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Key Steps to Protecting Vulnerable Road Users

Key Steps to Protecting Vulnerable Road Users

Vulnerable road users represent anyone who would not be adequately protected if there is a road incident involving a heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle. This could be anyone from a bicyclist, pedestrian, or motorcyclist. While it may seem like the simplest way to prevent catastrophic accidents involving vulnerable road users is to keep them off the roads, this is both impractical and counterproductive.

Instead, municipalities and interested parties should be focusing on the next-best solution, which is to simply make roadways safer for everyone. Yet, the problem is that many vulnerable road users are not trained or do not understand how to properly share the road with heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles; and this is a problem unique to the United States. In the Netherlands, children must pass a traffic test every year to prove they understand road safety. Perhaps this should not be limited to Europe and instead should be exported across the pond.

There is good reason why Europe puts the focus on training vulnerable road users how to be more aware of heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles. Across the European Union, over half of all vehicle-related injuries or fatalities stem from an incident involving VRUs. And even though OEMs and regulators have worked hard o reduce that number it remains stubbornly high.

One of the main reasons the numbers remain high is because improvements in truck safety are being counteracted by environmental efforts to reduce vehicular traffic. As more people take to walking or bicycling, the space in which they can share the road becomes far more limited.

In situations where the infrastructure might not be in place to train kids from a young age, most countries instead focus on ensuring that those operating big rigs are aware of vulnerable road users. And while these efforts are gaining steam, there is still more work to be done on education road users of all types how to safely navigate roadways. Even more, there is one type of accident that stands out the most when accidents involve commercial motor vehicles and VRUs.

Moving Beyond Passive Systems

Data gathered from accidents involving VRUs overwhelmingly points to the passenger side of large trucks being the most dangerous. Not only does that side have the biggest blind spot, but it is also the most common impact point when a VRU-involved accident occurs. Although side turn assist technologies are going a long way to preventing these problems, issues remain.

Consider this:

  • 16% of fatal pedestrian collisions involving large trucks or buses happen on the passenger sides of the vehicle.
  • 30% of all bicycle collisions involving large trucks happen at the front/center passenger corner.
  • 41% of all fatal bicycle collisions involving large trucks and buses happen on the passenger side of the vehicle.

Fortunately, truck manufacturers are beginning to take note. Some truck OEMs have lowered the truck operator’s position in the cab in the hopes that it will give them a better view of their surroundings. Others have decreased the width of the B and C pillars while increasing the amount of windshield glass. Motor carriers have also attached larger and more varied mirrors and cameras, yet these systems have one limitation – they are all passive. Passive systems require the operator to continuously shift their gaze away from what is in front of them to the mirror or camera monitor. This constant shifting not only creates greater levels of stress on the truck driver, but it also reduces the chances that the driver will be looking at the right system at the right time. Mirrors are also susceptible to distortion, prevents the truck driver from properly gauging the distance between the road user and the vehicle.

Truck drivers must also contend with simple geometry as a truck turns. While on a straight line, the mirrors provide a linear view along the side of the truck, but when the truck turns, that all changes. During a turn, the mirror only shows the area directly behind the cab. The operators view becomes increasingly restricted as the vehicle turns. In a crowded urban area, this prevents the truck driver from seeing what is happening along the length of the trailer.

As a result, fleets are moving away from passive mirrors and installing radar-based collision avoidance systems. Why? Because unlike mirrors and cameras, radar does not rely on line-of-sight alone. Adopting these technologies could mean the difference between life and death in an incident involving a vulnerable road user.

How Radar-Based Systems Work

Effective radar-based systems emit radar waves at a 150-degree semi-rectangular pattern along the side of the vehicle. As the radar waves contact objects and bounce back to the emitter, the computer filters out stationary objects while providing specific alerts when it discovers objects in motion.

What makes these systems different are their active nature; a truck driver does not need to constantly be looking from the road ahead to a mirror or a viewing screen to try to isolate where a VRU may or may not be. The radar-based system notifies the operator when there is a potential danger from a VRU. Rather than taking attention away, these systems guide a truck driver’s attention to where it needs to be.

Comprehensive radar-based systems provide intuitive audible and visual alerts. They can even be outfitted with GPS-based vehicle speed messages and can be connected directly to a trucks CAN-bus so that vehicle speed information can be adequately monitored. Radar-based solutions also provide multiple environment monitoring.

As one example, when a vehicle is traveling faster than 20 mph, the system creates a specific active radar zone focusing on looking for VRUs and monitoring if one is in a blind spot when a truck driver initiates a lane change. The system is synced up with the turn indicator. In the event a truck driver turns on the turn indicator and there is a VRU in their blind spot, the system will activate an alert.

Radar-based systems should also provide a comprehensive solution when the vehicle is operating in a congested urban area. The system should be able to filter out street signs, lights, benches, trees and other objects that represent no danger. In the event a bicycle rider enters the vehicle’s blind spot, however, the system will provide an alert. The system should provide this alert whether the vehicle is turning or not.

In an ideal world, responsibility for preventing accidents involving VRUs would not rest solely on the fleet but would rather be everyone’s responsibility. But until comprehensive training systems are introduced, companies cannot afford to be passive. Proactive installation of radar-based solutions is not only the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do.

Beyond Side Impacts

While much of the focus is on impacts that occur on the passenger side of the vehicle, radar-based safety systems can also provide comprehensive protection and reduction from collisions involving other vehicles. Active braking and collision mitigation systems go a long way to reducing a fleet’s overall number of rear-end collision incidents.

These systems react to moving or stationary vehicles and deliver high performance in all seasons and driving situations. With rear-end collisions representing 30 percent of all fatal accidents, there is room to have a big impact on lives and safety by using a radar-based system.

Radar-based solutions will also become increasingly important as the dynamic wave of automation takes over the trucking industry. Although we are nowhere near total automation, as more companies begin to adopt automation solutions, radar, lidar, and other advanced sensing technologies will become more in vogue. The question is, will fleets make the investments necessary to integrate them into their safety programs?

Automation in the tucking industry does not restrict itself to automation technology. Non-automated technologies will be needed to compliment the systems that ensure safety as big rigs are traveling down the nation’s roads and highways. 2019 will be remembered as a revolutionary period for the trucking and automotive industries. We will see significant changes to the way motor carriers implement safety technologies.

From advanced driver assistance systems to camera-based machine vision, radar-based direction units, truck driver condition evaluation systems, and more – the future is going to look very interesting. Still, it is important to note that many of these innovations will be focused specifically on safety, and more, the safety of vulnerable road users.

There will never be a day without vulnerable road uses on the nation’s roads and highways. As a result, motor carriers must do what they can to invest in technologies that mitigate the risk to these individuals. Anything less would be more than irresponsible; it would be negligent. Radar-based systems can play a huge role in reducing that negligence.

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