Why is a cyclist visiting a truck maker?

Left to right Peter Kronberg Director of Safety Richard Barter NZ Manager Share the Road Campaign Hanna Degerman the Ergonomics Feature Leader  Carl Johan Almqvist Traffic and Product Safety Director.jpg

While the Share the Road campaign is about behaviour change and not vehicle technology or roading infrastructure, the invitation to visit the safety and design team at Volvo Trucks in Gothenberg Sweden was too hard to pass up. My interest in Volvo trucks had been sparked by studies from Loughborough University in the UK and the Transport & Environment Group in Brussels which show that they are up there in the safety stats. 

The founders of Volvo Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson, the designer Pelle Petterso had an interest in safety from day one when they started production of cars in 1927. This was unusual at the time. In 1969 an Accident Research group was formed to gather data on crashes to begin to understand why they happen, and how to prevent them. Since Nils Bohlin introduced the three-point belt in 1959, an estimated one million lives have been saved. Oxygen sensor which reduced harmful emissions, side impact beams, whiplash protection, side airbag curtains have all could from research done by the Accident Research Group. 

Volvo have produced trucks for as long as they have produced cars. Innovations include new cabs providing improved visibility, sprung seats, cabs fitted with rubber suspension systems, certified safety cabs and Volvo pioneers tilt-cabs.

I have a great interest in the issue of the ability of drivers being able to see vulnerable road users such as cyclists when out on the road. While I must admit (having sat in many trucks) cyclists are hard to see, I thought it must be straight forward designing a truck cab where this problem could be overcome. 

Volvo Trucks have put this challenge into the hands of Hanna Degerman the Ergonomics Feature Leader. Hanna said in an ideal scenario, the cab should be set up so the driver’s eyes are always in the same place relative to the edges of the windscreen, mirrors, side windows, pillars etc. In this way, these things could be set up to minimise restrictions to visibility. But of course, drivers are not the same size. Irrespective of height and er… depth they all must reach the pedals. This means their eyes can be close to the steering wheel and low, or very high and to the back and everything in between. 

Then of course trucks have different purposes which determine the height of the cab impacting the ability to see things around it close in.

In an ideal world, the passenger door would be all glazed, but the doors provide structural integrity to the cab, are full of wiring and must allow the window to slide down. Also, things appearing in the glazed roadside door can distract the driver.

I always thought dropping the height of the bottom edge of the windscreen enabling hazards close to the bumper to be seen would be easy. In Europe, there are a whole bunch of sensors that have to be seen by automatic toll road readers that take up room along that bottom edge. 

Aftermarket camera and proximity sensor setups can be confused by busy traffic scenarios. They can also create driver dependency to the point where the driver is a risk of not using common sense or taking that second look if they feel something is close by. 

So, in short, my hopes for easily designing out blind zones were somewhat dampened. I was however greatly encouraged by the rigour (at Volvo Trucks) and commitment that is going into solving these problems. When using their late model trucks at Blind Zone demonstrations (thank you James Smith from Toll) I have often heard the comment from cyclists who sit in the driver’s seat “so what’s the problem, I can see all around the truck”. Things are getting better.

Peter Kronberg Director of Safety outlined the work that the Accident Research Team are doing to make sense of crash statistics involving heavy vehicles to understand their causes. Volvo the recently released the Volvo Trucks Safety Report 2017*. Carl Johan Almqvist Traffic and Product Safety Director explained that crashes are caused mainly by; distractions, speed (we are not wired to judge speeds faster than walking or running well), no seat belt on and alcohol. He said our driving environment is built on trust, we trust other road users to do the right thing.

I came away with mixed feelings, encouraged by the developments taking place, but discouraged by just hard it is to dramatically improve driver’s ability to see what is happening close to the truck. Every time I am with drivers in New Zealand, I pick up on habits they employ to reduce the risk of things going wrong out on the road. May these practices be shared well and far enabling everyone to get home safely.

*This is the link to the report that Peter Wells presented:
Links to Volvo Safety programs: www.volvotrucks.com/stoplookwave www.volvotrucks.com/seeandbeseen

Richard Barter: Manager Share the Road Campaign can.org.nz/str