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Volvo Trucks tackles right-turn accident scenarios

Volvo Trucks has a long tradition of working with traffic safety. Through innovative solutions, the company strives constantly to improve safety in and around the truck. Among the most vulnerable road users are those that the truck driver has difficulty seeing in what is known as the “blind spot”. Sweden’s Volvo Trucks is tackling this problem at every level, for example by means of new technology and public traffic education.
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It is easy for pedestrians and cyclists to spot a truck. But unfortunately, it is not quite so easy for truck drivers to spot pedestrians and cyclists. A truck has more blind spots than a car does, and it is particularly difficult – despite the fitting of no less than four rear-view mirrors – to get a good rear view along the vehicle’s right side. The statistics speak clearly: 20 percent of all accidents between road users and trucks occur when the truck turns right at a junction.

“As long as there is a need for transporting goods in cities, there will be trucks on the streets. But there are things we can do to improve the situation, and the right-hand turn has been identified as a particularly relevant safety issue,” says Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic and Product Safety Director at Volvo Trucks.

City crossroads are dangerous places. Traffic of all types jostle for space, and it is difficult to gain a clear overview. It is most difficult of all for truck drivers.

“If you stop at a red light, the environment around you changes while your vehicle is stationary. Meanwhile, the driver is focusing on something else, such as the traffic lights or looking for a suitable gap in the traffic ahead. Above all, it is changes behind the truck that the driver does not see. Cyclists, in particular, can close the gap quickly,” says Malte Ahrholdt, project manager at Volvo Technology.

He works with Intersafe-2, an EU-financed project that focuses on making crossroads less dangerous. Volvo Trucks’ contribution to the project is a system that aims at solving the problem of the truck driver’s blind spot on the passenger side. In a test truck, Ahrholdt and his colleagues have fitted laser scanners and ultrasonic sensors that monitor the area on the right of the vehicle. When a cyclist or pedestrian gets too close, the truck driver is alerted by flashing lamps and audible warning signals.

“The warning lights and sounds become increasingly urgent the more critical the situation is,” relates Ahrholdt.

According to Almqvist, technical innovations are not the only solution to the problem.“Generally speaking, people are seldom aware of the driver’s restricted visibility. If we are to truly succeed in reducing accident statistics, it is also necessary for the general public to have an increased understanding of how trucks work in traffic. We generally say ‘Keep away from the truck’s passenger side’. You’re never visible there.” He adds: “Volvo Trucks is working on all fronts to improve safety – with both advanced technology and enhanced information.”

One example of the latter is a project entitled Road Safety at Eye Level, which Volvo Trucks is operating in Denmark. The background is that many accidents were occurring when trucks turned right at junctions, and many of the injured were children. The project involves visits to schools throughout Denmark, and so far more than 60,000 children have participated in the training programme.

In Denmark, the number of accidents involving cyclists and trucks during right turns has decreased since the campaign began in 2003, dropping from approximately ten fatalities per year to just one in 2009. Of course it is difficult to specify exactly just how much the campaign has contributed to this improvement, but today there is considerable demand for the programme among Danish schools. And Volvo Trucks has taken the initiative to launch similar projects in several other European countries.

The system developed by Intersafe-2 is still at the development stage. However, Volvo Trucks is already offering solutions that make it easier for drivers to keep an eye on other road users. In addition to the legally required rear-view mirrors, these solutions include reversing cameras and Lane Change Support, a system that helps the driver change lanes safely.

“Our safety enhancement efforts continue constantly. We have a vision that states that we will never accept any accidents. That’s why we must constantly be on the lookout for new and better ways of working with safety. It’s our responsibility as a truck manufacturer,” says Almqvist.

May 3, 2011

See the film about how Volvo Trucks works to solve the right-turn problem

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About Intersafe-2
A European research and development project investigating safety in crossroads over a period of three years ending in May 2011. The project was jointly run by 11 parties (Volvo, VTT, Sick, Volkswagen, Inria, NEC, BMW, TRW, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, IKA and Swarco Traffic Systems) in six countries. The in-truck solution, which Volvo Technology developed jointly with Volvo Trucks, was unique to the project. The other participating companies were tasked with examining other aspects of traffic safety at road junctions. Intersafe-2 is a research and development project. For this reason, it will not lead directly to a solution for series production; instead, work on identifying and separating vulnerable road-users from other traffic in the urban environment will continue in other forms.

The traffic safety application’s function

Here’s how the system works:

  1. Laser scanners and ultrasound sensors are positioned at the front and on the right of the truck to cover the areas that the driver cannot see, in other words the traditional blind spots.
  2. A TV monitor provides a birds-eye view of what the truck looks like from above.
  3. A camera fitted just inside the windscreen monitors what the road junction looks like (the number of lanes, positioning of stop lines etc.).
  4. A radio receiver fitted on the truck roof communicates directly with the traffic lights. For instance, it registers if someone has pressed the button at the pedestrian crossing and notes which traffic lights are showing red and green respectively.

All this data is processed and a status assessment is performed.

How the driver is alerted:

Based on the status assessment, the truck driver is either alerted to the presence of a vulnerable road-user or warned of an imminent collision. There are two solutions for informing/warning the driver: flashing lights or sound. The warning is more urgent in intensity than the information message.

About Road Safety at Eye Level
Volvo Trucks runs the project in collaboration with DTL, Falck, 3F Transportgruppe, Danske Fragtmænd, OK a.m.b.a. and Børneulykkesfonden.

For further information, please contact:
Veronica Nyblom, Media Relations Europe, phone +46 31 322 09 97, e-mail
veronica.nyblom@volvo.com

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