Tudor Van Hampton/ENR
Airbags could mitigate rollover casualties.

When concrete mixing trucks roll over, the forces can cause grave damage to drivers, even if they are wearing seatbelts.

That's why Oshkosh Truck Corp., the Wis.-based specialty vehicle manufacturer, says it is adding side-impact airbags on its front-discharge transit mixers later this year. The feature will come standard on these trucks starting in June, the manufacturer says.

Made by Lifeguard Technologies of Westfield, Ind., the airbag is similar to seat-mounted units on passenger cars. It deploys when a sensor detects an "unrecoverable" roll, said James Gould, Lifeguard account manager. He explained the system on Jan. 25 at the World of Concrete in Las Vegas.

But there's more to the safety device than just the airbag. The seat drops several inches as a pretensioned belt tightens around the driver's torso. This keeps the driver immobilized and prevents head and neck injuries, Gould added. All this happens in one-quarter of a second.

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  • Rollovers "easily" cost operators $200,000 per event and occur roughly three times annually to mixer fleets, according to the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. During testing, the airbag posted a 90% reduction in measurable head and neck injuries.

    This feature adds to recent safety improvements on heavy-duty vehicles. Over the past two years, truck makers have been incorporating electronic stability control, an anti-rollover technology that uses automatic braking to help prevent an accident.

    Safety experts have long praised ESC even though it is not 100% effective in preventing a rollover. LifeGuard says its "Rolltek" airbag goes above and beyond ESC in such cases.

    The airbag producer says it's currently in talks with other truck vendors to put the system on rear-discharge mixers, but has not yet inked any deals.