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NHTSA lists priorities for truck rulemaking

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a list of its 2003-2006 rulemaking priorities for large trucks that address insufficient braking capability, loss of control, and driver fatigue. The list is part of a NHTSA plan released July 21 for safety rulemaking priorities for all vehicles.

"It is time to acknowledge that history is calling us to another important task," said Norman Mineta, Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary. "It is the battle to stop the deaths and injuries on our roads and highways. The Bush Administration is committed to improving safety on our highways--safety is our highest transportation priority. This priority plan and the initiatives we proposed in our surface transportation reauthorization legislation respond to that call."

As part of the effort for improving braking, the agency is conducting test track evaluations and operational (fleet test) evaluations on electronically controlled braking systems (ECBS). One promising method to shorten truck stopping distances may be through disc air brakes with electronic control, says NHTSA. Stopping distances could be reduced by as much as 30 percent through the use of disc brakes and more powerful front axle brakes. ECBS may offer many potential benefits to the trucking industry in the areas of safety, reliability, enhanced driver feedback, and maintainability for heavy air-braked vehicles. The systems are being tested by DOT and a number of manufacturers. These systems are intended to replace the current pneumatic brake application signal with an electronic actuation signal.

NHTSA also will look at increasing foundation brake capacity and improving tractor-trailer brake compatibility, and hopes to pursue rulemaking to improve heavy truck tire performance, including upgrading the requirements for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) No 119, and requiring the use of tire pressure monitoring systems on commercial vehicles over 10,000 GVWR.

In addition, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that NHTSA assess the safety benefits of adding traction control to antilock brake systems. NHTSA is conducting related research on this recommendation. Here are what NHTSA lists as braking milestones:
•Research antilocking braking-in-a-curve performance requirements for trailers, 2003.
•Notice of proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for braking-in-a-curve performance, 2004.
•Final regulatory action on braking-in-a-curve performance trailers test requirements, 2006.
•ANPRM on truck tractor stopping distance, 2003.
•ECBS (electronic control braking systems)field operational tests, 2003-2006.
•NPRM on truck tractor stopping distance, 2004.
•Final rule on truck tractor stopping distance, 2005.
•Research on braking (reducing stopping distance) for straight trucks, 2004-2005.
•Decision on how to proceed for reducing stopping distance for straight trucks, 2006.

On the subject of tire failures, NHTSA is looking at heat buildup in tires that may result from under-inflation, overloading, high speed operation, sub-par tire design, or a combination of the factors. Also, vehicles operating with low tire air pressure have reduced handling capability and fuel economy. Computer chip technology now exists that can monitor tire inflation and warn the driver of impending tire failure. Milestones:
•Testing for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), 2003.
•NPRM to upgrade requirements for new heavy truck tires, 2004.
•Final rule to upgrade requirements for new heavy truck tires, 2005.
•Research on performance requirements for retreaded tires, 2003.
•Decision on whether to develop new standard for retread tires, 2004-2005.
•Final rule for a new standard (tentative) for retread tires, 2006.
•Research on heavy truck tire pressure monitoring systems, 2004.
•Decision on how to proceed on heavy truck tire pressure monitoring systems, 2005.

The NHTSA action regarding driver fatigue includes conducting advanced engineering development to come up with a sensor for a warning system that would alert drivers before they fall asleep. NHTSA says drivers are often unaware of their deteriorating condition or, even when they are aware, are often motivated to keep driving. A drowsiness detection and warning system can help reduce alertness?related crashes by helping to maintain alertness until it is safe to stop and rest. NHTSA points out that the role of drowsiness in crashes may be largely underestimated due to unreported off?roadway crashes, police inability to verify drowsiness, and driver reporting error.

NHTSA milestones for driver fatigue:
•Drowsy driver sensing system field operation test, 2003-2005.
•Decision on how to proceed/performance specification requirements for heavy trucks, 2006.

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