Carl Johan Almqvist is passionate when it comes to road safety. He has been involved in much of the development of safety systems for Volvo trucks and indicates we have, at this time, merely touched the surface in what can be achieved to make our roads safer.
“Safety is important the world over now and it has become essential we lower the number of accidents, it’s that simple. It is vital everybody pays attention to what is happening in front of them but we are human beings and fallible, particularly at the most inopportune times,” he said during a recent Australian visit.
“If you look at modern vehicles, both cars and trucks, they are loaded with more gadgets than ever before and take attention away from the road which can be fatal. We at Volvo are developing more gadgets but they are safety aids requiring no interaction from the driver, rather they are in action without driver input, but they play a vital role in doing everything possible to keep them safe.
“One of the biggest accident causes is, without doubt, the mobile telephone that takes attention away from what is going on, but in Sweden hands-free systems are not an option they are mandated, however research has found they have played a role in only .2 per cent of fatal accidents, either talking on the phone or being on the phone.
“That is a miniscule number but still has an impact on accident rates which proves it is just one element in accidents. There are many others such as people closing their eyes for a few seconds which is common and related to fatigue, but what remains the biggest killer in truck accidents is failure to wear seatbelts,” Carl says.
He says development of technology to indicate this to a driver is still ongoing and more sophisticated warnings for drivers will soon see the light of day in trucks around the world.
He points out one of the biggest life savers has been front underrun protection (FUPS) but this has been a battle to implement in some countries due to weight restrictions on the front axle.
“To get serious about safety there had to be an education process undertaken to prove FUPS offered definite safety advantages. Some jurisdictions were not keen to allow more weight over the front axle but can’t make FUPS out of balsa.
“It has been proven between 70 and 75 per cent of accidents are at the front of the truck, an indisputable fact, so it is vital this be addressed and I would like to see higher weight limits to accommodate the best safety device developed.
“We will continue to push for zero accidents involving Volvo trucks, and while we appreciate this will never be achieved because people are in control, we will continue to develop systems lessening road trauma and bringing the accident rate down.
“We have developed electronic stability control (ESC), not unique to Volvo as everybody offers it, ABS that has been mandated in many parts of the world, and sensors offering a high level of safety for truck drivers and other road users,” Carl points out.
He remarks there is a high push for safety in Australia and rightly so, reflecting a desire to lessen not only the cause of accidents but do everything in our power to prevent them happening in the first place in every country around the world.
“There are a lot of projects underway leading to the future. We continue to learn more about the fatalities and their causes and the human being who is so unpredictable. We have compiled 70,000 hours of driving data, the largest database in company history.
“One thing we have found is the human being is very smart, no argument there and not rocket science, but people are lazy. If you have a safety system in place it can warn the driver of a vehicle and they will react and do something about it.
“Compare driving with aviation, pilots undertake extensive and ongoing training to maintain a high level of safety but drivers have to make as many, if not more, instant decisions on the road than those flying an aeroplane do, yet that training is lacking,” he says.
One thing research has found is that those behind the wheel seeking better fuel economy are in fact better drivers with a lower accident rate making them true professionals behind the wheel.
“The benefits are easy to understand, they are smoother drivers who use the throttle more efficiently, take fewer risks, lower their speed and are more attentive to what they are doing, making them professional in every sense of the word,” Carl says.
“But they still make mistakes and this is where safety systems come in so very handy. One of the most efficient systems we have developed is active cruise control, a real boost to lowering rear end collisions. The most alert driver can be distracted momentarily and not see the vehicle in front braking sharply or slowing unnecessarily and we all know what the result is. The fact a sensor can detect the shortening distance from the vehicle in front and issue an audible sound and then apply the brakes if needed is one of the greatest safety systems available.”
If Carl has one message for all drivers it is very simple and one all should contemplate before getting behind the wheel – imagine all vehicles on the road contain members of your family.
“If every driver imagines that the vehicle in front, at the side or coming towards them contains their daughter, son, wife or mother the roads would be infinitely safer. This is something I remind people of every day and I wish everybody would keep this in mind each time they start the engine.
“Adding that to their obligations while driving can have a dramatic affect on how people operate their vehicles. We want everybody to leave home and return safely, regardless of if their journeys are long or short, and we all have a responsibility to ensure this is the case. Life is too short as it is, why shorten it?” Carl concludes.