Camera/monitor systems are an extremely useful technology, but it is important to recognize their limitations as a stand-alone solution for object detection.
Back-up cameras serve to reduce blind zones in reversing cars by 90 percent, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Considering that 94% of new cars on the market today have back-up cameras, that’s a lot of backwards visibility gained.
But federal data shows that this passive technology (technology that requires driver/operator engagement) as a stand-alone safety solution hasn't significantly reduced back-over incidences. Even though between 2008 and 2011 back-up cameras more than doubled from 32 percent to 68 percent in new cars sold, the reduction in back-over incidents was less than 8 percent.
Despite this less-than-encouraging data about the effectiveness of back-up cameras, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated that they be installed in all new passenger vehicles by 2018, estimating that having the technology in every car on the road will save between 58 and 69 lives each year.
So, why are backing accidents still happening?
Even with back-up cameras, “drivers still don’t look around their vehicles enough when in reverse and sometimes get distracted by any number of things as their cars roll backward,” explains Janette Fennell, president and founder of car safety nonprofit KidsAndCars.org.
Back-up cameras display images on a monitor, and drivers can become too reliant on the screen instead of also using their rearview mirrors and windows.
What’s more, environmental conditions get in the way. Rain, snow, and even sun glare can drastically impair camera visibility on the road, as most drivers with back-up cameras have experienced first-hand.
In heavy-duty industries, environmental issues play an even bigger role. Dirt or mud from a worksite can quickly cover a camera lens, rendering the system useless until cleaned. Confined or dark worksites, along with the size of heavy-duty equipment significantly increases the risk associated with blind zones around these vehicles.
Even a bright, clear day can pose a threat: sunlight can create a glare on the camera and/or monitor, preventing the driver from seeing a potential danger. Just last year, a transfer station worker was killed when a garbage truck backed over him due to sun glare on the garbage truck’s camera.
While back-up cameras do increase visibility in a vehicle’s blind zone, the technology is passive, putting all of the responsibility on the equipment operator to see objects and people behind the machine before an accident happens.
Combining vision systems with active safety systems, such as object detection radar, provide equipment operators with active alerts (alerts that don’t require their engagement) so they can avoid potential collisions with people or property.
Camera/monitor systems are becoming commonplace in heavy-duty industries, but they alone are not enough to significantly reduce the danger associated with equipment blind zones. Many forward thinking OEMs are taking steps to integrate active systems designed specifically for heavy-duty equipment operations, which will be invaluable in the years to come. However, most fleets today require aftermarket applications in order to maximize the potential of safe operations of their equipment. This is not without cost, but the resulting increase in safety and decrease in costly accidents, far outweighs the investment.