With the ability to monitor driver behavior, it is well known that telematics can have a significant impact on driver safety. But telematics is not the only fleet safety technology available — far from it.
These days, trucks and vans come equipped with advanced safety technology that helps avoid collisions, lessen the severity of crashes, and help drivers perform better on the road.
Here is a rundown:
The best way to stay safe in a collision is to prevent it from happening in the first place. So, it is no surprise most safety technology is intended to do just that. Collision warnings, automatic braking, lane-keeping systems, blind-spot detection, and advanced cruise control rely on a series of cameras, sensors, and audible alerts, and they all do their part to help drivers avoid a crash.
“Advanced safety features improve visibility, give the most feedback possible, and allow the driver to make the safest decision not only for themselves but for those around them as well,” said Dave Sowers, head of Ram Commercial. “These safety features are applicable in all driving situations, whether it’s at the worksite, around town, or out on the highway.”
Let’s dig deeper into some of the technology used today for collision prevention:
1. Collision Warnings
Typically using a sensor on the front of the vehicle, collision warning technology senses the distance between a truck and the vehicle ahead of it, as well as their relative speed. If the system senses a possible crash with the vehicle ahead, it alerts the driver through an audible or visible warning.
Some collision warning systems also come with braking assistance, which either preps the brakes for when a driver does engage them or automatically engages the brakes to prevent a crash. While collision warnings typically come standard, braking assistance is usually an available option.
“Ram’s Forward Collision Warning with Emergency Brake Assist applies partial braking to frontal collisions in an effort to mitigate any impact and increases the driver’s reaction time,” Sowers said. “This available option reduces the total cost of ownership by avoiding collision repairs, downtime, lost productivity and revenue, and reduces liability exposure.”
Nissan’s’ Intelligent Forward Collision Warning takes collision sensing a step further by seeing beyond just one vehicle in front of a truck.
“Nissan’s system not only can detect the car in front of you, but it also can detect the car in front of the car in front of you,” said Jerry Zielinski, regional sales manager, Fleet & Commercial for Nissan. “Just imagine how impactful that can be.”
Many OEMs offer their version of collision warnings systems, each with their own name and technology.
- Ram’s Forward Collision Warning and Forward Collision Warning with Emergency Brake Assist.
- Nissan’s Intelligent Forward Collision Warning.
- Ford’s Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking and Forward Collision Warning with brake support.
- Toyota’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection.
Julie Ellenberger, Ford product marketing, commercial trucks and vans, said collision warnings, especially when combined with automatic braking, pay off.
“The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute found, for example, that vehicles equipped with forward collision warning with autobrake have 56% fewer front-to-rear crashes with injuries and that claim rates for injuries to people in other vehicles are 23% lower,” she said.
2. Automatic Braking
While automatic braking can work in tandem with collision warning systems to avoid crashes in front of the vehicle, it can also be used to prevent hitting objects and pedestrians behind and around the truck.
For instance, Nissan’s Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection uses forward-facing radar and camera technology to detect both vehicles and pedestrians. If a pedestrian crosses in front of a truck, the system gives the driver audible and visual warnings and applies the brakes.
Nissan also offers Rear Automatic Braking, which helps detect large stationary objects when backing up and, if necessary, applies the brakes to help avoid a collision.
Freightliner’s Active Brake Assist 5 (ABA 5) uses fused technology: a bumper-mounted radar and a windshield-mounted high-definition camera that communicates with the ABS brakes, engine, and transmission in real-time to determine if a warning or braking action is necessary.
“The system tracks up to 40 objects at once and identifies the top six by the level of threat while refreshing 200 times per second. The camera and radar signals are fused together for greater object recognition, which allows for enhanced braking capabilities,” said Len Copeland, product marketing Manager, Detroit Products for Freightliner Trucks. “ABA is the most important safety technology available today. It plays the largest part in accident reduction, and driver safety and the safety of the public is a priority.”
Zielinski of Nissan said safety technology, and in particular automatic braking, can be the difference between a safe journey and a collision.
“In my day-to-day interactions with fleet managers, end-users, fleet management companies, and my counterparts in the industry, I have come across many individuals who were very happy to say that safety features have helped saved them from an accident,” he said. “Many admitted to being distracted and stated that it was an eye-opening experience when automatic emergency braking kicked in, suddenly braked or even stopped the car, and made that individual realize that if safety technology did not kick in, the outcome might have been different.”
3. Lane Keeping
When a driver drifts out of his or her lane, lane departure warnings can alert the driver to course correct. Zielinski of Nissan said this is particularly helpful for trucks.
“Trucks are bigger and wider than a sedan or crossover. Streets and highways are getting narrower,” he said. “Lane Departure Warning can alert you if you begin to stray from your lane.”
Ellenberger said Ford’s Lane Keeping System consists of three parts.
“Lane Keeping Alert can alert the driver if the vehicle starts to edge out of the lane,” she said. “Lane Keeping Aid applies steering torque to direct the vehicle back to the center of the lane. If the driver drifts a few times, Driver Alert illuminates a coffee cup icon to indicate it’s time to take a break from driving.”
Volvo’s Lane Departure Warning (LDW) is triggered by two factors: speed and whether the driver has used the turn signal.
“Above 37 mph, if the vehicle unintentionally departs the lane without the turn signal activated, Volvo Active Driver Assist (VADA) will sound an LDW audio alert,” said Ashley Murickan, product marketing manager for Volvo. “The driver should immediately correct the vehicle tracking and maintain the correct position in the lane.”
4. Blind Spots
Safety technology can also help drivers spot vehicles in their blind spot areas. This technology can differ slightly by class, as each truck or van type will have its own unique blind spots.
Ford’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which is available on the Transit Connect, helps detect and alert the driver to vehicles in the van’s blind spot. Similar BLIS technology is available on Ford pickups and the Ford Transit van but adds cross-traffic alert, which detects traffic behind the driver while backing up.
For pickups and full-size SUVs that pull large trailers, Ford offers an enhanced version of BLIS with Cross-Traffic Alert, which alerts the driver when a vehicle is in the blind spot or alongside the conventional trailer being towed.
Volvo’s Blind Spot Detection is designed specifically for its Class 8 trucks, with a blind spot radar mounted to the mounting brackets inside the chassis fairings on the right side of the truck.
“The Volvo radar is able to detect objects through the material of the fairing, so no cutout in the fairings is required. It monitors the tractor’s right side in the field of detection,” Murickan said. “It provides driver alerts using one LED mounted to the right-side A-pillar above the grab handle, and an audible alarm.”
Sowers of Ram said features such as Ram’s Blind-spot monitoring and its new digital rearview mirror promote safety but come with secondary benefits, too.
“These options enhance safety and lower the total cost of ownership by avoiding collision repairs, downtime, and increased insurance premiums,” he said. “In turn, your vehicles are out on the job site working.”
5. Adaptive Cruise Control
Adaptive Cruise Control prevents collisions by helping to maintain a safe following distance between a truck and the vehicle in front of it.
While several OEMs offer the technology, each uses its own terminology for it. At Volvo, it is Volvo Active Driver Assist (VADA), which essentially combines Adaptive Cruise Control with Automatic Emergency Braking.
“VADA is an active safety system that provides audible and visual alerts and interventions — if necessary — to help maintain a safe following distance behind the vehicle in front of the truck. Using a radar sensor inset in the front bumper and a camera mounted to the windshield, integrated and working together, VADA monitors large metallic objects moving in the same direction as the truck,” Murickan said. “VADA helps reduce front-end collisions by 80%, and it is particularly efficient in conditions that it is difficult to see in such as smoke, rain, fog, or snow.”
Freightliner’s Adaptive Cruise Control to 0 mph (ACC) also automatically adjusts a truck’s cruising speed to maintain a safe following distance, allowing the truck to remain in cruise control longer. The following distance is 3.6 seconds by default on the Cascadia but can be adjusted between 2.4 and 3.6 seconds.
ACC also works in stop-and-go traffic. If the vehicle in front comes to a stop, the Cascadia will also come to a full stop. If the vehicle in front starts to move within two seconds of coming to a stop, then the truck will resume moving at a safe following distance.
“ACC to 0 mph helps reduce driver fatigue, which improves the overall driver experience,” said Copeland of Freightliner. “I believe that the combination of ACC to 0 mph (standard) and Lane Keeping Assist (optional), resulting in a Level 2 Automated Vehicle, is the most unique and interesting technology available on the market today, as it allows a truck to automatically control accelerating, braking as well as steering.”
6. Lessening Collision Severity
Beyond preventing collisions, safety technology can also lessen the severity of a collision in the event it can’t be avoided.
For instance, Ford’s Post-Collision Braking on its Transit van automatically applies moderate brake pressure when an initial collision event is detected, potentially lessening the severity of a secondary collision.
To keep drivers safe from injury, Volvo leverages driver-side airbags and a high-strength steel cab, which is three times stronger than an aluminum cab. “Volvo exceeds all requirements of the Swedish Cab Safety Test, which is the toughest cab impact test in the world,” Murickan explained. “This protects drivers during a crash and keeps driver survival space intact.”
Volvo trucks are also designed so that the engine and transmission drop to the ground during a collision, which prevents them from being thrust into the cab as absorbing energy in the process.
Whether it’s being seen on the road or helping drivers see better themselves, headlights are an important safety technology that has seen several advances over the years.
Nissan’s High Beam Assist automatically switches to low beam headlights when it detects a vehicle ahead and turns the high beams back on when appropriate. Similarly, Ford’s auto high-beam headlamps automatically dim if they sense oncoming headlights and, conversely, switch themselves on when they sense poor lighting conditions. Toyota’s Automatic High Beams (AHB) are specifically designed to help drivers see more clearly at night at speeds above 25 mph.
“The AHB system is designed to detect the headlights and taillights of other vehicles, then automatically toggle between high and low beams,” said Ed Hellwig, safety and quality communications manager for Toyota Motor North America.
In addition to Intelligent High Beams, Copeland said Freightliner also offers automatic wipers and headlights, which detect precipitation on the windshield and low-light situations, then turns wipers and headlights on and off as lighting and weather conditions change.
8. Assisting Drivers
While safety technology can help prevent crashes and injuries, driver behavior will always be a factor. But there is a technology to help them, too.
Nissan’s Intelligent Driver Alertness helps detect driver fatigue and can alert the driver when erratic driving occurs. Nissan also offers enhanced ProPILOT Assist, which makes the job of driving easier through steering assist and Intelligent Cruise Control to help control acceleration, braking, and steering in both heavy traffic and on the open highway.
“Autonomous driving continues to be a hot topic,” said Zielinski of Nissan. “Our teams are working daily to continue to move toward the next step of autonomous driving.”
Volvo also offers features that make it easier for drivers to do their jobs. The Volvo I-Shift Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) prevents the need for manually shifting gears, allowing the driver to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS) provides improved steering response and directional stability for a more relaxed driving experience. Both technologies help reduce driver fatigue and improve comfort and control, which also improves productivity and safety.
“Technologies such as the Volvo I-Shift AMT, VDS, and VADA reduce driver fatigue and help keep the driver alert, thereby minimizing accidents,” Murickan said. “In the event the driver is distracted, or human error occurs, these driver assistance technologies intervene to mitigate or prevent an accident altogether. This helps fleets benefit from drivers’ peace of mind, and consequently, driver retention.”
Ford’s Enhanced Active Park Assist on its Transit and Transit Connect helps drivers tackle a task that is especially challenging for drivers of large trucks and vans: parking. Enhanced Active Park Assist, which works for both parallel and reverse perpendicular parking, helps drivers safely get into – and out of – parking spaces. Once a driver finds a suitable parking space, as the driver shifts, accelerates, and brakes, the system steers the van into the space.
“With an influx of new drivers providing delivery service right now, Enhanced Active Park Assist provides additional peace of mind and makes the prospect of parking what can be a pretty big vehicle less daunting,” Ellenberger said. “Your drivers are your most important asset. Keeping them comfortable and confident on the road is crucial to your success. It can also help protect the vans they’re driving from damage.”
Other technology helps keep drivers focused on the task at hand. For instance, Freightliner’s Traffic Sign Display (TSD) uses a camera to recognize speed limit and other traffic signs, then displays those signs in the instrument cluster, keeping drivers informed while limiting distractions.
Benefits Beyond Safety
The benefits of safety technology are numerous. Aside from the obvious and most important factor of keeping drivers safe, they also help ensure fleet vehicles stay productive.
“For fleet and commercial customers, a truck or van is a tool for getting the job done. And a vehicle that is out of commission due to an accident, no matter how minor, is not doing its job and is costing the fleet time and money,” Ellenberger said. “So, any technology that has the potential to prevent an accident has the potential to save the fleet money and keep its drivers on the road.”
Sowers of Ram said that safety technology helps avoid the common problems most fleets face.
“If there is one thing that’s true about a commercial vehicle, it’s that historically they have a dent on at least one corner of the vehicle that’s likely resulted in downtime and repairs,” Sowers said. “These safety features reduce the total cost of ownership by avoiding collision repairs, downtime, lost productivity and revenue, accidents on the job site and reduces liability exposure.”
Safety technology can lower insurance costs and reduce driver turnover, too.
“Our customers tell us that skyrocketing insurance prices are being contained with the use of these safety systems,” said Copeland of Freightliner. “Advanced Driver Assistance Systems also greatly increase driver comfort, which can lead to decreased driver turnover as well as to be used as an active driver recruitment tool.”