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UGPTI Teams Up for Commercial Vehicle Safety

Posted: Jun 27, 2023

In 2021 in North Dakota, a crash involving a heavy truck occurred every 12 hours. Every 33 days, there was a fatal crash involving a heavy truck on the state's roadways. In 2021, there were 734 crashes involving heavy trucks resulting in 11 fatalities and 273 injuries. Although those numbers are down significantly, the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute is partnering with the ND Highway Patrol (NDHP), the ND Department of Transportation, and other agencies to reduce them even further.

"Our goal is to assemble and analyze data to identify trends and provide information that allows our collaborators to target their enforcement and safety improvement efforts to have the greatest impact on reducing crashes, injuries and fatalities," said Kim Vachal, director of UGPTI's Rural Transportation Safety and Security Center. Each year, NDSU-UGPTI assists the NDHP with its Commercial Vehicle Safety Plan (CVSP) by compiling data and conducting analysis to identify trends to report in the CVSP.

NDSU-UGPTI also prepares Issue Briefs, which are short summaries of the analyses conducted. In particular, the Truck Crash Facts brief includes a summary of truck-involved crashes versus crashes without truck involvement. It also identifies the types of citations issued and common contributing factors in crashes.

In one of its regular meetings with UGPTI, the NDHP mentioned interest in a dashboard visualization tool that could potentially be used to identify problem areas and emerging safety issues. Working with the NDHP, UGPTI proposed to develop a commercial vehicle safety dashboard and was awarded a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) grant to complete the work. The dashboard will capture data streams such as recent crash, speed, weigh-in-motion, and truck traffic information for education and enforcement planning. Vachal describes the prototype dashboard as "a customizable tool dedicated to truck crash prevention, designed to harness multiple data sources that support timely NDHP resource decisions."

UGPTI also operates a Commercial Vehicle Safety Center (CVSC) that serves as a point of contact for universities, law enforcement, and driver licensing agencies seeking assistance to establish partnerships to improve commercial vehicle safety and commercial driver license (CDL) compliance.

In November 2022, the CVSC held the latest of three Western Regional Commercial Vehicle Safety Summits in Denver, Colorado, with support from the FMCSA. Brenda Lantz, director of the CVSC, said the focus of the summit was on efforts to reduce distracted driving by commercial vehicle drivers and others operating around commercial vehicles, and to improve commercial vehicle safety in work zones. Information was shared regarding priorities and challenges from both the federal and state level, partnerships, new research findings, resources, and state best practices.

The summit brought together more than 150 representatives from law enforcement, driver licensing agencies, universities, and industry to share best practices, resources, new research findings, and partnerships. Highlights of the summit included discussion on Idaho's Engaged Driving Initiative, the Nevada Strike Force Operations, and Badge On-Board enforcement campaigns. The Institute for Highway Safety discussed the association between broadened cellphone bans and police-reported rear-end crash rates. Other presentations focused on resources and tools available to stage agencies and industry, safe driver programs and outreach opportunities featuring new media. A session on research partnerships featured the collaborative work between UGPTI and the NDHP.

"There are innovative approaches and programs being developed across the region," Lantz said. "The summit is an opportunity to share and learn. What is working in Wyoming or California may not be an exact fit for North Dakota, but hearing about those programs may give insight or inspiration to approaches to improve safety that will work here."

Information and presentations from the 2022, 2021, and 2018 Western Region CMV Safety Summits are available from the UGPTI CVSC website.

In another initiative, UGPTI developed and continues to update a convenient online truck weight calculator to help the motor carrier industry, agricultural producers, and others determine how to comply with legal gross and axle weight limits in North Dakota. The calculator shows the carrier what a vehicle or vehicle combination can legally weigh based on axle configuration, number of axles, number of tires per axle, the distance between axles, and tire width. "While the primary focus is on road preservation and helping industry maximize their loads while remaining legal, a secondary benefit is improved safety by preventing overloading," noted Brad Wentz, the UGPTI engineer who oversaw development of the calculator.

Finally, UGPTI brought its expertise into engineering classrooms at NDSU to advise senior mechanical engineering students as they designed and constructed a device to assist the NDHP in conducting field inspections of trucks. The device used an infrared camera to detect hot spots on brakes and tires and a video camera and still camera to evaluate brake parts out of adjustment, as well as hose and brake line wear. Earlier this year, the students were able to demonstrate the device for commercial vehicle enforcement officers from the Highway Patrol.

"In addition to the process of developing a project from concept to final design, the work exposed the students to the real-world elements of commercial vehicle operation and safety," said Kelly Bengtson, a UGPTI road and bridge engineer who participated in the project along with Vachal.

"All of these efforts have a singular focus, and that is helping North Dakota achieve the goal of its Vision Zero initiative: zero fatalities on North Dakota's roadways," Vachal said. "We recognize that commercial vehicles play a critical role in the state's economy. Our role is to help our partners identify ways to improve commercial vehicle safety and attain that goal."

NDSU Dept 2880P.O. Box 6050Fargo, ND 58108-6050