Heading in the Right Direction

Put an end to costly accidents with technology.

Transportation accidents are dangerous and costly for employers in every industry. Numerous studies show there are more than 250,000 trucking accidents alone every year in the United States that result in death or serious injury for more than 150,000 people. It is the responsibility of employers to take necessary measures to ensure the safety and well-being of their drivers and all others sharing the road.

Many employers are making the decision to implement obstacle detection systems on their vehicles. This cutting-edge technology can monitor side and rear "blind areas" or "no zones" for vehicles and pedestrians in order to see what the human eye cannot. These systems provide drivers with obstacle location and precise distance information to identify hazards in blind spots during lane changes, backing, or other maneuvers frequently encountered on a crowded job site.

The "blind spot" on a vehicle is actually a blind area. A small vehicle or person passing on the right can seemingly appear out of nowhere. Few realize it, but people and objects can be out of view as far as 25 feet away. These are just needless accidents waiting to happen.

Nearly 25 percent of accidents involve backing, which is a huge concern for transportation executives. Many over-the-road haulers are primarily concerned with backing as lane change, turning, and other maneuvering occur less frequently.

Camera-only systems make drivers aware of a problem only if they are looking directly at the screen in the dashboard. And, during backing, a visual indicator is simply not enough. Drivers need both audible and visual indicators of the hazards surrounding the vehicle.

Some of the more robust obstacle-detection solutions available today are estimated to reduce accidents by as much as 75 percent, which drastically decreases insurance and claims related costs.

The Ultimate Safety Tools
How do these systems work? Today's technology environment is able to provide drivers with audible and visual early-warning systems to help them avoid these dangerous situations by installing obstacle-detection systems. A driver hears the words "right side" while an LED message simultaneously appears on the screen.

Many of the obstacle-detection systems on the market today consist of multiple weather-resistant sensors strategically mounted around the vehicle and a single driver alert module (DAM) inside the cab. The dash-mounted digital displays visually and audibly alert drivers to potential contact beginning at 8-10 feet away from the vehicle and improve overall driver hazard awareness.

The benefits of obstacle detection systems are numerous. Some of the quick highlights include:

  • Help drivers detect vehicles, people, and other fixed objects
  • Quick ROI
  • Affordable and scalable
  • Reduces direct and indirect accident costs
  • No regular maintenance costs
  • Easy to use
  • Audible, visual, and distance-to-hazard alerts
  • Helps drivers with blind spots
  • Easy to install aftermarket -- "plug-'n-play"
  • Side, rear, and overheard obstacle detection network

Having this "extra set of eyes" plays a huge role in helping drivers to avoid damage, injury, and accident costs, which subsequently lowers overall operating costs. Some of the bigger features and benefits of obstacle detection systems to owner-operators include:

Safety. Obstacle detection systems help drivers avoid accidents and reduce injuries and fatalities by at least 25 percent, but most users typically achieve a 75 percent decrease in the number of collisions.

Visual and audible alerts. Audible alerts that notify operators of the proximity of surrounding people and objects to the vehicle are not enough to keep the site completely safe. Dash-mounted digital displays that visually and audibly alert drivers to potential contact beginning at 8-10 feet away from the vehicle will improve overall driver hazard awareness. The DAM digitally displays the distance of the object in feet and tenths of feet. The sensor's zone lamps on the DAM flash yellow if an object is greater than 5 feet from the sensor and red for less than 5 feet from it. Systems also can be programmed to emit audible Geiger counter-like tones that begin at 10 feet away and then change in intensity as the vehicle closes to within 5 feet of the hazard.

Active and passive system. Higher-end systems operate in both active and passive modes. Some systems sound off too frequently, causing drivers to become immune to them. The more advanced solutions constantly pick up or detect objects but will not warn the operator of their presence until the driver takes action. Advanced systems will turn on with four-way flashers, a turn signal, or shift into reverse to cut down on inadvertent warnings.

Saves money. Obstacle-detection technology saves vehicle and property damage costs, reduces insurance costs, and ensures high productivity. It can lower the overall cost of ownership for work trucks and provide a 200 to 500 percent return on investment. This equates to a one- to two-year payback for most customers.

Easy to install and use. Most systems are easy to install aftermarket, and the best are "plug-'n-play" products. They can be installed by a technician with little training in less than two hours (and less than one for many configurations). Users can be trained on how to perform the installation on their own, or the vendor can handle installation. The system requires no regular maintenance costs.

Rugged. Contractors need technology that can withstand dirt, mud, asphalt, concrete, chemicals, and high-pressure washers. Obstacle detection systems should be rugged and resist corrosion and impact damage.

Rear vision. While rear-mounted cameras are a useful measure for avoiding accidents, they are simply not enough to alert heavy equipment operators working in hectic construction sites. Operators need audible, visual, and distance-to-hazard alerts that provide a side, rear, and overhead obstacle detection network.

Versatile. Obstacle-detection systems work when users are driving fast or slow, backward or forward. As many as seven sensors can be placed anywhere on the vehicle, cab, or trailer, wherever the driver needs an extra "set of eyes."

Weather resistant. In rain, fog, snow, and other inclement weather conditions, drivers need all the help they can get. High-end obstacle-detection systems feature patented heated sensors that are SAE Certified and are rigorously tested by OEMs in extreme conditions.

Smart. Some of the more robust obstacle-detection technologies can be programmed to sound alerts only during specific situations. For example, some of the more robust systems can warn on sides when the blinker is on.

Don't Let Your Drivers Drive Blind
Having this "extra set of eyes" plays a huge role in helping drivers to avoid damage, injury, and accident costs and significantly lowers overall operating costs while boosting productivity. The typical lifetime cost of accidents is $3,000 per vehicle or more. Obstacle-detection systems can lower the overall cost of ownership for work trucks and provide a 200 to 500 percent return on investment.

Steering clear of just one costly accident easily justifies the cost of the implementing the technology.

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Kirk Knobel is sales and customer service manager for Transportation Safety Technologies (TST), an Indianapolis-based leader in the design and manufacture of a wide array of electronic components for transportation and other industries that use all types of commercial vehicles. For more information, call 800-428-4449 or visit www.tst-corp.com.

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