Making CV fleets safer

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Safety developments are a key aspect of modern car design and manufacturers keenly promote them to buyers. However, in the commercial vehicle industry, vehicles are sold predominantly on capability, reliability and running costs.

Although legislation is getting tougher, mandatory fitment of safety equipment to commercial vehicles still lags behind cars, which means responsibility, particularly for vans, lies in the hands of the operators.

Martin Flach, Iveco product director, says: “The take-up on safety options is very slow in the haulage industry and this is why it takes so long for developments to come to market.

“Before ABS became a legal requirement, only 5% of our customers across Europe took the option. It wasn’t particularly expensive and the benefits were widely known, yet people just didn’t bother. Unfortunately, there is a sub-conscious ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude among many.

“It is slowly getting better and organisations like Transport for London (TfL) and Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety (CLOCS) are doing good work to raise awareness.”

Cemex, a building materials company with 900 vehicles, has been working closely with these organisations to develop and raise awareness of safety equipment in the construction industry.

Carl Milton, northern regional logistics manager at Cemex, says: “The best way for vehicle safety to progress is if the industry works together to develop and implement best practice. If we don’t do it ourselves, it will be done for us.”

“When we purchase a vehicle, we look to specify as much extra equipment as possible. There are some great safety features available, such as AEB (auto emergency braking), but things like air conditioning and heated seats are also important to ensure the driver is comfortable.”

Cemex has been a leading campaigner in the industry for more than 10 years, since a cyclist was killed in an accident with one of the company’s vehicles.

Milton says: “The drive for safety needs to come from the top level of any company. It’s imperative that this culture is embraced from the bottom to the top.

“It’s also important that companies share information and best practice between themselves, but also report and monitor accident data. Organisations such as FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) allow us to do that.”

Graham Thomas, Ocado fleet services manager, says the online supermarket promotes best practice among all its drivers, whether on its truck fleet or in its 1,300 vans. “The safety of employees and other road users has been the number one priority for Ocado since it began trading.” he says.

In April Ocado took delivery of 20 Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks fitted with optional Active Brake Assist 3 (ABA3) and Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC) and has ordered 15 more.

“Following an initial evaluation of the Mercedes Actros trucks which joined the fleet in 2015, it was time to review our specification priorities for future requirements. ABA3 and PPC were the first two systems on the list,” says Thomas. 

One fleet engineer says vans are behind the times compared with cars and the company will choose vehicles based on what safety options are available.

“All of our vehicles come specified with AEB. That comes following a study on our car fleet, where we had 400 cars without AEB and 400 with,” he adds. “We saw a significant reduction in rear-end collisions on the second batch. I think operators need to push manufacturers to fit and offer more safety equipment.”

Phil Moon, marketing manager at DAF Trucks, believes that despite increased fitment of safety gear, there is still an issue over driver acceptance.

“Drivers need to realise the safety benefits of using the technology. What is important is to educate drivers about how the technology works, what its shortfalls are and how they can get the best from it,” he says.

“If a driver has an unpleasant experience with the
technology, they may lose confidence in the system and disable it. But if we can educate them on how it works, they are more likely to use it.”

Keeping the driver safe is a key part of operations at Volvo Trucks, which has been working on perfecting cab design since the 1960s. Jon Comer, product manager at Volvo Trucks, says: “The best accident is the one that did not happen. Volvo has a goal of zero accidents with a Volvo truck, but our research shows that 90% of all accidents have some element of human misjudgment or error.

“The focus is on active systems to support the driver with the aim of collision mitigation; in terms of driver handover, it is important to highlight this – they are not comfort systems”.

Flach believes legislation is the key to improving safety. He explains: “With trucks, the issue is cost. Truck operators like to avoid cost options as they feel they are unnecessary.

“Many operators would focus on the bottom-line price and wouldn’t consider the implications if an accident were to occur. The legislation changes have had a significant impact and things have certainly got better. Operators are starting to look more seriously at safety – it’s moving in the right direction.” 

It’s left to the fleet engineer to make the salient point: “Our policy is to take whatever options we can. You have to consider accident costs – safety features cost us a lot less than accidents do.”

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) & forward collision warning (FCW)

AEB is required under EU law on any road- going truck with two or three axles and rear air-suspension, built after November 2015. It uses radar or cameras to monitor the road ahead for slower moving or stationary traffic. If no action is taken after the driver is alerted, the system can automatically apply the vehicle’s brakes and even bring it to a complete stop.

The number of HGVs on the UK’s roads with the system is negligible. Thatcham Research thinks it will be a while before the 500,000 HGVs registered in the UK feature it.

More concerning is the number of LCVs that lack this key safety system. DVLA registration figures show there are currently 3.6 million vans on the road, many of which will be travelling on the motorway and in cities every day, making them a prime beneficiary of compulsory AEB technology. 

A study by Euro NCAP in May 2015 reported that cars fitted with low-speed AEB had 38% fewer accidents than those without. Those that did have impacts were significantly less serious due to the increased braking effort.

Ford fits ‘active city stop’ to the Fiesta (£210) and Transit Connect (£250) as an option, but utilises the technology in a different way. It’s AEB is used to mitigate low-speed impacts below 20mph involving pedestrians or other vehicles in slow-moving traffic. 

Buyers of a Mercedes Vito or Sprinter can add Collision Prevention Assist (£1,195-£1,750 depending on body type) as part of an optional safety pack that includes lane departure warning. It is also available on the 2015
Volkswagen Caddy and Transporter (£750-£870) and the new Citroën Dispatch (price TBA). 

Vauxhall offers forward collision alert, which warns the driver of impending impact, but cannot take evasive action. It is currently only available as an option on the Corsavan (£1,100).

Driver alertness

Increasing autonomy in vehicles reduces the risk of accidents caused by driver error, but the driver is still in ultimate control of the vehicle and some manufacturers fit systems that can monitor the driver and alert them when their concentration slips or if they show signs of fatigue.

Volvo debuted the system and offers it in the safety package on its truck range. Iveco fits the system as standard to its trucks, as does Mercedes-Benz, which call the system ‘attention assist’.

Ford fits ‘driver alert’ as standard to the new Transit as does Volkswagen to the Transporter but neither offer it on any other models. It’s optional on the Citroën Dispatch (price TBA).

Electronic stability (ESP) 

A legal requirement for cars and LCVs since 2014, ESP reduces wheel spin and helps control the vehicle if traction is reduced. It works in combination with ABS and can apply braking force to an individual wheel to maximise grip.

It is especially effective in wet or slippery conditions to reduce under or over-steer. In the dry it can prevent a roll-over in the event of excessive speed or steering input.

The system has also been adopted by the HGV industry and is featured on almost all trucks currently on sale, with many being adapted to act as a hill-start assist, holding the brakes until the vehicle is under enough power to move off.

According to Bosch, ESP systems have helped prevent more than 190,000 accidents since it was launched in 1995.

Crosswind Assist is a further development which can mitigate the effects of strong winds. It is fitted as standard to Mercedes-Benz Vito and Sprinter models and the Ford Transit.

Adaptive cruise control (ACC)

Functioning alongside the AEB system, ACC uses the same data to control the vehicle’s cruise control. The driver just needs to set the maximum speed at which they wish to travel and the minimum travelling distance from the vehicle in front. The system will then control the vehicle speed within those parameters. 

Mercedes-Benz’s Proximity Control Assist is optional on its truck range and has the added advantage of functioning in stop-start traffic, reducing driver input.

More advanced systems utilise GPS, such as Mercedes-Benz’s Predictive Powertrain Control (£1,340), Volvo’s i-see (£1,600) and Scania’s Active Prediction (standard), which will vary the speed and gears as the vehicle approaches a hill or corner. These systems have the added advantage of reducing fuel consumption.

The feature comes on Volkswagens with AEB, Ford Transit (£1,182) and Citroën Dispatch (price TBA) vans. In the latter it can be combined
with road-sign recognition and satnav data to automatically maintain the speed limit.

Lane keep assist (LKAS) & lane departure warning (LDW)

Required by law on new HGVs, lane departure warning (LDW) is designed to alert the driver if the vehicle strays outside a given lane. 

The disadvantage of this system is it can fail to identify road markings in poor weather conditions or on worn road surfaces. The windscreen-mounted camera also needs to be kept clean.

The system is standard on MAN, DAF and Iveco trucks. Mercedes-Benz offers LDW on its truck range as an option.

Ford offers LDW on the Transit as standard equipment and as an option on both the Connect (£700) and Custom (£335). It’s also available on the Vauxhall Corsa (with AEB) and Movano (£385), Fiat Ducato (£350) and Citroën Dispatch (Price TBA).

More advanced LKAS systems can apply a steering input or use the vehicle brakes to keep it on-track but is yet to be fitted to a commercial vehicle.

Blind-spot monitoring

This system uses sensors to monitor both sides of the vehicle to alert the driver of nearby objects that may not be visible to them. 

Volvo offers the feature as an option on its trucks as part of a safety package (£1,500), but most manufacturers are opting to fit larger mirrors and additional windows instead. Aftermarket bodybuilders offer the system along with 360-degree cameras. 

Scania offers an optional camera system that operates at low speeds, offering an overhead view of the vehicle’s surroundings.

The feature is standard fit on all Mercedes-Benz vans and the Ford Transit. Volkswagen and Citroën offer it as an option on the Transporter (£408) and Dispatch (price TBA) respectively. 

Tyre pressure monitoring (TPMS)

Low tyre pressures can extend braking distances, reduce handling characteristics, raise fuel consumption and increase tyre wear.

TPMS monitors each wheel using sensors and reports back to the driver if the pressure drops. 

Any vehicle without this feature can have it retrofitted at any time – wireless sensors are fitted in each wheel along with a dashboard display.

TyrePal takes things one step further by linking the TPMS to telematics, meaning an entire fleet can be monitored centrally.

MAN is the only truck manufacturer to fit the feature as standard. Scania offers it as an option (£1,200-£1,800). The feature is standard on the Ford Fiesta van and Vauxhall Corsavan. Mercedes-Benz also fits it to the Vito as standard as does Volkswagen to the Transporter. It’s optional on the Renault Traffic (£120), Vauxhall Vivaro (£240) and all Ford vans (£75-£100). 

Passive safety

Protecting the driver has been the continued focus of road car development, but commercial vehicles are further behind in the safety stakes.

LCVs, which fall under the same legislation as cars, are more frequently fitted with improved safety such as airbags and crumple zones. Passenger protection is still optional across the LCV market and Euro NCAP has only just started to test and evaluate van safety in the same way as road cars.

However, even basic safety equipment that we now take for granted in cars, such as driver airbags and safety belt pre-tensioners, is still optional on most HGVs. 

All truck cabs must meet European Union ECE R29 regulations for cab strength. The test requires a minimum amount of survival space to be retained when the cab is subjected to a front impact and rollover. Next year the forces exerted during the tests will be increased along with the survival space.

What the future holds

Iveco’s Martin Flach says: “Further developments of AEB will continue and we have tougher ABS regulations coming next year and stricter cab strength rules that we are working on for 2018.

“We are firmly looking into autonomous driving and vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication. There are many opportunities to not only increase safety, but also reduce driver fatigue and fuel costs.

“At the moment, the technology can only mitigate the effects of an accident or possibly prevent it at the last second. With V2V, we can prevent an accident significantly before it happens and mitigate the after-effects of any incident that does occur.”

Jon Comer at Volvo Trucks took a similar view, saying: “The next stage is autonomy and the connected truck. However, a quicker solution would be a longer heavier truck with one cab and one driver working on a green corridor on the motorway network during a set time
at night.”

But would the market accept this level of autonomy? Flach says: “As with any development, there will be resistance from the market, but it’s up to manufacturers to sell the benefits. 

“Not only is it saving lives and reducing accidents, but developments like platooning using V2V will save operators money as there are large fuel economy benefits. With technology it’s a cost issue rather than a safety issue. Legislation and economic pressures will always be the driving force and if V2V is legal and saves money then operators are likely to get on board.”

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