Truck safety theme of annual transportation meeting

HEB 18-Wheeler Truck on display during Center for Transportation Research Symposium.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In light of the recent collision between a tractor-trailer with an oversized load and a bridge on Interstate 35 late last month, road safety is a hot topic. It’s one that is being examined at the 2015 CTR Symposium. The Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas is hosting its annual symposium Wednesday at the Commons Research Center.

This year’s theme is “Safety First: Keep ‘Em Rolling,” with an emphasis on truck safety in our region — especially as Austin and the state of Texas continues to grow. In fact, 70 percent of the goods for the Texas economy travel by highway in semitrucks.

The keynote speaker is Anthony Cisneros, the director of H-E-B Transportation. Robert Harrison, with CTR, says H-E-B is an interesting company to learn from because they deliver goods day and night. To keep their stores fully stocked, the trucks and their drivers have to travel in all levels of congestion, weather, highway construction and urban streets to get to their stores. But they do it with an impeccable safety record.

“They have about 600 drivers, and over 10 percent of them have driven 1 million miles without any accident. So we want to know: Why? And: How do you do that?” says Harrison. “And that’s a question of training and equipment and technologies — and I suppose a little bit of luck as well.”

H-E-B brought two trucks to the meeting on Wednesday. One of the trucks is their latest truck driven by their 2015 Driver of the Year, who has over 2 million accident-free miles, and the other is an experimental truck that will be on the highways in 2017. H-E-B’s trucks have lane departure cameras that tell drivers when they veer out of their lane. The trucks also come equipped with radar that detects following distance to the car or truck in front of them.

Research engineer at the Center of Transportation Research, Mike Murphy, says these types of advancements will help keep us all safe on the roads.

“That kind of technology is being developed in the United States and other countries for cars where the windshield would have a virtual display telling you your speed and the location distance and speed of other cars around you,” explains Murphy.

“Really, the technology is there; there are connected trucks that are being tested in Germany. There’s the Google car being tested in each state. So we are not too far away from having a lot of assistance to take the stress off our driving, make it safer and more enjoyable,” Harrison said.

Another item on display were wide-based tires. Experts say they improve how a car or truck handles as well as braking, especially in wet weather.

Texas Department of Transportation officials also discussed the impact of oversized and overweight vehicles on the roads, bridge safety and pavement issues as well.

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