Legislation due to come in force this November sees all new commercial vehicles over 8 tonnes GVW fitted with ‘Autonomous Emergency Braking’ systems – AEB for short. This means that new trucks will be able to put the brakes on to avoid collisions when the driver is not able to.
Road safety is a big issue. According to the World Health Organisation, road accidents are the “fastest growing threat to human health.” To quantify this, there are something like 1.3 million people killed each year.
This equates to about 20 airplane crashes every day. This is why this legislation is being introduced. Why it only applies to trucks and coaches, when there are millions of vans and tens of millions of cars running into each other is more of a mystery.
The Car Experience
Although AEB technology is not new – many top-end cars have had these systems since 2008. On the car side, the cost justifications for such systems have been driven by insurance premiums. The Euro NCAP system now only awards five stars to cars fitted with these systems, so commercial pressure is put on the manufactures to fit the systems.
The benefits of the AEB systems are clear. Cars fitted with these systems have seen a 38% fall in rear-end crashes in the real world.
Cars still have a long way to go. Despite the obvious benefits of the systems, they have not been made obligatory, unlike trucks.
That said, the percentage of the UK’s new car offering with AEB systems is rising. Of the new cars available today, one in three can have AEB systems, although only one in ten make the systems standard. Looking at newly designed models for 2015, the availability rises to 72% with 37% fitted as standard.
Safety too sees the price sensitive van market play second fiddle to cars. Whilst the technology is clearly available, less than 10% of new vans are able to be ordered with AEB systems – all of these as a cost option.
The insurance companies and research centre, Thatcham, are now turning their attention to vans. Expect to see more activity from the van makers in this area soon.
Changes in the Laws for Trucks
From November 2015 all trucks over 8 tonnes GVW will have to be fitted with three active safety systems – Lane Departure warning (LDWS), Automated Emergency Braking Systems (AEBS) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
The manufacturers have been issued with a set of guidelines to works to – although this won’t mean that every system in every truck will look and sound the same.
Each manufacturer will have their own view on how to deliver the technology to the driver. Peter Wells of Volvo Trucks ‘ Accident Research Team argues that the interface to the driver is vital, since the LDWS implemented in cars has seen little or no benefit to accident statistics. This leads the experts to believe that either drivers turn it off, since it is often obtrusive or they become immune to the lights and buzzers, since they occur too frequently.
Differences may also occur thanks to the simplicity of the testing scheme. The truck AEBS tests are only carried out at 80kph, rather than the car system used by Thatcham which relies on a points score across all speeds up to 80kph.
This means that the truck systems will all work well when the truck is travelling at 80kph, but there may be a temptation to ignore the performance at other speeds.
For a stationary target, the first buzzer has to be triggered at least 1.4 seconds before the system puts the brakes on. The second warning should come by 0.8 seconds prior to the braking phase. During the braking phase, the truck should be slowed down by at least 20kph.
The timings are the same as with a moving target, but rather a target of minimum speed reduction, the goal is not to hit the moving vehicle.
Volvo Trucks already claim that their trucks will stop automatically from 80kph to zero in all just about all cases.
Is There a Driver Override?
The simple answer is yes, there has to be. The question is how does the driver override the system?
It can’t be simply ‘turned off’, but when the system is engaged, if the driver ‘kicksdown’ on the accelerator, then the system will be overridden. Even if the driver brakes, the system will continue to brake, (unless the driver can manage to apply more than the 80% braking that is typical of the automated system).
The Simple Truth
All this technology is fantastic, but we as an industry are missing some low-hanging fruit to save lives. According to Volvo safety experts, if all truck drivers wore seat belts, 50% of truck driver deaths could be avoided.