Making driving safer is one of the most important goals in the development of driver assistance systems. But they can do even more, from environmental benefits to self-driving cars. Trucks are heavyweights rolling across the highways of the world. Their sheer mass can unleash enormous energies when they are involved in accidents. This is a challenge that manufacturers are working to address. In addition to an analysis of how and why accidents happen, the 2017 Volvo Trucks Safety Report also addresses the potential for minimizing the risk of accidents and their consequences. Assistance systems can make everyday driving safer, too, complementing passive devices such as the seatbelt, airbag, side impact protection, and high-strength driver’s cab. Key applications for digital protection include
- avoiding rear-end collisions,
- showing the blind spot, and
- fatigue warnings.
Responding to obstacles
Emergency braking systems have proven to be so effective that all trucks newly registered in the EU since November 2015 are required to have them. They must, at a minimum, warn the driver and throttle the speed by 10 kph (6 mph). Starting in 2018, this will be increased to 20 kph (12 mph). Many manufacturers driver assistance systems go far beyond this minimum performance and will hit the brakes down to a full stop. New developments also offer an alternative to emergency braking, automatically steering the truck past the end of the traffic jam. Prior to that the driver will have to indicate the direction the truck should move by turning the steering wheel.
Providing sight for the blind (spots)
The notorious blind spot is also a hot issue for developers. Where an armada of main, wide-angle, and ramp mirrors already provide greater visibility, turn-off assistants can further reduce the residual risk of collisions with pedestrians and cyclists, for example. They monitor the entire passenger side of the truck using radar. If a person is in the blind spot, a visual warning is issued. If the driver does not react, then an audible warning is sounded. The driver assistance system determines whether the trucker wants to turn based on the steering movements, the turn signal, or the images of the lane camera.
Awake in the cab
Fatigue is also often the cause of serious accidents, especially when drivers veer off their lanes. Lane departure assistants initiate a timley wake-up-call to the drivers before they veer too far off course. They step into action whenever the camera catches the driver crossing the lane markings without signaling. More sophisticated systems will even send audible and visual alarms if the driver’s steering behavior changes.
Assistance systems are not just about saving lives. They can offer other, real added value. Platooning allows trucks to form convoys for fuel saving purposes. In order for the trucks to set up a network via WiFi and be able to drive in convoys separated by just 15 m (50 ft.), digital assistance systems are essential. The close distance also saves space on the road.
At DHL Freight, two “savings assistants” are now mandatory on all new vehicles purchased from October 1, 2017. One is an automatic start-stop system that ensures that the engine shuts itself off automatically when the truck is stationary and starts again when the driver’s foot hits the gas. The second automatic system is a speed limiter, which limits the maximum possible speed depending on the application.
Goal: autonomous driving?
The combination and further development of all assistance systems towards semi-autonomous and autonomous driving is the highest level of innovation currently being sought. A self-driving truck would know not just the rules of the road, the roadmap, and the local topography. It will also notice its surroundings, including standing and moving objects. Whether the professional driver would still have to observe traffic from behind the wheel or could even disappear completely from the cab is a not a simple question of question, but a topic touching much deeper lying principles. For the answer, important legal, social, and ethical concerns will have to be adressed. Not the least because the relationship between assistant and human driver is not without conflicts, as can be seen when emergency brake assists are deactivated by drivers because they don’t understand the machine’s braking decisions. At the EU level, there are discussions afoot that would make it impossible for drivers to switch off assistants once they are driving in excess of 30 kph (19 mph). The courts are also taking a harder stance against drivers who have switched off assistance systems and are involved in an accident afterwards.