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Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday unveiled a new rule requiring truck tractors and new large buses to have anti-rollover technology by 2019 — a move that could prevent more than 1,700 crashes a year.

The final regulation mandating electronic stability control, or ESC, comes after several high profile rollovers of buses and trucks prompted Congress to ask the agency to look into the issue in 2012.

The auto safety agency said without the rule only about a third of truck tractors and 80 percent on buses by 2018 would have ESC — the technology that was mandated for all cars, trucks and SUVs in 2011. The agency says the rule will prevent up to 1,759 crashes annually — and prevent between 40 and 49 traffic deaths and 505 to 649 injuries annually.

“ESC is a remarkable safety success story, a technology innovation that is already saving lives in passenger cars and light trucks,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “Requiring ESC on heavy trucks and large buses will bring that safety innovation to the largest vehicles on our highways, increasing safety for drivers and passengers of these vehicles and for all road users.”

NHTSA is requiring the technology for all new typical three-axle truck tractors built starting in August 2017 — those vehicles account for 85 percent of all truck tractors sold.

NHTSA is allowing four years of lead time for all other truck tractors, including two-axle vehicles, which have been more recently required to satisfy new, reduced minimum stopping distance requirements, and severe-service tractors.

The American Trucking Association praised the announcement. “Ensuring the safety of America’s highways has always been ATA’s highest calling,” said President and CEO Bill Graves, “and we’ve long known the positive role technology can play in making our vehicles and our roads safer. Today’s announcement by NHTSA will reduce crashes on our highways and make our industry safer.”

Truck crashes remain a big problem; tractor trailers are involved in about 72 percent of the fatal crashes involving large trucks, annually. They represent about 24 percent of large trucks registered but travel 61 percent of the large truck miles, annually. Traffic tie-ups stemming from loss-of-control and rollover crashes also contribute to in millions of dollars of lost productivity and wasted energy consumption annually.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind called the rule “a win for the safety and convenience of the traveling public and for our economy.”

NHTSA estimates the rule will prevent as many as 1,759 crashes, 649 injuries and 49 fatalities each year. ESC will prevent up to 56 percent of untripped, rollover crashes – that is, rollover crashes not caused by striking an obstacle or leaving the road.

The final rule announced today requires ESC systems on heavy trucks and large buses exceeding 26,000 pounds in gross weight. Compliance will be tested using a “J-turn” test that replicates a curved highway off-ramp. It will take effect for most heavy trucks two years from publication. The requirement will take effect in three years for buses larger than 33,000 pounds and four years for those weighing between 26,000 and 33,000 pounds.

For large buses weighing more than 33,000 pounds, the rules will take effect in 2018, but for buses weighing 26,000 or 33,000 pounds, the rules will take effect in 2019.

NHTSA hopes the rules will spur the addition of the technology to smaller hydraulic-braked vehicles. Despite high profile incidents, very few deaths occur in buses — just 270 over a 10-year period, NHTSA says.

NHTSA says the cost of adding the system is $585 for truck tractors and $269 for large buses. The agency estimates that 150,000 truck tractors and 2,200 buses covered by this final rule will be manufactured annually, meaning the new rule will cost $45.6 million a year.

“This final rule is highly cost effective and beneficial,” NHTSA said in its regulation, saying the net benefits range from $312 million to $525 million.

Congress told NHTSA in 2012 to consider requiring buses to be equipped with stability enhancing technology, such as electronic stability control and torque vectoring, to reduce the number and frequency of rollover crashes of motorcoaches. The new rule doesn’t require torque vectoring.

NHTSA said technology known as ESC can be 40 to 56 percent effective in reducing some rollovers and 14 percent effective in eliminating loss-of-control crashes caused by severe oversteer or understeer conditions.

In passenger cars, electronic stability control saved 2,200 lives over a three-year period.

Electronic stability control was mandated on all light-duty passenger vehicles and trucks under a federal safety regulation issued in April 2007. Automakers had four years to fully comply — and ESC was required on all vehicles starting Sept. 1, 2011, with the 2012 model year.

ESC senses when a driver may lose control of the vehicle and automatically applies brakes to individual wheels to help stabilize it and avoid a rollover or lose control.

In 2007, NHTSA said ESC could reduce rollovers by 84 percent, preventing between 5,300 and 9,600 deaths annually and up to 238,000 injuries a year once all vehicles are equipped with it.

Around 10,000 people a year die in rollover accidents, even though just 3 percent of crashes involve rollovers.

NHTSA noted that two types of stability control systems have been developed for heavy vehicles. A roll stability control system is designed to prevent rollover by decelerating the vehicle using braking and engine torque control, while ESC includes all of the functions of an RSC system plus the ability to mitigate severe oversteer or understeer conditions by automatically applying brake force to help maintain directional control of a vehicle.

Heavy trucks — especially loaded ones — are more likely to rollover because of their higher center-of-gravity height.

The National Transportation Safety Board has urged NHTSA to do more to prevent heavy truck crashes, including requiring adaptive cruise control, collision warning systems, active braking and electronic stability control saying they “hold great promise in reducing accidents.”

NHTSA first proposed the regulation in 2012 but has made changes to the electronic stability tests that vehicles will need to pass in the final rule.

This is the latest action on larger vehicles by the safety agency. NHTSA is also working on regulations to require speed limiters on heavy trucks and is also reviewing underride guards. It is also looking at whether to require vehicle to vehicle communication on heavy trucks — as it plans to do with cars and SUVs.

In 2013, NHTSA finalized long-delayed regulations that will require lap and shoulder seat belts on commercial buses. But the agency decided not to require existing buses to be retrofitted with belts.

NHTSA has debated requiring seat belts on motor coaches since 1977. The new rules will take effect in 2016 on commercial buses that typically travel fixed routes between major cities, to tourist destinations and for other commercial trips.

The rules don't apply to school buses and don't affect the 29,000 commercial buses already on U.S. roads. Seat belts also won't be required on most public transit buses — those with "request-a-stop systems" — but some public intercity buses that act like commercial motor coaches will need belts. NHTSA is also excluding from the rules airport shuttle buses that transport passengers to parking lots or rental car facilities.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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