Stability control should be standard

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Nearly every morning, when I flip on the news, there it is – a major blight on the image of trucking: “There’s an overturned truck on Route X,” says the nonchalant traffic reporter.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Technology can prevent such occurrences. That’s why Mack Trucks deserves kudos for announcing that it is making its Road Stability Advantage (RSA) by Bendix standard equipment on its highway vehicles.

RSA is a full electronic stability system designed to reduce incident potential. It uses the existing ABS wheel-speed sensors, along with steering, yaw and lateral acceleration inputs. It can cut power and apply brakes selectively in sharp curves, sudden lane changes or obstacle avoidance maneuvers, to restore stability and keep drivers out of trouble.

In conjunction with Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, Mack began offering the RSA system as an option on its highway tractors late last year.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to drive a rig outfitted with the Bendix system – the company calls it the Roll Stability Program, which is a subset of its comprehensive Electronic Stability Program (ESP) – at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, Ohio.

ESP can be triggered, I learned, by taking an exit ramp too fast or making an emergency lane change at even moderate speeds. ESP is built entirely on Bendix’s ABS platform and does not involve electronically controlled braking (ECBS, EBS or brake-by-wire).

The TRC demos included several moderate-speed (30-45 mph) J-turns and lane changes with ESP turned off, then on. The switched-off runs were wheels-in-the-air exciting, with the test rig saved from rollover only by wheeled outriggers on the trailer. The switched-on runs were boring by comparison, with stability maintained and speed reduced, despite the best efforts of yours truly and other drivers to “lose it.”

Given enough speed and steering input, the laws of physics eventually will outmuscle ESP, and you still could be looking at a costly accident, explained Kevin Romanchok, Bendix’s product line director of electronics. Fortunately, out on the road, no one tries to lose it, even though it happens accidentally every day. Romanchok cautioned that ESP is not a cure-all, but coupled with prudent driving, it can identify and react to certain situations faster than a human can, and provide a substantial safety margin for truck operators and the public.

“The decision to make Mack RSA standard now was not a difficult one,” says Tom Kelly, Mack’s vice president of marketing. “The system has demonstrated that it can do what it’s intended to do.”

Couldn’t have said it better. If it can prevent accidents and save lives, every truck should have it.