Can Safety Improvements Be Cost-Effective for Motor Carriers?


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A recently released report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests that America’s trucks be equipped with a number of different safety features that would be both cost-effective and improve road safety. The idea sounds good, but how cost-effective will it really be? Until the cost question is answered with hard data, it is hard to say if the AAA’s proposals are worth pursuing or not.

Cost-effectiveness is always a consideration when the trucking industry starts talking about wholesale, system-wide changes. For example, consider a nationwide carrier like C.R. England. They already stress safety as a top concern among their drivers. If new technologies were introduced capable of making those drivers safer, C.R. England has the financial resources to adopt them. The same may not be true for smaller carriers.

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Carriers with just a few trucks on the road are more vulnerable to the financial strain of big industry changes. The pending ELD mandate is a fitting example. As a percentage of both revenues and profits, smaller carriers pay more to equip their trucks with ELD devices than their larger counterparts. Any additional safety technology that might be forced on the trucking industry through future regulation would have the same effect.

The AAA Proposals

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For the record, the AAA report does not necessarily mean new regulations are in the works. The report simply looks at statistical data and combines it with known technologies that could be implemented in the very near future. It recommends the following safety features being built into all new trucks and installed on existing tracks:

  • Air disc brakes
  • Automatic emergency brake systems
  • Lane departure warning systems
  • On-board video monitoring systems.

The last item on the list, on-board video monitoring systems, is something new to the trucking industry. Such systems use a variety of cameras and sensors to keep track of what drivers are doing. For example, one of the more sophisticated systems can tell if a driver is starting to fall asleep at the wheel. An alarm is sounded to get the driver’s attention and encourage him or her to pull off the road.

The AAA estimates that video monitoring and lane departure warning systems combined could prevent more than 66,000 crashes, 4,000 injuries, and 300 deaths every year. The statistical benefits of equipping trucks with air disc brakes and automatic emergency braking systems are lower but significant enough to consider nonetheless.

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The Cost-Effectiveness Issue

Now that the AAA has raised the issue, you can bet that safety experts and industry trade groups will be considering it. Any decisions that come from the report will ultimately have to be tied to the issue of cost-effectiveness. However, the cost issue is not limited only to the actual cost of implementing new technology. Carriers will also have to consider if the technology will produce the kinds of results that justify the costs associated with it.

Return on investment cannot be ignored in these kinds of issues. No, human life cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents. But if implementing safety technologies does not reduce the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities to at least a moderate degree, the industry could make the case that there are other ways to improve safety without spending money on new technologies.

There are no easy answers right now based solely on the AAA report. Trucking companies and industry trade groups will have to do their own research to come up with concrete answers. For now, though, the conversation has been started.


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