FMCSA Conducts Benefit-Cost Analysis of Onboard Safety Systems Used to Prevent Truck Accidents

As part of its goal to reduce the number and severity of large truck crashes, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently conducted a of three commercial motor vehicle onboard safety systems:

  • Forward Collision Warning Systems (FCWS)
  • Lane Departure Warning Systems (LDWS)
  • Roll Stability Control Systems (RSC)

The FMCSA conducted their evaluation of these systems in order to “provide return on investment information for the motor carrier industry in support of future purchasing decisions” in hopes of encouraging the deployment of these systems by motor carriers. The FMCSA notes in its study findings that while the return on investment figures determined by the study will be primarily of interest to the motor carrier industry, others such as insurance companies, vendors, and risk managers can put the results to use in their work as well.

The study and its resultant reports assessed return on investment and payback periods for commercial motor carriers including such factors as purchase, installation, and operational cost of the safety system versus the savings that result from the crash cost avoidance the technology achieves. Crash data from 2001 to 2005 in the General Estimates System were used to estimate both the average annual numbers of crashes that were deemed preventable by each of the three systems, and the costs of different types of crashes such as those involving property damage only, and those involving injuries and/or fatalities. Other results including benefits of the safety systems in avoiding crash costs typically paid by the motor carrier industry were based on data provided by insurance companies, the motor carriers themselves, and legal experts.

Truck crashes are an enormous expense to the motor carrier industry. Such costs include but are not limited to:

  • Labor Costs
  • Worker’s Compensation Costs
  • Operational Costs
  • Property Damage and Auto-Liability Costs
  • Environmental Costs
  • Legal Costs

Clearly a financial incentive exists for the motor carrier industry to avoid crashes, and for the driving public the promise of greater safety is incentive enough, but can onboard safety technologies prove to be cost effective investments for helping reduce the number and severity of truck crashes? The answer, according to the study, is a resounding ‘Yes!’

Forward Collision Warning Systems (FCWS) were estimated by the study to prevent between 8,597 and 18,013 rear-end crashes. Impressive as those numbers are, they were determined using efficacy rates of 21% and 44% and could conceivably be improved upon in actual practice. Given the fact that typical or median property damage only rear-end accidents were determined to cost an average $122,650, injury rear-end collisions $239,063, and fatal rear-end truck wrecks $1,056,221, and that total costs to deploy FCWS ran between $1,415 and $1,843 per vehicle, it would seem that deploying such systems is a no-brainer both financially and as a means of improving safety.

Similarly, the deployment of Lane Departure Warning Systems (LDWS), using estimated efficacy rates of between 23% and 53% were seen as capable of reducing thousands of accidents involving big rigs. Crashes prevented by this technology included those in which a truck departs the roadway from its lane of travel and crashed without involving another vehicle, crashes in which a big truck departs its lane and enters the lane of a vehicle traveling in the same direction, and crashes in which a large truck departs its lane of travel and enters an oncoming lane. These crashes can include outcomes such as rollovers, head-on collisions and sideswipes. Just as was found to be the case with FCWS, the benefit-cost analysis of deploying LDWS concluded that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Total costs of deployment ranged from $765.00 to $866.40 per vehicle. Total costs to motor carriers of the types of accidents prevented by using LDWS ranged from $100,150 to $196,958 for property damage only truck crashes, $135,096 to $455,936 for injury truck crashes, and $885,150 to $1,252,872 for fatal truck crashes.

Roll Stability Control Systems were estimated to prevent between 1,422 and 2,037 truck crashes, crashes that would involve average costs of $196,958 for a property damage only rollover truck wreck, $462, 470 for an injury rollover truck wreck, and $1,143,018 for a fatal rollover truck crash.

The study addressed the fact that some segments of the motor carrier industry, notably small carriers, might experience different costs and benefits than those found in the study. Sensitivity analyses were included as part of the study to address such differences.

Based on my experience as a truck accident lawyer, I agree with the study’s conclusion that many of the factors that contribute to truck accidents could be prevented through the use of onboard safety systems. These technologies are not only cost effective investments for the motor carrier industry, they are an important, even necessary tool for making our roads safe for all who drive.

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