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Truck Technology: Braking news

Manufacturers are increasingly providing automatic emergency braking as standard technology in new trucks, and within a few years the life-saving wizardry is likely to be compulsory in all new heavy vehicles


Bad place for a car to stop: a demonstration of the Volvo AEB warning system

Everybody in the trucking industry has heard the horror stories.

Trucks ploughing into other vehicles in the fog, dust, smoke or darkness. Trucks ramming into the back of cars at roadworks, in heavy traffic, at intersections or any old where.

Most of these disasters are the other driver’s fault, according to the official statistics. But that’s little consolation to all the traumatised people involved. And the federal government estimates that rear-enders involving heavy vehicles cost the community around $200 million a year.

We all like to think we are great drivers, but we only have to delay our reactions to an emergency situation by a second or two and it can be the difference between life or death.

That’s where modern technology can help, and it’s why the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) supports the federal government’s plan to make autonomous emergency braking (AEB) compulsory.

“It’s an incredible safety technology,” says Trucking Association CEO Ben Maguire. “Making it a requirement for new trucks is one of the ATA’s safety priorities.”

About 80 lives could be saved and more than 2,000 serious injuries avoided over three decades, if AEB becomes mandatory for all new trucks sold in Australia, according to the government’s regulatory impact statement on the technology.

Where the ATA and government differ is on precisely when AEB should become mandatory. The government is proposing November this year for all new truck models, and 2022 for all individual new trucks. But the ATA is urging a delay of 12 months on both dates for prime movers, to give more time to iron out problems involving bullbars and trailers on dirt roads. 

But if, right now, you want to fit AEB to your newer truck capable of the option, the average cost is about $1,500, according to the regulatory statement. 

The Freightliner Cascadia is the first bonneted truck in Australia with AEB as standard


AEB as planned to become mandatory generates both an audio and visual warning if there is a danger of a rear end collision with a vehicle in the same lane. If the driver doesn’t react by braking, moving the steering wheel or pressing the accelerator, the truck will apply the brakes by itself. 

Earlier versions of the technology had some problems with false alarms, but it’s getting better and cheaper all the time, and several truck manufacturers are installing it as standard equipment.

Mercedes-Benz was first cab off the rank with standard AEB in 2010, and is now up to the fifth generation of what it calls active brake assist. 

When the new Actros is released in April, it will actually have the ability to automatically completely stop the truck for any pedestrians straying in front of it if the rig is travelling at less than 50km/h and the driver hasn’t reacted. (The 2016 model was able to start braking for a pedestrian, but not come to a complete stop.)

Meanwhile Benz’s Daimler Trucks stablemate, the new Freightliner Cascadia, has the distinction of being the first bonneted truck for sale in Australia with AEB as standard. 

Hino introduced AEB as standard for the first time in the medium duty sector, in its 500 Series Standard Cab models. And in the light duty sector Daimler’s Fuso Canter is the first to have AEB as standard.

Those two brands leading the way in their segments with AEB is important because most rear-end crashes involving trucks occur in urban areas; and more rigids are involved in rear-enders than prime movers.

New rigids have a much lower proportion of AEB fitted than prime movers, and unlike prime movers, rigids still don’t have electronic stability control (ESC) mandated. 

Watch out! Mercedes-Benz AEB in action


Emergency braking was the subject of a fascinating session at the most recent ATA Technology and Maintenance Conference (TMC) in Melbourne.

Volvo Group Australia senior product manager Scott Simpson explained the ins and outs of his company’s automatic braking technology which is now standard for nearly all models of Volvo and UD Quon, and an option for Mack and the upcoming UD Croner.

A radar on the bumper detects the distance to the target and the speed of the target; while a camera on top of the windscreen picks up the shape of the target and anything on the sides of the lane which the system doesn’t need to worry about, such as road signs.

Four seconds before predicted impact, a red horizontal line is reflected onto the lower windscreen (so the driver doesn’t have to take their eyes off the road).

Three seconds before impact, the line starts flashing and an alarm sounds.

If the driver hasn’t reacted with two seconds left, the truck starts braking.

And if there is still no reaction with only one second to go until impact, the truck hits both the auxiliary brakes and the service brakes hard, in emergency mode.

Under this process in the example used by Simpson, in the space of four seconds a truck goes from 80km/h to 12km/h, possibly avoiding a crash altogether but at the very least reducing the severity of a crash.

“The system when it becomes active detects that it needs to slow the vehicle down and alerts the driver to the risk of a collision ahead,” he summarised. “So it’s actually about making sure the driver is aware that ‘Hey, there’s a collision up ahead, we need to do something about it’. It’s not about just slamming the brakes on.”

The bottom line is if the driver doesn’t react within two seconds, the truck starts braking independently. 

Volvo Group autonomous emergency braking expert Scott Simpson


But what about the emergency braking going off when it’s not supposed to?

This writer did numerous overnight express trips between Sydney and Melbourne in an older V8 Benz Actros a few years ago and once every couple of legs the system would wrongly activate after the radar picked up something metallic to the side on a sweeping bend.

This came as a shock on cruise control, but putting the foot on the accelerator stopped the truck from braking hard. The simple solution was to switch the system off for linehaul.

But on city freeways the associated adaptive cruise control was terrific for keeping a consistent safe distance behind other vehicles.

And I always made sure to have the system switched on in fog on the highway. On at least one occasion the radar gave me a heads-up warning of a truck going slower ahead, before I could actually see its tail lights (snow or ice is a different story because particles could block the radar).

The next Actros model uses both a radar and camera to better detect items and people.

Simpson explained the benefits of this all dual technology in the TMC session.

“The radar is good at detecting distance and therefore the speed of the target that’s ahead, whereas when you combine that with the camera, the camera is actually looking for the shape of the object and the lateral position of where it is on the road and within the lane markings.

“So when you have the camera combined it makes the system smarter and it has less chance of false reactions. When you have radar only there is more chance of it picking up on something that’s not quite right, whether that be a guard rail on a corner or a road sign. 

The Fuso Canter radar


Simpson pointed out that for the system to work properly on a prime mover, trailers have to have either ABS or an electronic braking system (EBS), and these need to be functioning correctly. Otherwise, the prime mover could stop too quickly for trailers to handle, with the risk of jack-knifing, for example.

“If the truck is coupled to a ‘dumb’ trailer it will come up with a message on the dash saying it is not coupled to an ABS- or EBS-equipped trailer and the actual emergency braking goes into a reduced mode, whereby it only allows the auxiliary brakes, the compression, to slow the vehicle down,” Simpson said. “In that case it’s not going to slow the vehicle enough to stop it.”

Another reason the AEB might not work properly – or at all – is if something is blocking the radar or the camera. Simpson said operators have to be careful with aftermarket installation of bullbars, bumper bars and stone guards.

“We’ve got a radar at the lower part of the vehicle, we’ve also got cameras up in the windscreen depending on your vehicle manufacturer, so by putting something in the path of that the system it’s obviously not going to work correctly, you’ll get fault messages and false alarms.

“We’ve actually seen occurrences where certain aftermarket suppliers have moved the radar, so they’ve taken it from the centre of the vehicle and moved it over 300 or 400 millimetres, so what it’s doing then is looking at the car in the other lane and it’s getting false alarms and the brakes are coming on.”

Simpson added that the Volvo system can be switched off. This will be required under UN regulation 131, assuming the government makes it mandatory in Australia, after being compulsory in Europe since 2013 (with proven effectiveness) and more recently in Japan and Korea.

“When you have a truck hit a kangaroo or something that rips the radar off and it’s hanging on the ground, the driver can actually turn it off so it doesn’t annoy the driver and so they can get it back to the depot.” 

First in its medium duty class: the Hino 500 Series Standard Cab


Simpson finished his TMC address with a couple of anecdotes from Volvo product trainers.

In one case on a Queensland highway, a trainer was pulling a full-weight trailer at between 60 and 70km/h in thick fog. 

“All of a sudden the lights came on and the truck started to brake and he didn’t know what was happening,” Simpson said. 

“A caravan had pulled out from a truck parking bay onto the road and into the path of where he was travelling.”

In another case after a 10-hour trip, the truck pulled up quicker than the customer driver could react, when a small truck suddenly turned into a Sydney driveway and the car in between slammed on its brakes.

“The driver didn’t realise what was happening but I guess what that shows is that when a driver is fatigued these systems can actually act quicker than a driver can.”

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