New NHTSA rule may help prevent commercial vehicle rollover crashes

The required use of electronic stability control in qualifying buses and large trucks may prevent thousands of crashes and hundreds of injuries per year.

Rollover crashes, although relatively uncommon, take a huge toll on motorists in Burlington each year. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that vehicle rollover accidents represent just 3 percent of all crashes, yet they contribute to over one-third of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities. Technology to prevent rollovers has been standard in passenger vehicles since the 2012 model year, according to The Detroit News, but many commercial vehicles have continued operating without it.

Now, however, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has enacted a new rule that requires heavy buses and large trucks to use electronic stability control technology. By 2019, all qualifying vehicles will have to start utilizing the technology. This change is expected to offer significant safety benefits for motorists across the country.

Why are these crashes a concern?

Compared to passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles may be more likely to tip over and cause catastrophic outcomes when they do. Commercial vehicles, particularly loaded trucks, have a higher center of gravity, which enhances the risk of rollovers. Additionally, according to the IIHS, commercial vehicles such as large trucks can outweigh passenger vehicles by 20 to 30 times. This makes injuries or deaths significantly more likely in multi-vehicle rollover accidents.

How will the new rule help?

Electronic stability control, which monitors traction and brakes individual wheels to maintain stability, is effective at preventing most on-road rollover crashes. NHTSA data indicates that ESC can reduce "un-tipped" rollovers, or crashes in which vehicles don't roll after striking other objects, by up to 56 percent. The technology also may help prevent 14 percent of crashes that occur when drivers fail to steer appropriately.

Despite these benefits, ESC technology is not widely used in commercial vehicles. According to the NHTSA, without the new rule in place, about two-thirds of truck tractors would not be using the technology in 2018. Additionally, about one-fifth of heavy buses, which are buses that weight at least 26,000 pounds, would lack ESC. Given the number of commercial vehicles that the rule will affect, the safety benefits should be significant.

What are the expected gains?

If the use of ESC in passenger vehicles is any indication, this new rule should help reduce accidents and deadly outcomes. Over a three-year period, the required use of ESC in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 3,000 lives. Experts expect that the recently enacted rule will prevent 1,759 heavy bus and large truck crashes per year. This will translate to as many as 649 fewer injuries and 50 fewer deaths on a yearly basis.

When does the rule take effect?

The rule will become effective in stages over the next four years. All three-axle trucks built after August 17 must be equipped with ESC technology. Buses that weigh over 33,000 pounds must begin complying with the rule by 2018. Finally, other heavy buses must start using the technology by 2019. Unfortunately, this gradual implementation means that rollover accidents may still affect many innocent people over the next few years.

Since a number of these accidents occur due to negligent behaviors, such as speeding, legal recourse may be available to victims. In New Jersey, injury victims might be entitled to compensation for financial losses, long-term disablement and emotional suffering. To learn more about these remedies, victims should consider consulting with a truck accident attorney soon after the incident occurs.