Story by : Bhushan Mhapralkar
Safety beyond ABS and ESP could begin at the design stage, and has the potential to be more effective in eliminating issues like blind spots.
Trucks with a snout is the thing of the past. The Tata 1210L is long history, and so is the Hindustan Bedford J Series. Also, some of the trucks with a bonnet that came out of Ashok Leyland. Except for the Tata SE, most trucks in India, like the ones in Europe, are of the forward control variety. Buses too. If this is a reminder of the fact that British truck makers at one time actively promoted the ‘farsighted-ness’ of the cabs their trucks and buses were fitted with, and to an extent where Atkinson, at the 1966 CV Motor Show in UK unveiled the ultimate ‘all-seeing’ cab, the subject of how well the driver can see has been a subject of much scrutiny throughout the commercial vehicle history the world over.
Aligned with the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety (CLOCS) programme in UK, truck manufacturers DAF, MAN, Mercedes-Benz and Scania showcased new vehicles that are better able to protect other road users. Emphasising improvement in safety through design, and thinking beyond the UNECE R29.02 cab strength regulations that involve two cab tests – front impact and static roof strength test and an optional impact test on the cab’s rear wall, European commercial vehicle manufacturers are looking far ahead. Beyond the regulations that are known to be the most stringent, they are striving to improve safety through design.
Improvement in safety through design
Improvement in safety through design is made more complex by the fact that many roads in the older parts of Europe were not designed to support the kind of trucks that find their way there today. It is an example that would fit the situation in India too. With footpaths in cities and towns of India either non-existent or encroached upon, the contact between people and vehicles has risen to dangerous levels. Made more complex by a certain lack of road design and maintenance among other factors, even highways and expressways are putting safety at stake. India, in 2013, registered the highest number of road accident related deaths in the world, at 1.38 lakh. Beyond the mandatory fitment of ABS in new trucks above 12-tonne GVW, and buses above 5-tonnes, there is a need to find new ways to improve safety through design. A slimmer A-pillar for example.
Thicker A-pillars, flatter windscreens and large mirror clusters in M&HCVs are known to induce lateral blind spots. It was the demand for ever-stronger cabs that is said to have led to such a situation. The revised ECE R29.03 regulation that will come into effect in Europe from January 31, 2017, is claimed to call for even thicker A-pillars. If the sheer physical size and higher cab position made it essential to engineer thicker A-posts, the longer and heavier doors with ever increasing mirror sizes also meant that the A-pillars were thick and strong. The demand for new generation of long-nose trucks that could appear on the European roads by 2022 has added another element of debate, and at the core is the fact that there is a need to improve safety through design by ensuring elemination of blind spots.
Blind spot elimination
In an urban and semi-urban context, many accidents are caused by the driver of a commercial vehicle (trucks especially) failing to see or notice another road user. The inability to detect another road user is born out of a limited field of vision. When Volvo began work on the new FH truck, drastic design changes were made. The A-pillars of the new FH are thus upright and slimmer. The rear view mirrors are slimmer; the mirror housing turns rather than just the glass inside the casing. Even if it is not offered in India as yet, the FH, in Europe, could be had with a small but significant icon just besides the rear-view mirrors on the passenger side. Fitted into the A-pillar, when the icon lights up, it indicates that ‘Lane Changing Support’ has spotted something in the blind spot area, and the driver should refrain from changing lane until it’s clear. Daimler in Europe has also introduced a blind spot detection technology last year. According to Daimler India Commercial Vehicle spokesperson, the technology warns drivers of the presence of other road users when the truck is turning. While the elimination of blind spots would help to reduce accidents, in countries like India where road conditions are crowded, the challenge is the cost involved. These modern technologies would be extremely costly for implementation in mass market applications, both in terms of development cost as well as the product cost, she averred. She further expressed, that there is a need to develop innovative solutions that are suitable for mass market application in India, which cost less.
Cost and mass market appeal
Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicle manufacturer, Asia Motor Works (AMW) Ltd. is offering two technologies towards the elimination of blind spots. One is mirror-based and the other is camera-based. Shamprasad Ponkshe, Executive Vice President – R&D, AMW, stated that there is a need to develop a (blind spot detection) technology that addresses the requirements and limitations of the respective market rather than adapt a costly technology. The price of mirror-based blind spot detection technology is a few hundred-rupees to a few thousand-rupees. That of the camera-based system is between Rs. 5000 to Rs. 25000 according to Ponkshe. Ponkshe stated that AMW is working with some camera manufacturers to develop a low cost solution, and a technology that will greatly help to eliminate the blind spots and provide considerable relief to drivers. He explained, “It is very crucial that the operators have a range of technology options, that cater to their requirements, based on individual application needs.” Drawing attention to the various categories of mirrors that have been defined in the Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR), Dr. A K Jindal, Head- ERC, Commercial Vehicles, Tata Motors, opined, “For enhanced safety there have been many research studies to further enhance the vision around vehicles through various indirect means. At Tata Motors, we are evaluating various technologies for detecting blind spots around vehicles.”
Individual application needs
The need to address individual application needs is of paramount importance. It may call for an amount of modularity to be engineered into the safety system. There’s also the need for a solution or a system to stand up to the Indian operating conditions. Mere adaption will not do. There is no doubt, that Indian customers would welcome an advanced technology like remotely operated 360-degree blind spot camera, but not at the current price, which is prohibitive. “A price tag of around Rs. 3000 to Rs. 8000 could be palatable. Providing such a cost effective solution that withstands harsh environment like stone hits, dusty environment, vibrations and temperature is a challenge for automotive manufacturers,” expressed Ponkshe. While Dr. Jindal stressed upon the importance of such technologies in trucks and buses, there’s also the need for such technologies to be incorporated at the design stage. Especially in the Indian context where the level of human-machine contact is dangerously high.
Many odds are stacked against a commercial vehicle driver. Compared to the design change in terms of rear-view mirrors, the advanced blind spot detection technologies that European CV makers like Volvo have introduced on their trucks, none have found their way into India. If and when they do, they may not be attractive enough for a buyer because of the cost. The need therefore is to offer solutions that may have been inspired by technologies that have evolved in other parts of the world, but are priced at a level where an average Indian trucker will find them affordable as well as usable.