In the fast lane

8-14 May will mark the fourth UN Global Road Safety Week, and this year the main focus is on speed. For the Volvo Group, managing speed is one of the basics of traffic safety, but there’s more to it than just staying within the speed limits.

Peter Kronblad

As part of its sustainable development goals, the UN is aiming to halve the number of global deaths and injuries in road traffic accidents by 2020. Speed has been identified as one of the major risk factors, hence why it is the main theme of this year’s Global Road Safety Week (see link at the bottom).

Although it is difficult to fully quantify the influence of speed on crash risk, it is clear that speed management works and that the laws of physics dictate that speed will always be a crucial factor in most collisions. The WHO estimates that on a global level speed is a contributing factor in around a third of all fatal road traffic accidents in developed countries and up to half in developing countries.

The safety of speed starts with ‘appropriate speed’
When it comes to trucks and buses, speeding (driving beyond the speed limit) is perhaps less of a risk factor than it is for passenger cars. Partly because in many countries heavy goods and passenger vehicles are required by law to be fitted with speed limiters, which makes sense since high speed affects both safety and fuel economy. Staying within the limits means driving at the vehicle’s optimal performance, which improves fuel efficiency and reduces CO2 output, which is a greenhouse gas.

However speed is one of the basics of traffic safety, together with seat belts, alcohol and distraction. Heavy vehicles are by definition heavy, and in combination with speed can create quite a powerful force. As speed increases, the kinetic energy increases exponentially, so managing speed is an important factor in preventing and mitigating the impact of traffic accidents. And accidents involving heavy vehicles can become severe even at low speeds, regardless of the posted speed limit.

For this reason, I think it’s more important to focus on ‘appropriate speed’ rather than speeding. This is essentially about driving at the right speed in the right situation. It’s important to not just be within the speed limit, but also adapt your speed according to circumstances, such as traffic conditions, road environment, weather, and, for goods vehicles, the type and size of the load. Appropriate speed also tends to be favoured by bus passengers for obvious reasons. 

How the Volvo Group works with speed
We approach the issue of speed in several different ways. One way is to make sure our vehicles offer great stability and braking performance, especially when fully-loaded. With appropriate maintenance of the whole truck-trailer combination, or bus for that matter, stability and braking performance on modern vehicles is excellent.

As with most basic safety issues, appropriate speed comes down to human behaviour. As a certified provider of driver training, Volvo Trucks performs thousands of hours of driver training every year and the structure of the main safety course is in fact based on speed. It helps convey important knowledge about different risk factors in urban and rural environments, and crucially, helps drivers understand how the dynamics of our vehicles change with speed.

We offer advanced driver support systems to help the driver remain vigilant and focused on the right things. The adaptive cruise control system for instance, helps the driver to maintain appropriate speed and distance to other vehicles. We also provide safety systems, such as the Collision Warning with Emergency Brake system, which is designed to quickly and safely reduce the speed in emergency situations – either to avoid an impact or at least mitigate the effects. 

However, maybe the most interesting tool to manage speed is found in our city buses. The Volvo Bus Zone Management system allows the operator to define safety and environmental zones throughout the city. The bus will then automatically adhere to these zones without the need for driver intervention.

To sum up, while speeding itself is perhaps not the biggest contributor to commercial vehicle accidents, the need to consider and manage speed will always be vital for traffic safety.

So, just as we did in 2015 with the third UN Road Safety Week Save Kids Lives, when we launched the Stop Look Wave campaign to help children learn how to behave safely in traffic, we are happy to show our support for the fourth UN Road Safety week. Let’s take it easy and slow down.