Risk: Systems help make life safer for van drivers

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It was national motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson who once quipped that the best safety device that could be placed in vehicles was a large spike stuck in the steering wheel pointing towards the driver.

While obviously joking, it is true that the vehicle safety systems are no guarantee against accidents and serious injuries.

Although the longer-term trend has seen a reducation in accident numbers, the 2011 figures show that in 2011 3% more people were killed on UK roads than in 2010 – a total of 1,901 – while serious injuries rose by 2% to 23,122.

There is an argument that the safer vehicles become, the more risks drivers will take, believing themselves safe from harm.

However, these figures must be put in perspective to highlight just how much technology has improved the lot of the van driver.

In 1965, for instance – the year when the Ford Transit was first launched – there were a staggering 7,952 road accident deaths in Britain.

Many readers will remember those days – light commercial vehicles often had sliding doors that could be hooked open with a leather strap (the earliest form or air-conditioning) while seatbelts were non-existent.

It wasn’t until 1968 that vehicles had to be mandatorily fitted with belts.

Even then it was not until 1983 that drivers were required by law to wear them.

After the introduction of the seatbelt, the biggest technological advance for helping save lives is electronic stability control (ESC), in which a small unit located under the bonnet uses intelligent sensors to check 25 times per second whether the driver’s steering input matches the vehicle’s actual direction of travel.

If the system detects some discrepancy and identifies that the vehicle is likely to become unstable, it intervenes by reducing the engine torque in order to restore stability. If that is not sufficient, then it additionally brakes individual wheels.

ESC also incorporates the functions of the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and traction control.

The system was developed by Bosch and the company has now fitted more than 50 million units worldwide. 

EU law states that all new LCV models introduced since November 2011 have to have ESC as standard and by October 31, 2014, all vans made will be required to have it.

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