U.S. Proposes Anti-Rollover Technology Mandate for Trucks

The U.S. Transportation Department proposed to require electronic stability control in heavy-duty trucks and buses, part of an effort to reduce rollover crashes that result in about 700 fatalities each year.

The draft regulation, issued today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, calls for the technology in two to four years after the rule becomes final.

“We’ve already seen how effective stability control can be at reducing rollovers in passenger vehicles,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a statement. “Now, we’re expanding our efforts to require stability-enhancing technology on the many large trucks, motorcoaches and other large buses.”

The proposed regulation may benefit Bendix, the Elyria, Ohio-based unit of Munich-based Knorr-Bremse AG, more than competitor Meritor (MTOR) WABCO, a joint venture between Troy, Michigan-based Meritor Inc. and WABCO Holdings Inc. (WBC) of Piscataway, New Jersey. Stockholm, Sweden-based Haldex AB (HLDX) also offers the technology.

Electronic stability control uses engine torque and computer-controlled braking of individual wheels to help the driver maintain control in emergency situations, keeping wheels on the ground and trailers from swinging.

Bendix Benefits

Brake supplier Bendix has offered electronic stability control since 2005 at $1,800 to $2,400 for each truck, Fred Andersky, the company’s director of government affairs, said in an interview. It had sold more than 175,000 systems as of March 31, including a record 57,000 units in 2011, he said.

Fleets often command discounts of as much as 50 percent, and technology costs may go down as the mandate kicks in, improving economies of scale, Andersky said.

Truckmakers such as Volvo AB (VOLVB), which sells Volvo and Mack big rigs, and Peterbilt, made by PACCAR Inc. (PCAR), have made electronic stability control standard, Andersky said.

“If there was going to be a mandate, electronic stability control is the right technology,” Andersky said. “It’s going to do what NHTSA needs it to do. It’s going to save more lives. It’s going to prevent more crashes.”

Meritor WABCO also sells electronic stability control, though its fleet customers have preferred a less costly alternative called roll stability control, or RSC, Meritor WABCO President Jon Morrison said in an interview last year.

Less Property Damage

NHTSA said it opted for ESC over RSC because it will prevent more crashes, providing more economic benefit. Besides avoiding fatalities and injuries, companies will save from less property damage and lost travel time, NHTSA said.

Electronic stability control can reduce risks on slippery surfaces or while taking evasive action, limiting jack-knife crashes, Troy, Michigan-based Meritor WABCO said in a statement today.

“We continue to develop leading technology that will help our customers save lives, save property and make our highways safer,” Morrison said in the statement. “We agree with NHTSA’s recognition of the benefits of ESC technology.”

The highway safety agency said the technology may prevent as many as 56 percent of rollover crashes and another 14 percent of loss-of-control crashes. Agency researchers estimate it would prevent 2,329 crashes and save 49 to 60 lives a year.

It will cost about $1,160 for each truck on average to add electronic stability control, NHTSA said.

The consequences of a big rig rolling over can be dramatic, such as when a tanker-truck crashed in 2009 in Indianapolis, sparking a fireball fueled by liquid propane. The crash closed 14 miles (23 kilometers) of Interstate 65 for eight hours.

Rollover Wrecks

Having a rollover wreck increases a truck driver’s fatality risk by 30 times, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, which conducted research NHTSA is using to back its rulemaking.

NHTSA estimates that 26 percent of trucks and 80 percent of buses in the 2012 model year will be equipped with ESC. About 150,000 trucks and 2,200 buses will be covered by the rule, leading to a total industry cost of about $113.6 million, NHTSA said.

“A fairly significant number of rollovers would have been stopped with roll stability control,” said Tim Kraus, president and chief operating officer of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association. “Anything that can achieve that end is important.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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