The future of truck safety lies in technology

Autonomous truck technology will become increasingly important in trucking, but primarily for safety, rather than comfort reasons. By Rachel Boagey

2015 marked a new direction for truck safety, and the beginning of the year witnessed the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) publish its annual Most Wanted list. This year, the organisation highlighted its desire for more industry focus on truck safety, including anti-collision technology, better limits on driver hours and tighter regulation of trucking companies with high collision rates.

Volvo Truck safety optionsWhile commercial trucking is integral to the economy, crashes, injuries and deaths involving commercial trucks have been increasing over the past several years. In fact, the number of people killed in the US in large truck crashes increased for the fourth consecutive year, totalling 3,964 people in 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Research on the North American Class 6-8 truck safety systems market carried out by Frost & Sullivan found that the truck market in North America is expected to require nearly 917,069 truck safety systems by 2020, up from 409,417 units in 2013. These figures include Driver Information Warning Systems (DIWS), Active Chassis Control Systems (ACCS) and Integrated Safety Systems (ISS).

The research was carried out by Lakshmi Narayanan, Senior Research Analyst – Automotive & Transportation, Commercial Vehicles at Frost & Sullivan, who noted that the growing awareness among fleets, impending regulations, the need for fleets to reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) reductions, and the enhanced value proposition of safety systems is expected to drive the market over the 2013-2020 period.

“A few technologies such as Integrated Safety Systems, Lane Departure Warning, and Blind Spot Detection systems are expected to experience the highest growth with driver monitoring and crash avoidance gaining importance among fleets in coming years,” Narayanan told Megatrends. “In addition to reducing the crash risk, factors such as system reliability, fuel consumption reductions, critical event reporting and use of actionable data from such systems are encouraging fleets to install safety systems.” The value proposition of such systems, apart from their high potential in reducing crashes, improving highway safety, and other collision-related benefits, are expected to be major factors in driving growth of safety systems in trucks.

Eliminating unnecessary deaths through technology

Volvo blind spot assistRegulations put forward in the trucking industry will also increase the number of safety technologies in fleets in the future, “which will reduce the crash potential from inexperienced drivers through the installation of on-board safety technologies,” Narayanan told Megatrends.

The introduction of acts aimed at incentivising safety technology adoption will provide legislative impetus for safety technologies, stoking adoption by fleets.

Volvo Trucks’ Accident Research Team in Europe recently carried out research into truck safety, which indicates that 90% of all truck safety incidents are due entirely or partly to human error. By 2020, however, more than 35 million trucks globally will be connected, and collision-avoidance technologies that could help eliminate cyclist and pedestrian deaths caused by driver ‘blind-spots’ are likely to be required in many markets by law.
“Fleets that recognise drivers as their most important asset tend to spec more safety technologies on their equipment,” explained Jason Spence, Product Marketing Manager-Long Haul at Volvo Trucks. Many adopt safety technologies not because of regulations but because of their experience with the cost of a collision to their business. The cost of truck safety technologies is minimal compared to the cost of collisions. However, regulations do tend to bring late adopters up to the safety standards of the rest of the trucking industry.

“Volvo Trucks’ goal of zero collisions drives the advancement of future safety systems,” said Spence. “We will continue to develop and refine next-generation safety systems to support the truck driver’s operation of the vehicle.” These future safety systems will monitor conditions outside the truck more comprehensively and provide real-time information to the driver regarding potential hazards around the vehicle. “Since drivers are the most vital part of the trucking industry, we will continue to develop safety features and technologies to help protect them as well as other motorists and pedestrians,” he explained.

Passive versus active

Going forward, improving truck safety is not just reliant on technology, although it will play an increasingly vital role. “Both passive and active safety systems are important because it is not always possible to prevent a collision due to the actions of other drivers. We believe it is just as critical to protect the truck driver when a collision occurs,” noted Spence. “If a collision is unavoidable, many passive safety systems absorb much of the crash’s energy to reduce its severity.” To ensure passive safety, Volvo builds every cab with high-strength steel and designs cabs so that in the event of a crash, the engine and transmission drop down and away from the driver and the steering column collapses. “We also were the first truck manufacturer in the North American market to make a driver’s side airbag standard,” Spence stated.

Frieghtliner Inspiration hiway pilot availableActive safety systems help drivers avoid collisions through alerts and other forms of driver assistance. For example, Volvo Enhanced Stability Technology has been standard on highway tractors in North America for a decade, and the radar-based Volvo Enhanced Cruise with Active Braking helps drivers maintain a safe following distance by reducing throttle and applying brakes in instances when drivers don’t have time to respond to sudden events.

Frost & Sullivan’s Narayanan believes that, until higher levels of automation beyond audio and visual alerts allow for active safety systems to take over, passive safety systems will continue to play a vital role in improving safety. “Nowadays, systems that track and monitor data from safety systems can also be considered as passive systems. Packaging of critical data for actionable information for fleets will gain traction in the years to come.”

Autonomous safety

Daimler Trucks gave a glimpse into the future of trucking safety, becoming the world’s first OEM to be granted a road license for an autonomous heavy-duty truck. The first journey in the so-called Freightliner Inspiration Truck, took place in May 2015 on US highway 15 in Las Vegas.

Daimler’s initial research findings clearly show that autonomous driving relieves the strain of truck drivers. Measurements of the probands’ brain currents (EEG) demonstrated that driver drowsiness decreases by about 25% when the truck is being operated in autonomous mode, and the driver can pursue other meaningful operations. The studies also prove a high acceptance of the Highway Pilot technology and a rapid adaption phase of the probands.

“We are concentrating on our strengths when it comes to efficiency, safety and connectivity, and thereby sustainably securing our technological leadership. We remain best-in-class when it comes to lowering real cost of ownership and are highly valued by our customers,” said Martin Daum, President and Chief Executive of Daimler Trucks North America.

Increased safety, increased demands

In the next ten years and beyond, although widespread adoption of fully autonomous trucks is unlikely, Volvo expects to see continued and increasingly rapid adoption of active safety systems for collision warning and mitigation. “Features such as our Enhanced Stability Technology, Enhanced Cruise and Active Braking and Lane Departure Warning (LDW) will become more popular over the next ten-year period,” stated Volvo’s Spence. He also believes that the driving forces behind this trend will include attracting and retaining truck drivers, maintaining consistent operational costs, and complying with regulations. “We also see a continued push toward recording collisions as a tool for preventing them and toward technologies that could even track collisions that were avoided. Ultimately, the goal is a steady, year by year decline in truck crashes.”

Narayanan believes that in this timeframe, improved safe driving practices, data analytics support, and the ability of systems to take increased preventive measures will lead to increased demand for safety systems, as a result of which telematics and safety technologies will be highly intertwined. “Regulations mandating LDW, stability control and forward collision avoidance (FCA) will lead to fleets focusing on integrated safety systems, reducing the need for disparate sensors. Laying out a common advanced electrical and electronics platform will provide clear boundaries for the integration of electronics and safety systems in trucks.”

This article appeared in the Q3 2015 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.

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