NTSB calls for federal standards for vehicle-to-vehicle communication

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 7/24/2013

A federal accident investigation board is recommending the government set performance standards for technology that would allow cars and trucks to talk to each other.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also recommending that such technology should be required to be installed in all new vehicles.

But some in the trucking industry are skeptical as to whether those technologies will actually provide the touted safety benefits.

The recommendation comes out of a July 23 board meeting in Washington D.C., during which the NTSB reviewed two cases of fatal school bus accidents at intersections in Florida and New Jersey last year.

Vehicles equipped with such technology can communicate continuously over wireless networks, exchanging information on location, direction and speed 10 times a second. The vehicle’s computer analyzes the information and issues danger warnings to drivers, with an effective range of about 1,000 feet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been road-testing the technology for more than a year.

Keith Holloway, a spokesman for NTSB, said vehicle-to-vehicle technology could be used to alert each vehicle of another’s presence, which can possibly prevent any oncoming danger.

The board believes such technology could have averted a February 2012 fatality crash in Chesterfield, N.J., between a school bus and a tractor-trailer trash hauler. The driver of the school bus failed to yield at a stop sign for the trash truck and was struck in the rear, spinning around until it collided with a pole. An 11-year-old girl was killed and five other students were seriously injured.

“From the investigation it was determined that had a connected vehicle technology been available then, an active warning to the school bus driver of the approaching truck could have possibly prevented the crash,” Holloway said in an email to Land Line.

NTSB determined the probable cause of the crash was the school bus driver’s failure to observe the truck, “which was approaching the intersection within a hazardous proximity,” according to the board’s summary.

“Contributing to the school bus driver’s reduced vigilance were cognitive decrements due to fatigue as a result of acute sleep loss, chronic sleep debt, and poor sleep quality, in combination with, and exacerbated by, sedative side effects from his use of prescription medications,” the board summary stated.

“Contributing to the severity of the crash was the truck driver’s operation of his vehicle in excess of the posted speed limit, in addition to his failure to ensure that the weight of the vehicle was within allowable operating restrictions. Further contributing to the severity of the crash were the defective brakes on the truck and its overweight condition due to poor vehicle oversight (by the trucking company), along with improper installation of the lift axle brake system by the final stage manufacture – all of which degraded the truck’s braking performance.”

NTSB also noted that the skew of the intersection where the crash took place required the bus driver to turn farther to the left to observe oncoming traffic, and county officials subsequently made improvements to the visibility of the intersection following the crash.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said he remains skeptical of the feasibility of the technology to be effectively implemented.

“I suspect there’s going to be lots and lots of bumps and potholes in the road before anything like that could actually be considered practical,” he said. “People are going to make mistakes. We need to focus on those areas where we haven’t previously, like perhaps driver training.”

Spencer also noted that the NTSB recommendations are just that – recommendations.

“They aren’t mandates. They don’t even have to be practical or doable,” he said. “They don’t have to survive cost-benefit, and the people that make them are fully aware of that. Are they practical? Would it be practical to take every piece of equipment used in a roll-off trash operation to equip it with scales? Probably not.

“Would the stuff even work? Would the driver even pay attention? And if you did pay attention, what would you do?” Spencer asked. “In the real world, sometimes you just do the best you can with what you’ve got to work with. If you’ve got good people driving the vehicles, it usually works out pretty good.”

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