When a truck and vulnerable road user meet, even at low speeds, there is no winner.
For a pedestrian, the fatality risk can grow with the size of vehicle and its speed. So, with trucks being the biggest player on our roads, they don’t have to be moving fast to be fatal. This is determined by Newton’s Laws of Motion: when two forces meet, energy is exchanged and lost through absorption. As you can imagine, when a truck and pedestrian interact, it is the human body that absorbs the energy, which can result in broken bones and crushed or ruptured organs. Thanks also to Newton’s Laws, we also understand why trucks also can’t stop quickly.
The incredible thing is despite being bigger than other vehicles trucks are often overlooked, with other road users oblivious to their presence or thinking they can ‘beat’ them. What is also often overlooked is that inside the cab is a professional truck driver, who is trained for the driving task and will be constantly scanning their surroundings for threats. They draw on their ‘spider senses’ (also known as their experience) and their higher driving position to anticipate where a risk may come from. In the UK, Transport for London views the combination of ‘invisible truck syndrome’ and truck driver’s ability to see all as an advantage, training drivers in frontline security and counter-terrorism.
Being a professional truck driver however does have its complexities. Consider:
- Mass – trucks take longer to stop and respond
- Blind spots – in many areas drivers just cannot see directly
- Congestion – time is money, traffic needs to move
- Ignorance – other road users see them as a slow-moving obstacle to get around.
We all make mistakes, but need to share responsibility for road safety
Everyone makes mistakes on the roads. In fact, the entire National Road Safety Strategy is based around that notion. However, with potential consequences being so significant, we all need to do our part. This was clearly demonstrated by the coronial findings into the death of Rebekka Tine Lousdal Meyer. Sadly, Rebekka was killed by a truck turning left, with the truck driver not seeing her and Rebekka being unaware of the truck’s blind spot. The Coroner provided actions for both the transport industry and the general public in the hope this type of event would not be repeated. Sadly it still is. However, we are beginning to see big changes around interactions between trucks and vulnerable road user (VRUs).
Transport companies leading the way
If we look at waste and construction related transport companies, the nature of their business puts their drivers in urban environments. This means greater risk of interactions simply because there are more pedestrians and cyclists in the area.
Recognising this risk, companies such as BINGO Industries and Grasshopper Environmental are supporting special training to make their drivers more aware of VRUs with technological innovations to assist drivers.
The NRSPP case study on BINGO Industries highlights its use of a reversing automated braking system, for example, that detects pedestrians and sounds audible alarms when turning left or lifting objects. Grasshopper Environmental’s webinar showed how it fitted the Patronous Safety system for low speed, low light manoeuvring.
Add mirrors, cameras, direct vision trucks, side underrun protection, the Fresnel lens, and door windows and there are many innovations focused on protecting vulnerable road users.
What is making this essential for business success is that contractors are incorporating these safety demands into contracts to service major infrastructure projects.
More vulnerable road users is good news for truck drivers
From the community perspective, it is partly about ‘swapping seats’ and making the general public aware of the realities of trucks operating in the community and how to be safe around them. That is what makes industry initiatives like the Australian Trucking Association’s SafeT360 community education project so important.
One positive for truck drivers with higher numbers of VRUs is that it means fewer cars on the road. Think about what stops a truck most of the time – it’s a car, usually with one occupant. If I was a truck driver, I’d be advocating for a faster transition from cars to VRUs and public transport to free up road space for vehicles that drive the economy.
If you look at the various states, for example WA, Victoria, NSW, Qld, part of their transport strategy has focussed on other road users needing to feel safe, and so we come back to shared responsibility and how we all have a role to play.
Better for all: Construction Logistics and Community Safety – Australia (CLOCS-A)
With that objective in mind, NRSPP is leading the establishment of CLOCS-A. NRSPP has received funding through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, supported by the Federal Government, for the CLOCS-A initiative, which has the support of many industry partners and a diverse dynamic Steering Group.
The aim is to use major infrastructure projects in the pipeline to help advance the overall aim: build collaboration between all road users and interest groups and make VRU and truck safety ‘business as usual’.