Autonomous emergency braking, or AEBS, is a technology that provides truck drivers with a warning and then applies emergency braking if it detects an impending collision with a car, bus, truck or trailer in the same lane.
AEBS is available on many new truck models but is not mandatory.
The Australian Government released figures last year suggesting mandating AEBS for new trucks, together with the extension of mandatory stability control to new rigid trucks, would save 102 lives, prevent 2564 serious injuries and prevent 7017 minor injuries.
Those figures confirm the importance of the ATA’s long campaign for the technology. There is no substitute for an experienced and competent driver behind the wheel, but this sort of technology can mean the difference between life and death, or life and serious injury.
But there’s a problem. The details of the requirements must be right. Unfortunately, the ATA and its members have concerns with the exposure drafts of the design rules that the government published.
To develop our response to the exposure drafts, the ATA obtained independent engineering advice from Smedley’s Engineers and held member video conferences on September 21 and September 25, 2020.
These video conferences were a unique and valuable opportunity to gain important feedback and I was delighted that so many ATA members were able to participate in the meetings. I was especially pleased that we got so much input from drivers with vast on-the-road experience.
Our members concluded that the draft design rules applying to rigid trucks did not need to be changed.
They concluded, however, that the draft rules for new prime movers needed to be amended to add specific requirements about how the braking systems handle older trailers that are not fitted with ABS.
AEB systems from different manufacturers handle applying trailer service brakes through the air lines differently.
Some products apply full braking. Others signal pulse the air lines. Still others only activate the engine brakes.
Our members warned us that these different approaches were creating confusion on the road.
It’s a problem that requires an Australian-specific solution. We base our design rules on Europe, but their trailer fleet is more modern than ours. Also, they don’t operate multi-combination vehicles.
We need a performance standard in our rules, so that all the AEB systems used in Australia do the same thing when a prime mover is towing older trailers.
The ATA would seek to work with manufacturers, our members and drivers to provide a standard for government consideration. Our collaboration with industry is key to achieving our shared goals and improved safety outcomes for all. We also told the government that it needs to communicate much better with industry about how AEBS works.
It’s one of the least understood heavy vehicle safety technologies. Thirty-eight percent of the respondents to the NHVR’s 2020 heavy vehicle industry safety survey said they did not understand it.
I find out something new every time I look at it.
The Wodonga Institute of TAFE – an ATA member through its DECA Training division – is already working with the Truck Industry Council to develop information material about advanced braking, with funding support from the NHVR.
They will do a great job, but the government needs to expand its efforts to provide more information to both industry and enforcement agencies.
Bob Woodward is ATA Chief Engineer