ATRI State Survey of Rollovers May Spark Safety Measures

By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the May 21 print edition of Transport Topics.

American Transportation Research Institute has completed the first phase of a truck rollover study that it said could result in highway improvements and electronic notification systems to warn drivers as they approach areas where roll-overs are prevalent.

“What we’re talking about in our Phase Two work is actually architecting a real-time information delivery system so that when a driver comes into one of these locations, they would receive a message on their in-cab communication system to adjust their driving behavior,” ATRI President Rebecca Brewster said.

Released May 9, the ATRI rollover study is based on more than 50,000 police reports on rollover crashes that occurred in 31 states from 2001 through 2009. The study contains state maps that pinpoint locations where rollovers frequently occur.

Relaying the information to drivers is “simply a matter of integrating the database into systems that already exist,” such as Global Positioning Systems and smart phones that could chime a warning, Brewster said. ATRI is working with “a major in-cab communications provider and several motor carriers to architect and pilot test this system,” said Brewster, who declined to name the firms involved.

“I’ve already sent the information out to our members to let them know those are some hot spots,” said Jamie Fiepke, president of Kentucky Motor Transport Association.

“I’m sure those folks will take it to their [drivers] and say, ‘Hey, when you’re going in these areas, you need to watch out because they’re susceptible to rollover,’ ” Fiepke said.

He also sent the study to state highway engineers who are redesigning what Kentuckians call the “spaghetti bowl” — the intersection in Louisville of Interstates 65, 64 and 71.

ATRI identified that site as Kentucky’s top rollover location, with eight rollover crashes in nine years. In all, Kentucky had 705 rollovers, 144 of which involved fatalities.

Fiepke’s response aligns with what researchers said they hope will happen as the study is disseminated and moves into later phases.

Fiepke said the study validates what Kentucky truckers already know: Rollovers in their state occur where the speed limit quickly changes from 70 mph to 35 mph with little warning and no spare lanes for slowing or merging.

The study said, “Factors regularly influencing large truck rollovers can generally be grouped into three categories: driver error; large truck design characteristics; and the operating environment, with driver error being the most significant.”

The study and state-by-state maps can be accessed by linking to

Brewster said the study’s third phase will focus on highway design and signs at top roll-over sites in order to “identify and categorize” flaws that can be corrected.

At this stage, only 31 states collect the type of data in the format needed by ATRI researchers, Brewster said.

The study is to be ongoing, meaning new rollover data will be added each year from the 31 states, as well as from other states when it becomes available, Brewster said.

She cautioned against comparing state-to-state rollover numbers, in part because comparable traffic volumes are not available from the states.

When ATRI researchers showed their results to state trucking leaders, the researchers learned some states were already improving interstate interchanges with high rollover numbers, so those construction projects are noted on the state maps, Brewster said.

That was the case in Washington State, where ATRI researchers studied 1,163 rollover crashes, 56 of which involved fatalities. According to the study, construction work is under way on three of the highest rollover locations, which alone accounted for 23 rollover crashes.

However, not all top rollover locations can be explained by poor infrastructure design, Brewster said.

Sparsely populated Wyoming, for instance, shows up in the study with a high number of rollovers — 1,728 over the nine-year reporting period.

Many of those rollovers are actually “blowovers,” Brewster said, meaning that reducing the number may involve better warning systems during periods of high winds, she said.

ATRI said it launched the study because rollover crashes take such a heavy toll on the industry.

In 2009, 52% of all large truck occupant fatalities involved a rollover and such crashes are the most costly, the study said. A rollover that resulted only in property damage cost on average $196,958, a figure that increased six-fold to $1,143,018 when a fatality occurred, the study said.

“If we’re going to start to bite away at the apple in terms of reducing crashes, this is a good place to start to get the most bang for your buck in terms of reducing costs, reducing crash severity and reducing overall crash experience,” Brewster said.

In addition to the three already mentioned, those states included in the study are: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.