As if the new fuel efficiency and lower emission requirements due this year weren't enough, now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing a safety standard that requires all commercial trucks and buses be upgraded with electronic stability control (ESC). This new rule is the first of its kind and is targeted at all vehicles with a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds.
According to NHTSA Administrator, David Strickland, "We've already seen how effective stability control can be at reducing rollovers in passenger vehicles. The ability for this type of technology to save lives is one reason it is required on cars and light-duty trucks beginning with the model year 2012." He went on to note that current research shows the new technology could prevent up to 56% of rollover crashes and 14% of crashes resulting from loss-of-control in big rigs.
It is anticipated that this new rule would go into effect as early as two years after legislation is signed. That would mean that, in addition to new regulations already requiring upgrades, owners/operators may be looking at additional expenses and/or return visits to the shop in order to meet these new standards. Additionally, the proposal for the new standards includes the addition of performance testing the new technology. Many truck manufacturers are currently installing this additional piece of equipment on new rigs; however, there are actually two types in use.
Either the ESC (electronic stability control) or RSC (roll stability control) are installed in 25% of newer models. Although similar in nature, the RSC is less expensive and is only triggered when the system detects roll instability that often occurs when trucks take turns too fast or maneuver too quickly. The ESC, on the other hand, in addition to the aforementioned, also reacts to both roll and yaw instability. This often occurs during skidding that could result in a jackknife. When the system is activated, the rig slows and individual wheels needed to counteract the skid are activated.
The choice between systems has yet to be decided. However, a University of Michigan Transportation Institute study of 5-axle tractor trailers is swaying many toward the ESC. It was found that the RSC resulted in 3,489 fewer crashes and 106 fewer deaths than trucks without stabilizers of any kind. However, it was also found that with the ESC, 4,659 fewer crashes and 126 fewer deaths resulted.
Should the NHTSA allow either system to be installed, independent and small fleet owners would benefit in costs alone on the less expensive option. According to manufacturer reports, the RSC ranges from $800 to $1600 each (not including labor) whereas the ESC costs from $1800 to $2300 each (excluding labor). Sometimes when new legislation is enacted requiring an upgrade on existing vehicles, however, discounts and incentives may also apply and are something to watch for.
It seems that regardless of how new a rig is the government continues to want the latest and greatest technology added despite costs to owners. Fortunately, members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal after it has been published in the Federal Register or during public hearings held by the NHTSA, which has yet to be determined. For those that have a vested interest in the outcome, now is the time to make sure your voice is heard.