A legislative proposal providing a tax credit for advanced safety technologies on commercial vehicles, including brake adjustment monitoring, lane-departure and collision warning, and vehicle stability systems, was introduced in the House of Representatives in late October. The “Commercial Motor Vehicle Advanced Safety Technology Tax Act of 2007” (H.R.3820) suggests that the development and deployment of these systems might help DOT meet its 2011 goal of reducing fatalities to 1 per 100 miles traveled.

The income tax credit for installing a system would amount to 50% of its cost, with an annual cap of $1,500 per system, $3,500 per vehicle and $350,000 per taxpayer.

Credits for other safety devices would also be allowed, with the stipulation that they be certified by NHTSA and FMCSA as “significantly enhancing the safety or security of the driver, vehicle, passengers or load of a qualified commercial vehicle.” A qualified commercial vehicle is defined as one with a GVW of greater than 26,000 lb. or with seating capacity for 15 or more passengers, excluding the driver.

I support the development/deployment of vehicle technologies that increase the safety and security of drivers and their passengers, including those that would improve vehicle stability and stopping performance, and warn of hazardous situations, for example. But I do not believe that all “black box” devices labeled as advanced safety systems have demonstrated proven results.

A 2006 study by noted truck safety researcher Dr. Brenda M. Lantz examined the effect of six such technologies on safety. Private and for-hire trucking firms were surveyed to determine whether they had successfully deployed and implemented such systems as onboard recorders, electronic logbooks, pre-clearance transponders and collision warning devices. Dr. Lantz then used FMCSA data to compare the safety records — as measured by number of crashes and driver and vehicle out-of-service violations — of carriers using these devices with those that did not.

Results were mixed. For example, her findings showed that onboard computers for vehicle diagnostics had no significant effect on safety. Surprisingly, her findings also demonstrated that technologies such as pre-clearance transponders, satellite communication gear and cellular phones actually had a negative impact on safety.

According to Dr. Lantz “simply implementing a technology, or advocating implementing a technology, may not give a desired result, and in some cases may even result in a negative impact on safety.”

Dr Lantz's research also demonstrated that companies must successfully adopt and implement technologies in order to achieve better safety records. “The company needs to take the time to learn the technology and integrate it fully…in the right way for it to have a positive impact.”

While Dr. Lantz did not specifically evaluate the safety impact of the advanced technologies cited in the tax relief legislation proposed in H.R.3820, her methodology does establish a landmark precedent in evaluating the impact of safety technology adoption. Supporters of this legislation should incorporate Dr. Lantz's methodology in determining which advanced safety technologies would qualify for tax incentives.

The proposal can be found at www.house.gov. For a copy of Dr Lantz's research report (MPC06-186), go to www.mountain-plains.org/pubs.

Jim York is the ass't. vice president of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering in Schaumburg, IL.