Research completed earlier this year by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute is helping guide the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in its decisions to make stability control systems mandatory for tractor-semitrailers. With costs to retrofit most trucks in the neighbor hood of $2,000 to $2,500, just how valuable will all these control systems truly end up being?
A key finding in the study indicated that rollovers occur in only about 13 percent of heavy truck fatal crashes. That's just 13 out of every 100 crashes with a fatality involve the vehicle rolling over. The kicker, however, is that of those 100 deaths, an average of 50 of them were caused by those 13 trucks losing control and rolling.
The University of Michigan study also went on to indicate that at least 100 lives and approximately 4,400 injuries could be saved or prevented if trucks needing stability control systems had them installed. Here's where the ethical questions meet up with the economic ones. Lives are precious, and putting a price tag on them can be a challenge in the very best situations (think insurance coverage, etc.)
With estimates of there being over 2 Million trucks on U.S. roads, the price tag to outfit all of them with either roll stability control or electronic stability control (or a combination of both technologies) at a conservative price tag of $2,000, you're looking at $4 billion.
Opponents of the potential mandate indicate that tanker trucks are the vehicles most likely to cause intense, serious, and often fatal accidents when they roll over in an accident. It seems that controlling thousands of gallons of fluids is no easy task. When the truck's direction is altered radically, as occurs if a driver takes evasive measures to avoid a crash, the momentum of the tank's contents might not comply.
So those who realize the value and importance of stability control systems seem to be pushing to limit just which tractor trailer types receive the mandate to have stability systems installed. This could greatly reduce the number of vehicles requiring far less than that $4 billion dollars.
What exactly will be the economic impact on the nation's trucking industry? With over 500,000 companies in the U.S. transporting goods, the financial bottom line could get dicey. Factor in to the mix that over 82 percent of trucking companies have 6 or less trucks. $10,000 to 12,000 on average for each business would be quite the bill to pay; especially considering the average company operates at below 5 percent profit margin.
At the end of the day, the government will hopefully choose the vehicles most in need of stability control systems and make recommendations that most trucking companies add the systems where they are able. It's very likely to see some sort of economic incentive for company owners in terms of tax breaks, or purchase rebates for system installations.
Whatever ends up happening, it's clear that for a relatively small amount of capital investment, trucks can be made safer with add ons and truck accessories or parts. That safety will both reduce fatalities related to truck roll overs as well as decreasing, by thousands, the injuries which occur during these accidents.
The NHTSA is expected to rule on its decision to mandate installation of stability control systems by the end of this year, 2010. If all goes well, implementation could be as soon as 2012.
Do you think that the government should mandate stability control systems in trucks? Tell us, in the comments below.