Remarks by Jim Hall, Acting Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
SAE Truck and Bus Meeting and Exposition
Safety Technology Issue Forum

Portland, Oregon
December 4, 2000
 



Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here today at the 2000 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Truck and Bus Meeting. I want to thank Jim Hebe, Gary Rossow, Tom Donohue, and SAE for inviting me to participate in this Safety Technology Issue Forum with such a distinguished group of panelists. Before I begin, I would like to introduce members of my staff who are with me today: Joe Osterman, Claude Harris, and Vern Roberts of the Office of Highway Safety, and Jamie Pericola from my office.

Each year, more than 6 million crashes occur on our nation's highways resulting in the death of over 41,000 people. Over 5,000 of those fatalities were the result of a heavy truck or bus crash. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has established a goal of reducing these truck-related fatalities by 50 percent in 2009.

Last year, the Safety Board focused most of its highway resources on the issue of truck and bus safety. As part of that effort, we held four public hearings to examine issues of particular concern. One of those hearings examined the safety improvements that can be achieved through the use of advanced technology. It was clear from that hearing that the truck and bus industries need to make more effective use of advanced safety technologies already available to them.

I was pleased that Secretary Slater announced this summer that the DOT has set a goal that 25 percent of all new commercial vehicles sold in the U.S. will be equipped with at least one item from intelligent transportation system program. It's a good first step. That goal can be achieved now, with available technology some of which was developed using your tax dollars.

I want to briefly talk about three of those systems -- crash avoidance systems, electronic braking, and on-board recorders in commercial vehicles.

Collision Warning Systems

  In 1994, rear-end collisions comprised 26 percent of all crashes. By 1998, they had increased to 29 percent. Ninety-four percent of those crashes occurred on straight roads and 70 percent occurred in daylight. Driver inattention was a major causal factor in about 91 percent of the crashes.

Researchers estimate rear-end collisions could be reduced by more than 50 percent, if drivers had just one-half to one second additional warning time.

The Safety Board first addressed the need for collision warning devices to prevent rear-end collisions in a special investigation report in 1995.

In that report, the Safety Board recommended that the DOT sponsor fleet testing of collision warning systems for trucks. We closed the recommendation as "Closed-Unacceptable Action" in August 1999, because the DOT had not taken any action. However, in November 1999, the DOT finally initiated a field operational test of collision warning systems on trucks - those tests are currently underway.

However, industry hasn't waited for the government to take action. And, I want to congratulate those members of the industry who have taken the lead in the development and promotion of technologically based collision avoidance safety systems. As a result, warning systems are now available as factory options on many class 8 trucks.

Electronic Braking Systems

Vehicle manufacturers such as DaimlerChryler and Volvo are also leading the way to improve brake performance though electronically controlled braking systems (brake-by-wire). This technology will allow faster brake response, improved control of brake forces at each wheel, and provide a platform for further safety advances when combined with stability control systems. The systems are designed to help drivers regain control of their vehicles as they begin to jackknife or spin out.

In addition, rollover warning systems are being developed that can warn drivers as they approach the rollover threshold. Currently, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 121 requires airbrake commercial vehicles to have a pneumatic backup failsafe feature. We believe the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should review this standard to ensure that it will not prevent this safety technology from being developed and implemented.

Electronic Onboard Recording Devices

The Safety Board has advocated the use of electronic on-board recording devices in all modes of transportation because the information collected by these devices can help identify safety trends and develop corrective actions. Recorders can also be an important tool for hours-of-service regulatory compliance and understanding driver and vehicle operating characteristics.

In its final report on the Slinger, Wisconsin accident investigation, the Board issued a safety recommendation to the American Trucking Associations, the Motor Freight Carrier Association, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to advise their members to equip their commercial vehicle fleets with automated and tamper-proof on-board recording devices.

The need for modern information recording devices in all transportation modes has been on the Board's Most Wanted list of safety improvements since that list's inception in 1990.

We issued our first recommendations regarding recorders for highway trucking transport in 1990 as a result of our safety study on fatigue, alcohol, drugs, and medical factors in fatal-to-the-driver heavy truck crashes. In that report, we concluded that these devices could provide a tamper-proof mechanism to enforce the hours-of-service regulations, and would be more accurate and reliable than drivers' handwritten logs.

Last year, the Safety Board recommended that recorders be installed on school buses and motorcoaches. This recommendation was prompted by the lack of crash data available during our special investigation into school bus and motorcoach crashworthiness. Ultimately, access to recorded vehicle information will benefit investigators, manufacturers, and vehicle occupants and improve our highway transportation system.

Commercial vehicle operations have begun to realize the safety benefits to be gained by using recorders for management activities. As a result, a number of truck companies are voluntarily installing recorders in their vehicles. U.S. operators, such as US Xpress, and manufacturers, such as Freightliner, have taken the initiative to incorporate recorders in their vehicles. Also, several school bus districts across the country, such as Montgomery County, MD, have installed recorders in their school buses for management purposes.

The Board believes that the data recorded should be more consistent for commercial vehicles, and is encouraged that the ATA's Maintenance Council has drafted an engineering recommended practice to ensure that comparable event data parameters can be generated, stored, and retrieved by all commercial vehicles.

Although some companies are moving forward, the Safety Board believes that government should make the installation of recorders mandatory on all vehicles. The Board is pleased that in May 2000, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a proposed rulemaking that required recorders for all long haul and regional commercial vehicle operations. The FMCSA has received over 50,000 comments regarding the proposed rule, and we hope that they will quickly evaluate those submissions and bring the rulemaking to require recorders to fruition soon.

Driver Training For New Technology

Just equipping commercial vehicles with these new technologies is not enough. The vehicle operators must be properly trained to operate the equipment. The Board is currently investigating a bus accident that occurred in Canon City, Colorado in December 1999.

The 1999 Setra motorcoach was relatively new with only 20,000 miles on the service brakes, and was equipped with anti-lock brake system and an automatic transmission retarder. The driver lost control on a 5 percent downgrade, left the roadway, and rolled the bus over on its side. The driver and two passengers were killed, and the Colorado State Police determined that all 54 occupants were ejected during the rollover sequence.

Preliminary results indicate although the driver had been operating motorcoaches for over 20 years, he may not have been properly trained on the use of this new safety equipment. As part of its investigation, the Board will examine the issue to determine whether this is an isolated event or an emerging safety problem.

Americans deserve to be safe when they're travelling on the nation's roadways. Technologies available today can help ensure their safety. While I'm encouraged by industry's willingness to develop and use innovative safety technologies, our government must be more responsive to the development these emerging technologies by finding ways to help manufacturers and operators avoid years of bureaucratic rulemaking, to provide incentives to encourage them to adopt unmandated technologies, and change existing rules that hamper the use of new safety systems.

Thank you again, for inviting me to join you today. I look forward to participating in the panel discussion.