time when emergency responders are in the vicinity or en route to a call;

• LIDAR 3D sensors to detect oncoming vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and other safety threats outside of vehicles, and alert drivers to avoid them with real-time warnings and driver retraining; and

• Sensors in smartphones to identify high-risk driver behaviors and provide actionable insights to drivers.

We must take a hard look at how we use the right technologies at the right time to design and manage fleet operations. Return on investment will be an important consideration.  But return on social capital is also a worthy measure of success.  Companies owe that much to their employees — and every citizen at risk. When it comes to good business, there is no better return on investment than saving lives.

David Braunstein is president of Together for Safer Roads. Braunstein’s leadership will help scale and sustain the global coalition’s efforts to improve road safety and save lives. He is responsible for overseeing the organization’s strategic direction on behalf of Together for Safer Roads’ Governing Board and membership, implementing Together for Safer Roads-supported local demonstration projects, advancing TSR’s thought leadership, building key partnerships, and increasing the coalition’s connections to the international road safety community.