Being in and around moving vehicles, regardless of their size, has inherent dangers built in. Today’s highways and city streets are more congested than ever, with a heavy mix of traffic interacting with bicycles and pedestrians.
Add in distracted driving—which has been on the rise—and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster. Sadly, accidents and fatalities on highways involving trucks, and those in cities involving pedestrians and bicyclists colliding with trucks, have been on the rise.
This is where collision mitigation technology comes in—particularly with medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses. Cutting-edge collision mitigation solutions play a vital role in reducing the number and severity of road accidents.
When trucks change lanes on roadways and make turns in cities, things can quickly take a turn for the worse. The blind zones inherent in all trucks make the simple acts of changing lanes or turning a corner potentially dangerous situations. In crowded urban areas, the most vulnerable road users—pedestrians and bicyclists—are at the highest risk of being injured or killed.
According to data from the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, about half of all bicyclists and more than a quarter of pedestrians killed by a large truck or bus first make contact with the side of the truck, falling under the truck and into the path of the truck’s rear wheels. These vehicles are usually turning too near an unseen pedestrian or cyclist, or a cyclist is swerving out of the way of an obstruction when the accident occurs.
In fact, over the course of a recent five-year period, 556 U.S. pedestrians and cyclists were killed by side-impacts with large trucks. While collision mitigation has focused for years on side blind-spot remedies to avoid vehicle-to-vehicle impact, newer preventative measures are being taken to curb the deadliest road crashes: those between large trucks and busses, and pedestrians or bicyclists.
Truck side guards are physical safety devices designed to keep pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists from going under the vehicle and being run over by a large truck’s rear wheels in a side-impact collision. They can be retrofitted in older trucks or incorporated into new fleets. The United Kingdom made side guards mandatory in 1986, and, according to Volpe, has seen a 61 percent drop in cyclist fatalities and a 20 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities in side-impact collisions with trucks. Similar regulations exist in the EU, Japan, and Brazil.
Regulations have yet to take effect in the U.S. While recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and others have been made, no nationwide laws have been enacted to require basic side-safety equipment on trucks. Still, there is a growing movement in U.S. cities—including Portland, OR, Washington, D.C., Boston, Cambridge, Baltimore, and New York City—to adopt a simple truck side guard retrofit, and trial other more advanced collision mitigation solutions.
New York City’s Vision Zero plan was implemented after the death of a Queens cyclist when they were struck by a garbage truck making a right-hand turn. NYC’s mayor ordered more than 200 city trucks to be retrofitted with side guards to help mitigate the 32% of cyclists and more than 12% of pedestrians killed annually by trucks—which make up only 3.6% of the vehicles on New York City streets. The city has seen 27% fewer pedestrian deaths as a result.
While truck side guards do prevent deaths, they don’t stop trucks from hitting pedestrians and bicyclists. New active collision mitigation technology is taking pedestrian and cyclist safety to a whole new level. These systems use advanced sensors to detect pedestrians or cyclists in the blind zone of turning trucks or buses, which then alert the driver so they can take the appropriate action to avoid the potential accident. In some cases, these systems can actively brake the vehicle. One example is the new Daimler Sideguard Assist and Active Brake Assist 4 recently demonstrated in European Mercedes-Benz Trucks.
The Daimler Active Brake Assist 4 uses radar to detect bicyclists in urban traffic and pedestrians who are moving between parked cars onto the road, and warns the driver with audible and visual alerts while simultaneously activating the vehicle’s braking system. Sideguard Assist puts two short-range radar sensors on the driver side of trucks to provide visual and audible warnings that alert the driver if there is a pedestrian or cyclist anywhere along the length of the truck, helping facilitate lane changes and tight-area maneuvering. These systems are expected to reduce about half of all accidents between trucks and pedestrians and bicyclists in Europe.
The Vision Zero Task Force in New York City is working closely with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to improve the safety of its buses by testing side collision warning systems. The first system alerts pedestrians with an external audible warning when the bus is making a right or left turn. The second system alerts bus operators about potential collisions based on input from multiple sensors, including camera and radar technologies that detect vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.
It is this kind of forward thinking that is steering the industry toward safer roadways for pedestrians and cyclists.