Volvo enhances driver support systems for accident prevention
The manufacturer is currently working toward achieving its vision to reduce the number of accidents involving Volvo trucks to zero
Road accidents claim more than 1.2 million lives each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO’s third Global status report on road safety published in 2015 indicate that low- and middle-income countries are the hardest hit, with double the fatality rates of high-income countries and 90% of global road traffic deaths. Vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists make up half of these fatalities. The report illustrates that the number of road traffic deaths globally has plateaued at 1.25 million a year.
Despite this massive and largely preventable human and economic toll, action to combat this global challenge has been insufficient. The most important UN regulation for crash avoidance is electronic stability control (ESC), which aims to prevent skidding and loss of control in cases of oversteering or understeering, and is effective at preventing different types of crashes such as single car crashes, head-on and rollover crashes, and crashes involving multiple vehicles. The success of ESC has led to it rapidly becoming mandatory in many high-income countries. At a global level, only 46 countries adhered to the UN regulation on ESC in 2015, of which the majority were high-income countries. The technology is also effective in commercial vehicles such as trucks, coaches and mini-buses.
The WHO report points out that urgent action is needed to achieve the ambitious target for road safety reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.
According to Carl Johan Almqvist, traffic and product safety director at Volvo Trucks, there needs to be a change in the way we perceive road accidents.
“How do we perceive and analyse the 1.2 million road deaths every year? We can’t investigate every case and find out the causes of the accidents, but we can break it down to realise that about 3400 people are killed on roads, every day. This statistic would look more terrifying if we equate the number of deaths to ten large aircrafts crashing every day. How would we react if that was the case? We would ground every aircraft until we make sure they’re 100% safe. However, our attitude toward road deaths is not the same because we see it as an everyday occurrence,” says Almqvist.
Vehicles have three basic requirements for safety: visibility, handling and braking. Although vehicle manufacturers address these requirements sufficiently, accidents continue to happen. Research indicates that 90% of accidents occur due to human factors and 30% due to the environment. Only 10% of accidents occur due to the vehicle alone.
“The Volvo accident research department found out that around 50% of accidents involving trucks are vehicle rollovers, especially at roundabouts. Another major cause of accidents nowadays is rear ending. Does this mean that we should get rid of drivers to prevent the majority of accidents? Certainly not. Human beings have the abilities to prevent road accidents. We tend to forget the number of accidents that are prevented because of having experienced drivers behind steering wheels. However, we cannot avoid facing traffic situations such as maintaining safe distance, keeping in lane, safe speeds on curves and safe lane change. That’s why drivers need advanced support systems and training,” says Almqvist.
Volvo has been offering several safety support systems on its trucks, such as adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning, electronic stability control, driver alert support, lane changing support using radar technology, lane keeping support and emergency brake.
“We’ve been driving a safety revolution since the 1950s when we introduced the three-point seat belt, followed by steel cabs to protect the driver, and electronic systems to enable safe driving. I’m certain that in the future, drivers will be able to travel in trucks without doing much of driving or no driving at all,” says Almqvist.
Carl Johan Almqvist, traffic and product safety director, Volvo Trucks
The manufacturer is currently working toward achieving its vision to reduce the number of accidents involving Volvo trucks to zero, similar to the aviation industry which operates on a zero accident policy.
“Making trucks safer alone is not enough. We need to make the world’s roads safer. To achieve this, there needs to be more collaboration among all stakeholders responsible for policies and regulations, education and awareness, research and vehicle technology. It’s crucial that everybody realises that no accident is acceptable,” says Almqvist.
Integral to Volvo’s zero-accident goal is the advancement of Volvo Dynamic Steering, a system introduced in 2013 to provide stability at high speeds, control at low speeds and reduce the strain on the driver’s muscles. Volvo Dynamic Steering has been developed to automatically compensate for unevenness in the road surface and to eliminate vibration and kicks in the steering wheel. The technology combines conventional hydraulic power steering with an electric motor that’s fitted to the steering gear. Processing input from multiple sensors, the electrical control unit (ECU) works out where the truck’s going and the driver’s intention. The motor is controlled 2,000 times every second, and uses a principle called ‘torque overlay’ to correct unintentional steering movements and to provide extra steering torque when needed.
When driving at low speed, steering wheel resistance is reduced by about 75%, which is beneficial when reversing and in close-quarter manoeuvring. The steering wheel automatically self-centres as soon as the driver’s grip on the wheel lightens. At higher speeds, the truck maintains its direction even on poor surfaces and in strong side-winds. This technology is based on the truck’s hydraulic power steering being assisted by an electronically regulated electric motor that continuously adjusts steering and provides added turning force when needed.
“Volvo Dynamic Steering provides better directional stability, easier manoeuvring and higher comfort to reduce the risk of road accidents and strain-related injuries. Now we are building further on our success with new functions that help make the traffic environment even safer. These functions were developed to help drivers avoid some of the most common accident scenarios identified via our accident research programme,” says Almqvist.
Volvo is expanding the scope of Dynamic Steering to avoid skidding and unintentional lane changes, set steering wheel preferences and control steering remotely.
By integrating Volvo Dynamic Steering with other comfort- and safety-enhancing systems, Volvo Trucks has developed two accident prevention driver support systems: Volvo Dynamic Steering with Stability Assist and Volvo Dynamic Steering with Lane Keeping Assist.
Countering skidding before it occurs
Volvo Dynamic Steering with Stability Assist minimises the risk of skidding accidents. Here, Volvo Dynamic Steering works together with the truck’s Electronic Stability Control system. Sensors in the frame continuously monitor the truck’s rotational speed (yaw) and when the slightest skidding tendency is detected, the system is activated and provides light steering wheel assistance to help the driver steer in the opposite direction, stabilising the vehicle. The technology is designed to work especially well during high-risk scenarios such as cornering, driving uphill or driving unloaded between missions on low friction roads that face the impact of snow, sand or rain.
“Imagine you’re driving on a wet, slippery road and you suddenly notice that the rear of the truck is starting to lose its grip on the asphalt. Before this develops into a skid, you steer gently in the opposite direction until the danger is over. That’s exactly the way Volvo Dynamic Steering with Stability Assist works. The big difference is that the system can discover the risk and help stabilise the vehicle before you’ve even noticed that something is about to happen,” explains Almqvist.
Driving off the road and unintentional lane departure
Monotonous driving on a straight road can lead drivers to lose concentration, which is the cause of many severe accidents. Volvo Dynamic Steering with Lane Keeping Assist is designed to support drivers by tracking the road’s lane markings. Here, Volvo Dynamic Steering works together with the truck’s Lane Keeping Support system at speeds above 55 km/h.
The system monitors the vehicle’s position and lane markings 5–50 m ahead of the vehicle by using cameras. When it detects that the truck risks driving outside the current lane, the steering is activated and helps the driver return to the intended direction. If additional assistance is needed, the driver is alerted via gentle vibration in the steering wheel, instead of a warning sound.
Adjusting steering wheel resistance to individual needs
In addition to the two new driver support systems, Volvo Dynamic Steering with Personal Settings enables drivers to fully customise the responsiveness of the steering on a Volvo truck according to different types of roads and driving situations.
The driver can choose between four preprogramed steering settings through the truck’s Infotainment system or fully personalise the settings.
The four preprogramed settings include Default, Light, Responsive and Stable. The standard setting is Default, which provides a balanced steering response. The Light setting is designed for construction environments, and the Responsive setting is designed for curving roads. The Stable setting is designed to give a firm feeling to drivers who prefer a heavier setting.
In the Custom menu, the driver can adjust parameters such as Straight, Cornering, Return and Damping. The driver ID is used to store the driver’s personal settings.
“Each driver has a different perception of how light or heavy the steering system should be. Now every driver can adjust the steering wheel resistance exactly as he or she wants for comfortable, relaxed and safe driving. This is a very practical feature, not least for trucks that often have different drivers,” says Almqvist.