Safety – April 2004

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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking to amend its truck size and weight regulations by increasing the distance that width-exclusive devices could extend beyond the sides of commercial motor vehicles by 1 inch. The agency requests comments by May 11 particularly on issues raised by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in response to the original proposal. For a copy of the SNPRM and comments submitted on the initial proposal, visit and search Docket No. 16164.

Occupational Safety and Health alerted approximately 13,000 employers that their injury and illness rates are significantly higher than the national average and encouraged them to address safety and health hazards in the workplace. The 13,000 sites are listed on OSHA’s website at This list does not include employers in 21 states and Puerto Rico that operate OSHA-approved state plans covering the private sector.

ATA Safety & Loss Prevention Management Council’s annual Claims, Loss Prevention & Security Conference & Exhibition will allow attendees to participate in a recreated claims theft “whodunnit.” Attendees will be presented with a recreated cargo theft crime scene and will be asked to investigate suspects and clues. The conference is scheduled for April 18-20, 2004 in Scottsdale, Ariz. For more information, visit this site.

FMCSA has published updated information on commercial motor vehicle safety at this site. The data includes a snapshot of the commercial vehicle industry, related crash statistics, hours-of-service information and more.

American Trucking Associations is seeking support for federal legislation to prevent the issue of intermodal chassis roadability from being addressed only in what it calls a “watered-down version” in U.S. Department of Transportation policy. A House bill (H.R. 2863) would hold intermodal chassis owners accountable for inspecting and repairing them. ATA, the Teamsters and the International Longshoremen’s Association support H.R. 2863, also known as the Intermodal Equipment Safety and Responsibility Act.

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Virginia International Terminals recently established a mandatory portwide chassis pool for its three Hampton Roads state-owned marine cargo terminals. A VIT subsidiary will manage the chassis pool and oversee repairs and maintenance. The program expansion will begin in April and be fully implemented by August.

Georgia Department of Transportation will automate permitting and routing for oversize and overweight vehicles. The state will use the Advanced Routing and Permitting System (ARPS) software from Bentley Systems to allow motor carriers to apply online for permits and routes and receive quick approvals by fax or e-mail.

More brake for less money
When was the last time the federal government proposed a regulation that would result in both improved highway safety and reduced costs for fleet operators? If you are stumped, just wait a few months and you could have an answer. According to Paul Johnston, senior director of the North American foundation brake business unit at ArvinMeritor, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could issue a notice of proposed rulemaking as early as this month to reduce the stopping distance standard for tractor-trailers to 248 feet from 60 mph.

The current standard is 355 feet from 60 mph. The test is conducted using an un-braked trailer loaded to put normal weight on the drive and front axles and demands their normal proportion of the braking needed at 80,000 pounds.

Jim Clark, Dana Corp.’s engineering manager for brakes and chassis control systems, estimates that the practical stopping distance for a rig would then be 215 feet to 220 feet because “you can’t just build for 248 feet and meet the standard.” This will be quite an achievement when you consider that the current stopping standard for cars is 204 feet.

Clark points out that there are three schools of thought as to how to meet the challenge. One is to increase the size of current drums, especially on the steer axle. “We have good braking there today, but they could be bigger,” he says. “That’s the axle you could call under-braked when you consider weight shift to the front axle.” The second approach is to use disc brakes on the steer axle, with drums everywhere else. And, the third, of course, is disc brakes all around.

Discs on all the tractor axles pulling drum-braked trailers, especially old drum-braked trailers, would be a nightmare, Johnston and Clark say. Drums begin to lose braking capability as soon as they start to warm up, and balance is lost. “If the discs do excess work, you get rotor cracking problems and disc life is poor,” Clark says, so discs and drums are “inherently not compatible.” And, when you mate older trailers that use aftermarket linings “not up to snuff,” matters get worse fast.

But under the first scenario, improved braking could actually come with an improvement in lifecycle cost per mile for many fleet operations. Johnston says front axle drums would likely grow from 151/2- by 4-inch linings to 161/2- by 5-inch linings. Drive (and trailer) brakes might go from 161/2 by 7 inches to 161/2 by 8 or even 161/2 by 85/8 inches.

The result should be cost savings. Why? Johnston reports the parts cost almost the same, so OEM upcharges would be low. But the larger linings could postpone a brake job to 500,000 miles as opposed to 300,000 miles today. That means that many fleets will trade their tractors without ever having to reline brakes. The extended life results from the fact that larger drums and linings have better “fade and recovery” characteristics and run cooler.

Cooler linings wear less during a given stop. Running at, say, 150 degrees F instead of 250 degrees F would increase life dramatically. Johnston reports that about 10 percent of the market already specifies oversize linings and that their drivers like the performance. This is a specification you should examine even if NHTSA does nothing.

How does disc-on-front-axle-only shake out? Compatibility with the trailer would not be a problem. “Front axle discs do less work than they would on the drives,” Clark says. Johnston admits drivers can’t really tell much difference, although instruments reveal more even performance side-to-side. And he says that fleets might not recoup the higher acquisition costs at resale, at least in the early years, because buyers might steer clear of technology they aren’t already using. But “bigger is better from a lining volume perspective” when it comes to life, so maintenance costs might turn out favorably, Johnston says. “Fleets will have to try them and find out how it works in their vocation.”

Clark, who also thinks bigger drums are the most likely scenario, is a bit more optimistic than Johnston about the prospects for discs on front axles. “Big discs will last longer than small drums,” Clark says. Plus, “Drivers like the feel of front discs. This includes older drivers who don’t like strong front brakes. At one fleet, they complained when we took them away.” Costs, on the other hand, could be a wash, Clark says. “You’d have higher initial cost, but longer life on the steer axle. And it might help driver retention.”

NHTSA’s new stopping distance standard could be that rarity among federal regulations. It could cost you nothing in the long run, make drivers more comfortable and increase safety for all highway users.
– John Baxter is senior associate editor of Commercial Carrier Journal.

Preventable or not: No time to stop
The scene was the center of a major Midwestern city. It was 9 a.m., the sun was out and the roads were dry. John Doe was idling at a light, preparing for a left turn. After allowing for a polite length of time after the light changed to green, Doe gently nosed his rig out toward the center of the intersection, so he’d be able to quickly move through his turn as soon as an appropriate gap in traffic came his way.

Only seconds after Doe began his move, he heard a loud “bang!” The crash shattered his sense of peace and quiet. Doe didn’t even need to get out of the cab to know what had transpired. He could tell what had occurred by merely glancing in his West Coast mirror.

The bad news was that a brown station wagon had compressed itself against his trailer tandems, wrapping its front bumper part way around them. The good news, however, was that the driver of the automobile was unharmed and that Doe’s rig was not damaged.

Further investigation revealed the wagon’s driver was an 18-year-old male who had approached the intersection on the crossroad at 35 mph. He had failed to realize that the light had turned red until just before reaching the intersection. The automobile driver applied the brakes, but he had not reacted quickly enough to prevent the collision. There were just 15 feet of skid marks.

Doe had only been employed by this company for a year but had driven for almost 10. Even though he had plenty of experience, the company wondered whether or not he could have somehow been more aware and taken some sort of preventive action. So before closing the file on the accident, the carrier referred all the details to the National Safety Council’s Accident Review Committee for its views.

NSC considered what might have happened had Doe been more cautious and looked carefully both left and right before proceeding, about the only preventive measure the most cautious of drivers could have taken under the circumstances.

Investigators noticed that the teen’s vehicle skidded quite a bit to his right, toward where Doe had been sitting while the light was still red. An examination of the positions of both vehicles revealed that Doe’s rig still would have been directly in the path of the inattentive teen’s vehicle. The Accident Review Committee ruled that the crash was not preventable.