Western Star truck expert Tim Norton on technologies that increase operator safety & owner ROI
by Rachel Fulford
March 11, 2019

By now, you must be growing tired of the words “skilled labor shortage.” We feel you, reader. Still, the issue remains, and the resulting business challenges for the construction industry aren’t going anywhere—at least not for a while.

In the meantime, positioning your business as the go-to place for workforce safety and injury prevention is one practical way to help alleviate some of the sting of the shortage. Increasing your focus on operator safety encourages potential new hires to view your company as an industry leader, offering the best in employee safety.

For a deeper look into what it takes to upgrade operator safety, CBO chatted with Western Star Product Marketing Manager Tim Norton about some new fleet safety technologies we saw highlighted at the truck manufacturer’s World of Concrete press conference.

There, Samantha Parlier, vice president of marketing and product strategy explained that the updates are aimed to “boost performance, comfort, safety and productivity for any job,” all of which increase the bottom line for fleet owners. Read the following for Norton’s insights on where new technologies like these could take your business.

CBO: What led to Western Star adding the newest safety features to its trucks, most recently the 4700?

TN: Active safety systems have made significant leaps in functionality and features over the past 5 years or more, and because of this, have gained significantly in popularity. We have had the Wabco OnGuard [advanced driver assistance] system on our highway model for years, and it has been very popular. So, it was only natural to expand this offering to our most versatile model—the 4700 (set-forward (SF) and setback (SB) axle) truck and tractor—to protect operators, no matter the task at hand.

CBO: What are the new safety features?

TN: The Wabco OnGuard Active system adds a bumper-mounted radar unit that provides forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. The Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems AutoVue system adds a windshield-mounted camera that provides lane departure warning signal and also has video recording capability.

CBO: How do they work?

TN: OnGuard Active uses a front bumper-mounted radar unit to detect objects from over 800 feet ahead. If the truck is approaching an object, and the driver doesn’t intervene, a display mounted on the dash will turn yellow, then red, and emit a beeping sound to warn the driver. If the driver still doesn’t intervene, the truck will automatically apply the brakes and even come to a stop if necessary. This detection and braking can also be applied during cruise control use, allowing the truck to maintain a safe following distance automatically.

Bendix AutoVue adds a camera to the windshield that detects the reflective paint and/or raised reflectors in the lane lines. If the truck crosses a lane line without the driver using a turn signal, the system issues an audible warning. The camera can also record events, such as collisions or hard braking, that can be downloaded later or transmitted to a Bendix Safety Direct website.

CBO: How can these features reduce insurance rates?

TN: Collision mitigation systems have tremendous potential to reduce or avoid collisions. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, “Leveraging Large Truck Technology and Engineering to Realize Safety Gains,” out of approximately 400,000 truck collisions in 2015, 5,294 of them could have been prevented by automatic emergency-braking systems. And 6,372 could have been prevented by lane-departure warning systems.

Given that even one of these collisions could cost thousands, or even millions, of dollars in damages and legal costs, these reductions are of great value to insurance companies, who may be willing to offer incentives to fleet owners for implementing safety systems.

CBO: What are the adoption rates of these features for contractors/operators? Do they seem open to paying an upcharge for increased safety?

TN: We have had these systems on tractor applications for several years [which were very popular], but the 4700 is our first construction-oriented truck to feature these systems.

Although the return on investment (ROI) isn’t as easy to calculate as weight or fuel saving options, the potential for reducing or avoiding insurance claims, litigation and liability in the event of a collision pays for these systems many times over. We expect collision mitigation systems to be in high demand on applications that spend even some time on public roads.