CASR targets priority areas to lift safety standards

New report outlines priority areas to improve trucking safety, including better vehicle design and a focus on technology

CASR targets priority areas to lift safety standards
CASR targets priority areas to lift safety standards
By Brad Gardner | July 26, 2011

Greater attention should be paid to fatigue, the use of seatbelts, traffic management schemes and emerging technologies to lift heavy vehicle safety standards, according to a new report.

The Centre for Automotive Safety Research (CASR) at the University of Adelaide has recommended four priority research areas to build upon the work the trucking industry has already done to improve its safety record.

While highlighting significant safety gains made through the use of B-doubles to reduce the number of trucks needed and improvements to the road network in the form of divided highways and sealed shoulders, the CASR’s report notes that more can be done.

It says seatbelt use ranges from 4 to 30 percent despite estimates that they prevent 37 percent of fatalities, 36 percent of serious injuries and 22 percent of slightly injured occupants.

The study, which draws on existing literature on heavy vehicle safety, suggests researchers focus on the reasons that influence seatbelt use. It also recommends investigating the effectiveness of using devices to remind drivers to buckle up or technology that prevents trucks from starting unless the seatbelt is clipped into place.

"Low levels of seat belt use among heavy vehicle occupants is concerning given the inherent safety value of seat belts," the report says.

"Furthermore, advances in design and improvements in ergonomics have improved the comfort and utility of these devices in many trucks."

The report, which was commissioned by the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), argues more research is needed on symptoms that cause fatigue such as sleep disorders and medical conditions.

The CASR says more research needs to be done on the impact of irregular shifts or driving hours on fatigue and suggests reviewing existing fatigue management practices to evaluate the procedures and their effectiveness.

"Further research into therapies and treatments (including medications) for conditions (such as sleep apnoea) that can lead to fatigue related crashes would be beneficial," the report says.

"Disorders and medical conditions that lead to fatigue, other an sleep apnoea, have received relatively little attention in the scientific literature in terms of how they relate to crash risk."

The CASR also believes traffic management schemes such as lane and speed restrictions can play a role in reducing safety risks. Citing international findings that show the benefits of such measures, the CASR says researchers should evaluate the effectiveness of traffic management schemes under Australian conditions.

The report goes on to argue the need to investigate the worth of emerging technologies that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of enforcement practices.

"Technology will be increasingly required to manage compliance with the growing complexity of the freight task," it says.

The report says on-board warning systems can be used to forewarn drivers of potential hazards, giving them time to react.

"For example, warning drivers that their speed may be inappropriate for an upcoming bend will enable them to slow to a more appropriate speed before entering the curve," the CASR says.

It is critical of the crashworthiness of heavy vehicles and recommends strong design rules to protect truck drivers and other motorists during accidents.

"Improvements in either or both of these areas through design or manufacturing processes would produce safety benefits," the CASR says.

"The crashworthiness of truck cabins is generally poor due to the lack of protection afforded during roll over crashes. Cabins also fail to prevent objects intruding into the cabin space."

The report says technologies such as intelligent speed adaptation, electronic stability control, roll stability control and lane departure warning all have demonstrated benefits.

ATA Chairman David Simon says the report shows the trucking industry has made improvements in the fatal crash rates of articulated trucks.

"The number of fatal crashes involving articulated trucks has remained relatively constant since 1991, but there has been a huge increase in the number of trucks on the road at the same time," he says.

Simon labelled the report, which consolidates 280 publications from academic databases and the CASR’s library, as a reference guide to truck safety research.

He noted the recommendation to focus on therapies and treatments for sleep apnoea, which he says can be an important cause of fatigue.

"There also needs to be more work done on seatbelt comfort. We know that many drivers do not wear seatbelts because they are uncomfortable and feel restrictive, particularly when not integrated into the seat," Simon says.

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