Limited view from lorry cabins is one of the major causes of deadly traffic accidents

Design changes to lorry cabins could save lives

Researchers are proposing changes to lorry cabin design to give drivers a better view of the road around to help reduce the number of deadly accidents.

The new cab, proposed by a team from Loughborough University’s Design School, is 80cm longer than the conventional one and features a rounded nose, smaller dashboard and expanded glazed areas. The driver in the new cabin is also seated slightly lower, which together with the bigger windows helps to considerably reduce blind spots around the lorry.

“Blind spots can be a significant factor in fatal accidents,” said Steve Summerskill, the lead author of the new concept called Direct Vision. “The study shows that the size of these blind spots can be minimised through improved cab design, the reduction of cab height and the addition of extra windows.”

The Direct Vision design expands the driver’s field of view in front and to the sides of the lorry by 50 per cent. The insufficient view from today’s cabins is a major contributing factor to many accidents when an unaware driver hits an unprotected cyclist or a pedestrian, frequently with catastrophic consequences.

“This is a key moment in the definition of truck design legislation at the European level,” Summerskill said. ”Our work is being used to demonstrate that improvements to vehicle aerodynamics must go hand in hand with improvements that allow heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers to have improved vision of vulnerable road users around the vehicle.”

Surprisingly, unlike in the case of personal cars, Europe has no rules guiding what a lorry driver should be able to see with his own eyes from the cabin. The existing requirements only detail what should be visible through the mirrors. However, as the statistics suggest, it may not be quite enough.

According to the European Transport Safety Council, lorries are involved in around 4,200 fatal accidents in Europe every year, with up to 1,000 of the fatalities being cyclists and pedestrians.

In countries with high rates of cycling, lorries are often the single biggest threat to cyclists. In Belgium, 43 per cent of cycling fatalities involve lorries, in the Netherlands 38 per cent and in the UK 33 per cent.

The new study, commissioned by Transport for London (TfL) and Transport & Environment (T&E), is the first to look at the issue from the design perspective and proposing substantial changes instead of tinkering with the mirrors.

The study suggests that mirrors don’t make up for the reduced field of view in today’s lorry cabs due to the time lapse between checking them, making observations through the window, and taking action.

“If this time period is four seconds, this is enough time for a cyclist to undertake the HGV, with the driver being unaware of his or her presence,” the paper concluded.

Europe is currently considering changing its laws on weight and dimensions of lorries, possibly opening ways not only for more aerodynamic lorries but also for reducing the blind spots. The new designs would need to comply with additional safety requirements, which have not yet been outlined.

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