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Towards a safer future: Truck safety technologies

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Following a series of fatal accidents involving trucks, the trucking industry has recently found itself at the centre of much debate involving the improvement of its standards. In particular trucking company, Lennon’s, who stand accused of illegally tampering with a speed limiter from one of its trucks involved in a crash that killed three in NSW.

Although considerable improvements have been made to regulations and the safety features of trucks, statistics indicate that truck driving is still the most dangerous industry in Australia by a significant margin. So what is it that makes truck driving so dangerous?

An abundance of research regarding the causes of truck crashes has been carried out over the past two decades. The results of which suggest that alcohol and drugs, road conditions, and the age of the driver, each contribute to the cause of accidents.

However, research produced by the Australia's largest truck insurance specialist, NTI, revealed that more than half of the crashes investigated in its report were caused by fatigue. Research also shows that accidents caused by fatigue are more devastating as manoeuvres to avoid collision are often not made.

In recent years many automotive manufacturers have put significant emphasis on the development of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). These are electronic systems that are designed to improve driving and can include adaptive cruise control, electronic braking system, lane changing radar, and driver alert support.

The focus of the Driver Alert Support (DAS) from Volvo Trucks remains exclusively on safety and preventing fatigued drivers from causing accidents. The DAS is able to monitor the driver’s handling of the vehicle using a camera on the windscreen that observes the road. Drivers are alerted by visual and audio warnings when the system detects reduced driving ability. Peter Kronberg, lead technician in the development of DAS explains "the system is invisible if you are driving well."

Similarly, Saab’s Driver Attention Warning System was designed to prevent tired drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. The system uses facial recognition technology to monitor driver behaviours such as their rate of blinking and the direction of their gaze. When the Driver Attention Warning System detects that the driver is drowsy a series of alarms and warnings are initiated.

David Simon, Chairman of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) explains that since 1982 the fatal crash rate for articulated trucks like semitrailers has significantly improved. The private sector is a large contributor to successful innovations and Mr Simon explains that improvements to the safety of the industry will rely on help from these companies as well as regulatory enforcement to ensure technologies are uniformly implemented. “As new safety technologies become available, trucking operators will also need unbiased information about their effectiveness and how best to use them.”

Photo: a Creative Commons Attribution image from Dave Lindblom's Flickr photo stream

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