December 1, 2008 3:25 PM, EST

Meritor WABCO Debuts System for Automatic Truck Braking

By Frederick Kiel, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Dec. 1 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

ATLANTA — Meritor WABCO demonstrated its new automatic braking system for heavy-duty trucks that is integrated with its anti-lock braking and stability control systems. Executives said the system can cut accident rates, especially rear-end collisions, which account for nearly 20% of all truck-involved crashes.

“This is the future of truck safety,” said John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, who was here to take a test drive.

Meritor WABCO’s OnGuard automatic braking system, which it first demonstrated in February and put into manufacturer’s specs in the third quarter, uses a radar system to see moving objects up to 500 feet in front of the truck.

If the computer-radar system detects that the truck is approaching too close to the vehicle ahead, it alerts the driver with sound alarms and blinking lights and can automatically engage the throttle, engine brake and foundation brakes, the latter up to one-third of their power, on its own.

“These systems are expensive, and we think Congress should provide incentives for fleets to install them,” said Hill.

“OnGuard’s purpose is to bring the driver back into full control,” ArvinMeritor Inc. spokesman Mike Pennington told Transport Topics. “It’s not for the 100% stopping. The system reacts faster than a driver can, at least a second faster, and at 65 miles per hour, that is 90 feet, which can prevent or mitigate 90% of rear-end collisions.

ArvinMeritor markets products of WABCO Vehicle Control Systems, based in Brussels, Belgium, in North America in this joint venture.

“According to the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, rear-end collisions account for over 20% of all heavy-truck crashes,” a Meritor WABCO statement said. “The truck is the striking vehicle in 60% of those accidents.

Inattention or poor decisions (e.g. driving too fast for the conditions or following too closely) are the primary factor in 66% of the collisions where fault is assigned to the truck driver.”

Jon Morrison, president of Meritor WABCO, said that because the OnGuard system is integrated with the company’s anti-lock and stability systems, it cannot be installed in the aftermarket.

Morrison said 5 million commercial vehicles in the United States have the company’s braking systems installed and 60,000 trucks have the company’s stability systems, but he said he had no numbers on the OnGuard because it was just entering the marketplace.

Morrison said price was one factor in how Meritor WABCO was introducing safety systems.

“We are adding incrementally to the basic safety system, leveraging one system against the previous ones,” Morrison said.

“The regular foundation brakes and controls are the base of our pyramid of safety, but we have been adding sophisticated technological systems one by one on top of that. The initial ones could work on their own with the foundation brakes, but the new ones — like automatic braking — will only function with the previous systems already installed.”

In 2010, several other companies have said, they will introduce systems that can detect stationary objects, whether they are halted vehicles or highway features such as bridges and stop signs, and bring the truck to a full stop without the driver’s intervention.