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Anyone who has driven a passenger vehicle on one of the interstates going through or around Louisville knows what it’s like to share a highway with 18-wheelers. It’s likely that you have had a “what if” question about those enormous commercial trucks at least flit through your mind: “What would happen to me if one of those big rigs hit my vehicle?”

Unfavorable physics

The physics of a tractor-trailer crash on an interstate highway are obviously not in favor of those inside a passenger vehicle. An 18-wheeler can weigh 20 to 30 times as much as a passenger vehicle. Far too often, high-speed collisions between big rigs and cars result in serious injuries and fatalities to those in the smaller vehicles.

However, a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) offers hope that existing technology can both reduce the frequency and severity of heavy truck crashes. The research group says that equipping trucks with automatic emergency braking tech and a forward-collision warning system would prevent more than 40 percent of crashes in which a big rig rear-ends another vehicle.

Dramatic reductions

IIHS Director of Statistical Services Eric Teoh analyzed crash data from 62 trucking firms operating tractor-trailers and other vehicles that weigh at least 33,000 pounds. He found that when rigs are equipped with forward-collision warning, they are in 44 percent fewer rear-end crashes. When the trucks have automatic emergency braking, the decrease in those collisions is 41 percent.

“This study provides evidence that forward-collision warning and AEB (automatic emergency braking) greatly reduce crash risk for tractor-trailers and other large trucks,” Teoh said.

The IIHS study included more than 2,000 crashes from the 62 fleets from 2017 through last year.

How the safety systems work

Front-crash prevention systems use an array of cameras and radar to monitor the road and traffic ahead. Some of the systems only warn drivers of a possible collision, while those equipped with AEB automatically apply the brakes to prevent a collision or reduce the impact speed of the vehicle.

According to the IIHS, the safety systems can reduce the impact speed by more than 50 system: a dramatic decrease that could reduce the likelihood of fatalities and serious injuries to occupants of passenger vehicles.

Safety should be standard

IIHS President David Harkey said, “the potential benefits are great enough that these crash avoidance systems should be standard equipment on all new large trucks.”

Let’s hope this life-saving technology is soon part of every big rolling on our nation’s roadways.