The biggest, heaviest vehicles rolling through Mount Laurel on the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 295 are tractor-trailers. Because large commercial trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds in New Jersey, they’re also the most dangerous vehicles.

When an 18-wheeler and a passenger vehicle collide, the physics obviously favor those in the larger, weightier vehicle.

Crash-preventing tech

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) offers hope that existing safety technology can significantly reduce both the frequency and severity of truck crashes.

The research group’s study shows that when big rigs are equipped with automatic emergency braking (AEB) and forward-collision warning systems, the tech can prevent more than 40 percent of crashes in which a large, commercial truck rear-ends another vehicle. Simply put, these existing technologies can save the lives and reduce the risk of serious injuries for occupants of passenger vehicles.

IIHS researcher Eric Teoh analyzed the crash data from more than 2,000 truck accidents involving tractor-trailers deployed by 62 trucking companies from 2017 through 2019. All of the crashes involved trucks that weighed at least 33,000 pounds.

Significant reductions

He found that both of the sophisticated safety systems do what they were designed to do: reduce rear-end collisions. Forward-crash warning systems reduce crashes in which a commercial truck hits the back of another vehicle by 44 percent, while AEB systems reduce the collisions by 41 percent.

In a prepared statement, Teoh said the IIHS “study provides evidence that forward-collision warning and AEB greatly reduce crash risk for tractor-trailers and other large trucks.”

Big rig crashes are on the rise

The IIHS noted that crashes involving big rigs have risen by nearly a third since 2009 and that more than 4,100 people died in truck accidents in 2018 – with 119 of those deaths occurring when large commercial trucks rear-ended passenger vehicles.

Forward-collision warning systems use cameras, radar and processors to monitor and analyze the road and traffic ahead, alerting drivers to potential crashes. AEB systems do even more to prevent accidents: automatically applying the brakes in emergencies.

Reducing impact speed

Even when the systems cannot prevent rear-end collisions, they can help to reduce the speed of the approaching vehicle by more than 50 percent, thereby reducing the risks of severe injuries and fatalities.

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

Saving lives . . . and dollars

Though there’s no indication the federal government will heed the IIHS study and mandate the installation of those systems, some trucking firms have already started outfitting their fleets with the safety tech. It’s clear that those firms understand the economic benefits of fewer crashes involving their vehicles.