Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL part of team to keep trucks on wheels

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 25, 1999 — Thousands of accidents involving truck rollovers could be prevented with an onboard warning system being developed by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and a diverse group of partners.

Conservative estimates place annual losses at about $3 billion in death and injuries, property damage, lost productivity and lost time because of traffic backups. Truck accidents on urban highways occur more frequently at interchange ramps and account for about 5 percent of fatal truck accidents, according to a study by the Federal Highway Administration.

"Truck rollover is a serious highway safety problem and one that has significant consequences despite its relative infrequency," said Scott Stevens, who heads the project for ORNL. "In many cases, rollovers could be prevented at minimal cost with the rollover warning system."

The project began three years ago when U.S. Xpress Enterprises, a trucking company in Chattanooga, approached researchers at ORNL looking for high-tech answers to their problems. Several partners and a few years later, the project is headed for the highway.

"By May 1, we expect to have a prototype finished and ready for testing," said Stevens, an electrical engineer who has been involved in transportation research for 10 years.

The prototype system consists of sensors mounted on the trailer and a computer and receiver mounted in the cab with a display visible to the driver. The system will also feature audible warnings so drivers will not have to take their eyes off of the road.

"In normal conditions, the sensors on the trailer will collect roll-vs.-lateral acceleration data and send that information to the computer, which will build a database of values that the system will use to determine the rig's stability," Stevens said. "If, however, the computer senses a rollover risk that is unacceptable, it will sound an alarm in time for the driver to take corrective action."

A key component of the program will be roadside transmitters positioned at curves that present an appreciable risk of rollover. When a tractor-trailer approaches such a curve, the vehicle will receive the data and send appropriate warnings. The system might also include a Global Positioning System receiver in addition to or instead of roadside transmitters. Stevens and others involved in the project will install roadside transmitters along Interstate 75 in Tennessee this spring.

Of the 15,000 truck rollovers each year, 4,000 could be prevented with the rollover alert system, according to Stevens.

"To have an opportunity like this to reduce rollovers holds great potential benefits for truck drivers as well as the trucking industry and the general public," said Russ Moore, vice president of compliance for U.S. Xpress. "We are looking forward to continuing our relationship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory as we work to reduce the number of these accidents on our highways."

Patrick Quinn, co-chairman of U.S. Xpress, agreed, saying, "We are committed to safety and we have a responsibility to our drivers and to the motoring public to do all we can to keep the nation's highways safe."

Initially, Stevens expects systems to cost $2,000 for each trailer and $5,000 for the cab; however, with economies of scale, those costs may be reduced to $200 and $2,000, respectively.

Other partners in the project are the Federal Highway Administration, the sponsor; Texas Transportation Institute, responsible for software integration; the Tennessee Department of Transportation, responsible for the infrastructure; Volvo Trucks, providing trucks with onboard computers and driver interfaces; Wabash National Corp., trailer manufacturer providing instrument-equipped trailers; Raytheon Photonic Systems, responsible for trailer instrumentation and communications; and the University of Tennessee Transportation Center, providing transportation research.

ORNL is a DOE multiprogram research facility managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.

U.S. Xpress, founded in 1985, has more than 4,500 tractors, 9,000 trailers and a driver base that exceeds 6,000.