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Spreading the safety message with Volvo Trucks

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on January 11, 2018

The emergency assisted brake in a truck brings the truck to a complete halt a short distance before it would have hit a dummy car, at Volvo Trucks's facility in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Swedish truck maker is pulling out all stops to prevent accidents

Nearly 1.2 million people get killed in road accidents globally every year. If this statistic is not scary enough to numb you, Carl Johan Almqvist, Safety Director, Volvo Trucks, adds for good measure that this is equal to more than 10 large aeroplanes crashing everyday.

Listening to these numbers is a group of visibly alarmed journalists, which has come in from different parts of the world to Volvo Trucks facility in Gothenburg, Sweden. Almqvist is now discussing the various aspects of safety and his group’s initiatives to engage with road users, especially pedestrians, bicyclists and children.

A few journalists now get to experience a simulator operated by VTI, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute. Others view the scene on television screens where a 20-metre long truck is speeding at 80 kmph, when a car going in the opposite direction careens off its lane. The truck driver literally has milliseconds to act. What will he do? Avoid a head-on collision and, hopefully, save the car driver’s life?

One of the journalists manages to avoid the collision but the car still hits the side of the truck at full speed. Another successfully manages to avoid the accident by swerving the truck but does not reckon with the weight that it is pulling. He unsuccessfully tries to steer back on course as the truck and trailer topple over after going completely off the road. The vehicle will have to be written off.

As first-time truck drivers, though they were only handling a simulator, the journalists have not done too badly as Volvo officials later explain. They had put 20 professional truck drivers through the simulator course and none of them failed to avoid the collision. However, with assisted brake and other warnings, there was a dramatic improvement in the accident rate.

According to the officials, one of the main reasons for increasing automation in trucks is to reduce road accidents. After all, they travel long distances in Europe thanks to an excellent network of roads and borderless movement of goods. Volvo Trucks has launched several active safety systems, all of which rely on advanced automation.

At one of the facilities, there is a live demonstration of an engine-assisted emergency brake system in a truck. A dummy car is being towed by another car, at 10 kmph, and a truck is travelling in the same direction at 30 kmph. Some metres before the truck reaches the car, the engine applies a mild brake. Warning lights flash in the driver’s cabin and when the truck still proceeds, albeit at a reduced speed, the sensors notice that it will ram into the car any moment.

With just a foot left between the two, the brakes are applied hard, bringing the truck to a complete halt without the driver doing anything. Sitting in the cabin, you are anticipating the worst but end up just feeling a jerk due to the sudden braking.

Aiming for zero accidents

“Volvo Trucks’ vision is zero accidents,” says Almqvist and adds that 90 per cent are caused by human factors. The underlying message is that if you start thinking about safety, it will influence you. Volvo has placed mirrors in various places outside the driver’s cabin as well as cameras to ensure that there are no blind spots for the person behind the wheel. This is especially useful in small trucks that operate in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, largely comprising school children and cyclists, that can catch the eye of the driver.

The idea is for road users to be aware of what the truck driver is doing and vice-versa. After all, as Almqvist says, without safety as a base, there is no question of having autonomous vehicles on roads. Volvo’s focus is around visibility, vehicle handling and brakes. As the journalists get ready to head out to another venue by a Volvo bus, Almqvist gently reminds us to buckle up our seatbelts!

The writer was in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently at the invitation of VE Commercial Vehicles

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Published on July 27, 2017
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