Why focus on protecting vulnerable road users is needed

Volvo Trucks’ latest European Safety Report 2017 has just been released. Peter Wells, Leader of the Accident Research Team, discusses the report’s findings and some of the implications for the future of road safety.
Peter Wells

Since its founding in 1969, the purpose of the Volvo Accident Research Team (ART) is to gain a better understanding of what causes traffic accidents, how can they be avoided and when they do happen, how the consequences can be minimalised. The findings from our research are then used by Volvo Trucks’ research and product development teams, to help them design safer vehicles and solutions.

Every few years, we summarise our findings into the European Safety Report, the latest version of which has just been released and is available below.

The key focus of this year’s report is vulnerable road users – namely pedestrians, cyclists and powered two-wheeled vehicles (motorcycles, mopeds, etc.). This group accounts for 35 per cent of all those killed or seriously injured in accidents involving heavy goods vehicles. In recent years, we can see that the interior environment of cars and trucks has become much safer for the driver and its occupants; however for vulnerable road users we are not seeing the same improvement.

The first step is understanding the accident causation when it comes to vulnerable road users. For pedestrians, the most common scenario is when crossing the road in urban environments, resulting in a frontal collision. For cyclists, a very common scenario is when a truck turns right (or left in the UK) and the cyclist hits the front or side of the truck.

However, we lack more in-depth data when it comes to these types of accidents, such as point of impact and impact velocities; and this is an area that needs more focus.

For distribution trucks, improving direct vision (compared to indirect vision by mirrors) is very much in focus right now. This is done by lowering the cab and increasing the size of the windshield, along with an extra window in the lower part of the passenger door. The Volvo FL FEC is a good example.

Obviously direct vision will help improve visibility when it comes to vulnerable road users in urban areas, however it will not solve the problem alone. Public awareness and education are also important steps forward. Since most people have never been inside of a truck, they do not understand the difficulties of being seen by a truck driver.

At the same time, we need to continue to research and develop both active and safety systems. Active systems have great potential but can be challenging when it comes to vulnerable road users because unlike cars, they follow less predictable paths. When it comes to passive safety systems, we need to look at what we can do to lessen the impact when an accident does occur.

It would also be worthwhile investigating systems and designs that can aid and enhance a driver’s own decision making abilities, since humans are actually good at making decisions that ensure we avoid an accident. While 90 per cent of all accidents involve human factors, there are a lot more incidents that could have led to accidents that have been prevented by human intervention.

If you would like to read the full Volvo Trucks European Safety Report 2017, it can be downloaders below.

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