Understanding the unique challenges of blind spots and the solutions to help get around them.
By Amy Ahn-You
When young adults learn how to drive, instructors warn students to avoid the areas around trucks and other large vehicles. Countless collisions occur in dangerous, hard-to-see zones where smaller cars or other road users are not visible to the truck driver. When the Time To Collision (TTC) is too short, trucks cannot stop or maneuver quickly enough to avoid other vehicles or pedestrians.
What are the challenges faced by waste vehicle operators and how can technology be used to reduce those challenges? New and emerging technology can play a role in lowering the number of collisions that occur in “no-zones.” The innovations recently developed in Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) can reduce blind spots and increase awareness for drivers when they need it most.
Understanding Blind Spots
Areas around the vehicle that cannot be seen by the driver while operating a vehicle are called blind spots. While operators of all vehicle types experience blind spots, many of us cannot appreciate the complexities that come with operating a large waste truck and the limited visibility of the operator. As an added challenge, they must navigate a variety of road types, from crowded busy urban streets to winding rural back roads.
Even the most experienced driver cannot avoid blind spots and other obstacles in their daily routine. These difficulties are elevated when:
- The truck is turning. With any vehicle, turning requires increased cognitive thinking by the operator and requires the operator to consider more elements in their environment. As the operator approaches an intersection to turn, blind zones increase and oncoming traffic, pedestrians and cyclists must be accounted for—all while the operator keeps focus on the traffic light.
- The truck has bi-fold doors and/or front-loading arms. Most flat, front nose cabs have bi-fold doors that are kept open during a route for efficiency during pickups. These bi-fold doors create a large blind zone for the driver that far exceeds that of the A-pillar. Some flat front cabs also have front loading arms for large dumpster pickups that also create large blind zones around the vehicle and can create a more difficult driving environment for waste truck operators.
- They enter busy areas. Congested urban areas can be some of the most difficult places to drive any motor vehicle. With the increased number of pedestrians and cyclists, the possibility of a collision multiplies as the number of road users within the truck’s blind zones increase. This requires drivers to drive slower and maneuver the truck with caution.
- The streets are narrow. We can all agree that waste trucks are larger than the average car on the road. A larger vehicle means the truck requires more room on the road. Unfortunately, not all roads are made for a 64,000 lb. vehicle, but they still need to and get on these roads. Narrow roads give vehicles little to no room to avoid obstacles and can be very dangerous when shared with pedestrians and cyclists.
The Cost Of A Blind Spot
More than 600,000 vulnerable road users, or VRUs, are involved in fatal collisions every year worldwide—many involving large vehicles. Most collisions between large vehicles and VRUs occur due to significant blind spots around the vehicle.
Blind spots are especially dangerous for waste trucks as they cannot maneuver quickly, even in an emergency situation. Professional drivers are trained to be vigilant, always aware of themselves and their surroundings, to prevent:
- Serious and Fatal Injuries. Truck drivers safely steer more than 9 tons of weight on a day-to-day basis. Collisions with smaller or like-size vehicles can be dangerous, resulting in serious injuries and sometimes fatalities.
- Costly Expenses. Collisions and crashes resulting in serious injuries and sometimes death can be costly to the truck driver and the company, mentally and monetarily. Often drivers of larger vehicles are found at fault leading to exorbitant settlements or significant legal fees for companies.
The recovery process is long and painful for all involved. The loss of revenue and company reputation after an incident can be devastating. Drivers may suffer emotionally and mentally after being involved in a fatal crash. With an ongoing adoption of best practices by companies, these results can be reduced and ultimately eliminated.
Improving Visibility For Waste Management Fleets
Waste management trucks have large blind spots located in front of the truck’s engine, and along the left and right sides of the vehicle. While nothing can substitute an alert driver, tools to improve visibility for waste management fleets do exist. Backup cameras and mirror systems have been developed to allow drivers to see more of their surroundings. But when the vehicle is in motion, watching the road ahead and monitoring all the surrounding blind spots is nearly impossible. Situations arise that are completely out of a driver’s control.
Luckily, new technology with smart vision sensors and driver warning systems are on the horizon. These innovations are designed to keep everyone on the road safe. The latest technological advances in Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) prevent collisions between vehicles and VRUs including pedestrians and cyclists. Whether a fleet is operating on congested, urban streets or in suburban neighborhoods, they increase awareness and safety for the driver and VRUs around the truck, preventing potentially fatal collisions.
Let’s break down how ADAS technology can significantly reduce the dangers related to blind spots.
The complexities that come with operating a large vehicle and maneuvering around Vulnerable Road Users (VRUs) in a busy environment are countless. These complexities multiply when the vehicle is turning; blind zones become more prominent and the probability of collisions increase. When making a right turn, VRUs can disappear from the driver’s view as the vehicle completes the turn. This blind spot on the right side can be the entire length of the truck and extend into three separate lanes. When making a left turn, the A-pillar and other vehicle components create a blind spot, leaving pedestrians and cyclists vulnerable.
How ADAS can help: a multi-vision-sensor system can provide drivers with alerts when VRUs are in the danger zones on the left and right sides of the vehicle. The ADAS can see what the driver cannot.
Waste truck drivers can struggle to see immediately in front of the truck because they sit in elevated cabs. While in many ways a higher seat creates visibility, it also creates a blind spot immediately in front of conventional cabs, sometimes reaching 20 feet. Cars merging within that blind spot may be blocked entirely by the hood of the truck and at risk for collision. Cyclists and pedestrians crossing in front of large trucks are even less visible to drivers in raised seats. Flat nose cabs face other blind spot challenges with bi-fold doors and front-loading arms that increase the blind areas.
How an ADAS can help: today’s collision avoidance technology can distinguish between objects and pedestrians and cyclists. In-vehicle displays warn drivers of a possible collision to avoid potential crashes with VRUs and other vehicles.
A note on privacy: many waste truck drivers are concerned about the impact of this technology on their privacy. However, the purpose of smart-sensor cameras is to keep drivers safe and prevent serious accidents where they and their organization would be held accountable. The cameras are not designed to watch the vehicle operators.
Make Your Fleet Smarter
Advances in collision avoidance systems have provided cars with forward collision warning, speed alert and pedestrian detection technology. In a few years, every car on the road will have these safety technologies in use, resulting in safer roads for vehicles and VRUs including pedestrians and cyclists. The same collision avoidance technology that has proven to work in cars has been developed for your waste truck.
An ADAS is designed to help drivers be safe on the roads. The vision sensors act as extra eyes for areas that are not visible by the driver and alerts drivers of dangers that can be avoided. An ADAS also identifies potential hot spots and danger zones on the road. The telematics and collision avoidance technologies collects data from the alerts and pinpoint “hot spots” on driving routes, alerting your fleet to areas when they need to be especially vigilant. Stay ahead of the curve and keep your drivers and your fleet safe.
Amy Ahn-You is the Marketing and Web Manager at Rosco Vision Systems (Jamaica, NY), and proud to be leading Rosco’s commitment to New York City’s Vision Zero project. She has an AS in Architectural Technology and a BBA in Marketing Management. Amy can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter at @RoscoVision.