A team of researchers at Loughborough University are proposing changes to the design of lorry cabins with the goal of giving drivers increased visibility of the road around them. Ultimately this should reduce the number of deadly accidents that occur involving lorries.
The newly designed cab is 80cm longer than the standard cabs and it features a smaller dashboard, rounder nose and more glazed areas.
The seated position in the cab has been lowered, this coupled with the larger windows helps to considerably reduce the number of blind spots around the lorry.
Steve Summerskill who is the lead author of the new project being called ‘Direct Vision
’ has said ’Blind spots can be a significant factor in fatal accidents, The study shows that the size of these blind spots can be minimized through improved cab design, the reduction of cab height and the addition of extra windows’.
The Direct Vision design cleverly expands the driver’s radius of view to the front and to the sides of the lorry by 50%. It has been said that the restricted view from today’s cabins are a major contributing factor to many road accidents, usually when an unaware driver hits a cyclist or a pedestrian, frequently resulting in fatalities.
Steve Summerskill continued “This is a key moment in the definition of truck design legislation at the European level, Our work is being used to demonstrate that improvements to vehicle aerodynamics must go hand in hand with improvements that allow HGV drivers to have improved vision of vulnerable road users around the vehicle.”
Europe currently has no rules guiding what drivers should be able to see with their own eyes from the cabin. The existing rules only detail what should be able to be seen via the mirrors. This is a bit of a surprise and as the figures suggest this may need to be re-looked at.
According to the European Transport Safety Council, lorries are involved in around 4,200 fatal accidents in Europe every year. Many of these fatalities, almost 1,000 (3), are vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
In countries with high rates of cycling, lorries are often the single biggest threat to cyclists. In Belgium, 43 per cent of cycling fatalities involve lorries, in Holland 38 per cent and in the UK 33 per cent.
The study analyzed 704 accidents involving HGVs and found that 31 per cent of road fatalities were caused by drivers pulling away, 19 per cent were caused by left turns, seven per cent by right turns, and 25 per cent from drivers reversing.
The new study, commissioned by Transport for London (TfL) and Transport & Environment (T&E), is the first to look at the issue from the design point of view and is proposing dramatic changes instead of just amendments with the mirrors.
The study implies that mirrors do not make up for the impaired field of view in modern lorry cabs due to the time lapse between checking them, making observations through the window, and taking action.
The study concluded “If this time period is four seconds, this is enough time for a cyclist to undertake the HGV, with the driver being unaware of his or her presence,”
Europe is now considering changes to its laws on the weight and dimensions of HGV’s, This could open the door for the kind of safety designs they have been working on and possibly for more aerodynamically designed lorries. The new designs would need to comply with additional safety requirements, which are yet to be outlined.
One of the biggest issues with any dramatic design change is convincing the companies to take on the cost of upgrading their existing fleet to new, safer designs. HGV’s are not cheap, so it would be difficult to absorb the costs especially for those haulage companies who run a large fleet.
The new designs would need to be phased in over time when older HGV’s need to be replaced due to age or condition. Unless the government make the new designs mandatory it would be hard to see most haulage companies looking to replace their entire fleet.
It is an interesting proposal that could make the road a safer place and that I think we will all agree is definitely a good thing.