How new technology will make buses even safer

The number of casualties involving buses is continuously decreasing. However, as Peter Danielsson, Safety Director at Volvo Buses points out, any number above zero is still too high. This is why Volvo Buses is working with several advanced technological solutions to make buses even safer.
Peter Danielsson

The overall picture when it comes to bus safety, in developed countries at least, is quite positive. Since the 1970’s, the number of causalities from accidents involving buses has continuously declined.

The Volvo vision, however, is zero accidents. It’s an ambitious but natural target – no level of causalities should ever be acceptable. This is why we’re always researching new systems and solutions to make bus travel safer and reduce causalities even further.

Vulnerable road users – a category that includes pedestrians, cyclists and motorbike riders – constitutes more than 40 per cent of fatalities in accidents involving buses.  As the world becomes more urbanized, city traffic sees an increasing number of cyclists and other vulnerable road users. This development poses higher demands on both the infrastructure as well as the interaction between these road users and heavy vehicles, such as buses.

For this reason, we are putting a lot of focus on developing active safety systems, to further protect vulnerable road users. This year we will be introducing a camera-based system that helps drivers detect pedestrians and cyclists, and can warn them if there is a risk of a collision. We are also looking into ways we can alert everyone around the vehicle too and make them aware of its presence, which is especially important for our modern silent electric buses.

The next development area after warning systems is automatic braking, whereby the brakes are enforced automatically if the driver fails to respond to a warning of an imminent collision. This technology already exists today and is installed in our European coaches, which enables a complete stop for a standstill object, from speeds of up to 80 km/h. This system detects and automatically brakes for larger objects, like cars and trucks. But we are hard at work developing solutions for city buses that can automatically brake for pedestrians as well.

The continuous growth within telematics also enables us to improve traffic safety. We are developing systems for safety zones where we can control the speed of a vehicle in a set area. For example, we can impose a speed limit in the city center or near schools for our vehicles, which prevents the driver from exceeding this speed limit.

Another feature being implemented this year is using telematics to log events and collect data, in order to identify high risk areas. For example, we can find certain areas where buses tend to brake heavily and frequently at certain times of the day, and then work with city authorities to make changes in that area to help traffic run smoother.

New technology is indeed creating new opportunities to improve safety.  However it is also creating new challenges. While low noise levels are one of the main benefits of hybrid and electric buses, this also creates a potential hazard since they are more difficult to hear by pedestrians and surrounding traffic. By 2019, new EU regulations will stipulate a minimal noise level that must be emitted at 10 km/h and 20 km/h. We want to take this a step further and add a sound when the bus stops as well. We are currently developing an optimal sound using the ElectriCity electric bus line in Gothenburg, Sweden for testing. It needs to be a high-frequency synthetic sound that is able to make people aware that a bus is approaching, while at the same time maintain a sound-level that is less intrusive and does not disturb the surrounding environment.

With these actions we can help reduce casualties even further. However no single entity can resolve the issue of traffic safety on its own. Everyone - from vehicle manufacturers, governments and local authorities, to individual drivers and pedestrians - all have to contribute and share the responsibility. Consequently, dialogue and cooperation are key factors when we, as a company, interact with other companies, organisations and authorities.

Peter Danielsson, Safety Director, Volvo Buses

Traffic safety column