Adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, and more coming to commercial trucks
With advanced driver assistance systems becoming so commonplace that automakers such as Honda make them standard on most trim levels, it might come as a shock to you the same technology is only just being introduced on big rigs, but that’s very much the case as Freightliner announced a suite of such driver aids for the 2019 Cascadia Class 8 truck. Fully equipped, Freightliner claims it’s the first truck maker to offer full SAE Level 2 driver assistance.
Current Cascadias have had standard forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking for several years, but the latest system adds pedestrian detection to improve safety in urban areas. Now, with the addition of a camera to complement the radar, Freightliner is also making adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights, automatic high-beams, automatic windshield wipers, and traffic sign recognition standard.
The adaptive cruise control features stop-and-go programming for heavy traffic, bringing the truck to a complete stop and resuming automatically if the vehicle ahead moves within 2 seconds. If the stop is longer, the driver must push the “resume” button on the steering wheel or the throttle pedal, same as in your car.
On trucks outfitted with the Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission, the adaptive cruise control has also been tied to Detroit’s Intelligent Powertrain Management 6 software. (Both Freightliner and Detroit are subsidiaries of Daimler Trucks.) This software uses detailed maps of North American highways to predict how much power will or won’t be needed and conserve momentum. It will automatically apply more engine power on subtle grades to maintain speed and allow the truck to coast down small hills but will take into account input from the adaptive cruise control to make sure there isn’t another vehicle in the way.
The addition of the camera also improves the automatic emergency braking’s response, with Freightliner claiming the system can now safely stop the truck at speeds up to 50 mph (80 km/h) without hitting whatever’s ahead. Above 50 mph (80 km/h), Freightliner says the system will reduce the truck’s speed significantly before the collision, reducing the severity of injury and damage.
Freightliner is also offering a number of other familiar driver aids as new options, including active lane keeping, lane departure warning, and “Side Guard Assist,” better known as blind-spot monitoring. Lane departure warning gives the driver visual and audible warnings if they start to drift out of their lane without using a turn signal and will gently steer the truck back into the lane if the driver doesn’t take action. The lane keeping portion will then pause itself for 10 seconds in an effort to force the driver to pay attention before it can be reactivated, but the warnings will remain active. More than just a safeguard, the system also employs lane centering to help the driver keep the truck in the middle of the lane by making constant small adjustments to the steering and can do so around gentle curves, just like some cars do today. Unlike a passenger vehicle, it can also be set to hug a side of the lane to give more clearance or counteract crosswinds.
Although passenger-side blind-spot monitoring isn’t new to big rigs, current tech is limited to monitoring just the truck. Freightliner’s new system monitors both the truck and a trailer up to 53 feet long (standard length). Able to see vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians along the passenger side of the truck, it gives the driver a visual warning on both the dash and the A-pillar if there’s something in the blind spot. If the driver tries to change lanes or make a turn while there’s something in the blind spot, the solid orange lights becomes a flashing red lights and an audible warning goes off.
This kind of collision avoidance technology has been available on passenger vehicles globally since the late ’90s and has become commonplace in the past decade, the commercial truck market has been slow to adopt it. Class 8 trucks cost well over $100,000 USD, and fleet managers, looking to minimize costs wherever possible, didn’t demand it, so truck makers didn’t develop it (according to Freightliner). Studies by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute have found that trucks with collision avoidance technologies massively reduce the number of collisions, injuries, and fatalities. Last year, there were 116,000 injuries and 4,094 fatalities in collisions involving big rigs. The University of Michigan study estimated fatalities could be reduced by 44 percent and injuries by 47 percent if all big rigs are equipped with collision avoidance technology.
NHTSA granted a petition for rulemaking on the matter in 2015 but has yet to issue a final rule, meaning this technology is currently not legally mandated on big rigs.
The 2019 Freightliner Cascadia goes on sale in July.