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July 15, 2016 3:30 PM, EDT

Fleets Cite Safety Gains, Reduced Claims Costs With Onboard Cameras

From left: Osiecki, Mercadante, Dunaitis, Radke and Spiros by Seth Clevenger/TT
PHILADELPHIA — Several fleet safety executives said their investments in technologies such as collision mitigation systems and onboard video have significantly reduced crashes and claims costs at their companies.

They also discussed the merits of speed limiters and strategies to help alleviate the truck parking shortage during a panel discussion here May 24 at the 2016 ALK Transportation Technology Summit.

Pitt Ohio installed lane departure warning systems about nine years ago, purchased forward-facing cameras in 2011 and then added collision avoidance in 2013.

“We were able to see a huge reduction in accidents with our drivers from the alerts that these systems give off when there’s an event,” Jeff Mercadante, the fleet’s vice president of safety, said during the panel moderated by Dave Osiecki, executive vice president and chief of national advocacy at American Trucking Associations.

From a litigation standpoint, Pitt Ohio’s camera systems have paid for themselves “10 times over” by providing video evidence showing that the truck driver was not at fault, Mercadante said.

John Spiros, vice president of safety and claims management at Roehl Transport, said his fleet has seen a reduction in the frequency of accidents, and in the severity of rear-end accidents, since deploying forward collision avoidance systems.

Pittsburgh-based Pitt Ohio and Marshfield, Wisconsin-based Roehl rank Nos. 52 and 69, respectively, on Transport Topics’ Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

Martin Transportation Systems, based in Byron Center, Michigan, and ranked No. 95 on the for-hire TT100, also uses collision mitigation and cameras on its trucks.

Dale Dunaitis, the fleet’s EOBR administrator, said driver acceptance of onboard video within his fleet took hold as word spread about a case where video evidence exonerated a driver.

“All you need is just the one driver to start calling the next driver to start calling the next driver,” he said. “We’ve been using cameras for just a year, but we’re at the point now where if a guy is getting a new truck and it doesn’t have a camera in it, he’s hounding the shop until we can get one installed.”

ATA’s Osiecki said about 70% of serious crashes involving a truck are caused by the other motorist.

He added that the trucking industry invests more than $7 billion on safety every year, a figure he described as extremely conservative.

Fleets also discussed their efforts to contend with the truck parking shortage, an issue that “seems to be as acute a problem as ever in certain parts of the country,” Osiecki said.

Roehl’s Spiros said the parking challenge is a “huge problem” that could even contribute to drivers choosing to leave the industry.

Chuck Radke, vice president of operations at Omaha, Nebraska-based H&M Trucking, said some of his drivers are testing parking-related mobile apps and are trying out truck stops where they can reserve a parking space.

However, it’s also very important for fleets to communicate with their customers about the availability of parking at their facilities, he added.

Regarding top truck speeds, Spiros said Roehl governs its trucks at 63 miles per hour. The fleet originally set that limit as a way to improve fuel efficiency, he said.

Spiros, who is also a state legislator in Wisconsin, said he believes 65 mph would be an appropriate federal speed limit for trucks. He also said that having one federal maximum speed for trucks would be preferable to leaving it to the states to set their own disparate limits.

Osiecki said the effort by some in the industry — including ATA — to secure a speed limiter requirement has been 10 years in the making.

“We’re optimistic we’ll get a speed limiter proposed rule before the end of this administration,” he said.

Pitt Ohio keeps most of its less-than-truckload and truckload fleet governed at 67 mph, although some city trucks in its LTL group are set at 62 mph, Mercadante said.

However, he agreed that there should be a set speed level for trucks, and 65 would be “a good number.”

H&M’s Radke, on the other hand, said 65 mph would be “a little bit too low” for some western regions with little highway traffic, such as Montana and the Dakotas, where his fleet runs many miles.

He also expressed concerns about too many drivers traveling side-by-side on the highway contributing to traffic congestion.

Radke said his fleet has an incentive program that allows drivers who meet certain idling and fuel efficiency targets to increase their speed up to 70 miles per hour.

On a side note, Dunaitis warned the audience about the existence of speed limiter defeaters that unlock the truck’s speed setting. He said Martin fires about one driver per year for installing such devices.