Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) is adding three safety features that could build on preliminary federal statistics that showed truck-related crash deaths fell last year while passenger car fatalities increased.

The new features for the Detroit Assurance suite of safety systems add more automation to trucking in speed control and braking. 

The advances coincided with preliminary 2020 crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that showed truck-related crash fatalities in 2020 declined by 2% after years of increases.

Truck-related crashes stood out because passenger vehicle crash deaths rose 7.2% in the pandemic year when fewer miles were driven.

Truck-related crash fatalities drop

There were 4,895 people killed in crashes involving a heavy truck last year compared to 5,005 in 2019. The percentage of crashes involving a heavy truck fell in nine of 12 months and tied with 2019 in three others, according to NHTSA-compiled statistics.

Adoption of active safety systems like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning introduced on many trucks beginning in 2018 appear to have contributed to the positive statistic.

“Based on everything we’ve seen from the research and also real-world use, they do,” Harry Adler, principal at the nonprofit Institute for Safer Trucking, told FreightWaves. “I think a lot of people recognize this technology works, whether it’s automatic emergency braking or the companies that have voluntarily limited their speed limiters.”

Fleets are increasingly ordering advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to help make the task of driving easier and to reduce driver fatigue. The additional cost of the systems is offset by fewer crashes and resulting lawsuits, in which the trucking companies are often found responsible. 

Juries have awarded more than 300 verdicts of $1 million or more against trucking fleets in the last five years, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). The institute released an 80-page report last June that studied large and so-called “nuclear verdicts’’ from 2006 to 2019.

“The [return on investment] on safety equipment can be seen as early as 16-18 months,” said Brian Holland, president and chief financial officer at Fleet Advantage, which provides fleet business analytics, equipment financing and asset life cycle cost management. 

“Safety technologies such as collision avoidance and lane departure used to be optional, whereas today, they are standard,” Holland told FreightWaves. “As more fleets adopt a shorter life cycle strategy, new trucks with advanced safety features will permeate across more fleets [and] make their way into the secondary market.”

Detroit Assurance adds features

Daimler said customers wanted more safety features in new trucks. So the Detroit Assurance package available on the Class 8 Freightliner Cascadia and Western Star 49X with a Detroit Diesel powertrain now makes available:

Active Speed Intervention (ASI): If the truck exceeds the posted speed limit, ASI alerts the driver with visual and auditory warnings. If the driver ignores the warnings, ASI will de-throttle the engine for two seconds, adjust Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) to the posted speed limit or cancel ACC.

Active Lane Assist (ALA) with Auto Stop: Available only on the Cascadia, this feature actively brakes the truck rather than letting it roll to a stop in case of an incapacitated driver or if the driver’s hands are off the steering wheel for more than 60 seconds. When ALA’s Auto Stop function engages, Lane Keep Assist (LKA) keeps the truck centered in its lane while gradually braking to 0 mph. After coming to a stop, the vehicle doors automatically unlock and the interior lights flash in an SOS sequence, alerting other motorists to the need for assistance.

Brake Hold Mode: After coming to a stop, the driver further presses the brake pedal to activate the Brake Hold Mode function, which reduces driver fatigue from holding the brake pedal for a long time, such as at weigh scales and in heavy traffic. Tapping the brake pedal or pressing the accelerator starts moving the truck again.  

“By providing drivers with tools such as Detroit Assurance, we help mitigate potential accidents, as well alleviate driver fatigue and strain, which will help drivers stay more aware and make their jobs a little bit easier,” said David Carson, DTNA senior vice president of sales and marketing. 

Related articles:

Getting NHTSA’s message: Daimler recalls 19,000 trucks despite no complaints

IIHS: Truck safety equipment could cut 40% or rear-end collisions 

Truck safety groups push Congress for speed limiter mandate

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.