Thursday, May 26, 2011

Haulage Firms Have To Take Safety Seriously

Compensation Claims Stimulate Action - But is it Practical?
Shipping News Feature

UK – One morning in September 2008 Anatolij Kuzmenok claims he was using a zebra crossing in his home town of Wisbech when a truck operated by Worcester haulage company David Curnock struck him causing serious injuries. This week saw a £300,000 compensation claim at the High Court for his horrific injuries, eleven broken ribs, a crushed chest and severely damaged arm plus a head injury that may leave him prone to epilepsy in later life.

Obviously the circumstances surrounding that particular accident will be drawn out in Court but what is certain is that truck drivers and the haulage companies that employ them are in the spotlight. Now projects aimed at reducing accidents specifically caused by blind spots such as Intersafe-2, are flavour of the month, particularly in the UK where MP Sir Alan Beith is tabling a private members bill to make blind side sensors compulsory following the death of a cyclist, Eilidh Cairns, killed by a tipper lorry whose driver later admitted in Court that the vehicle had an uncorrected vision defect.

Supporters of the late Ms Cairns launched the ‘See Me Save Me’ campaign which has enlisted the support of the majority of the European Parliament in Strasbourg in a bid to make cameras and other sensors compulsory on larger vehicles. This means that the EU is committed to pronounce a policy on the matter.

Volvo announced this month that the results of the long awaited trials of their cooperation with the EU project ‘Intersafe-2’ have been published. Intersafe-2 is intended to end the problem of the driver's blind spot by developing a Cooperative Intersection Safety System (CISS) that is able to significantly reduce injury and fatal accidents at intersections. By fitting laser scanners and ultrasonic sensors that monitor the area on the blind side of the vehicle, the Volvo promoted system can detect and warn the driver when a cyclist or pedestrian gets too close. As Volvo state however Intersafe -2 is a research and development project whose outcomes will not lead directly to a solution for series production, but it does show how critical traffic situations can be tackled with intelligent technical innovations.

Whether the funding for such technology will become available without Government edict is an altogether different matter, the See Me Save Me campaign states an estimate of 2000 cyclists deaths within the EU every year, a figure surely no politician can ignore. Neither Volvo, nor any other truck manufacturer appears to have any plans for introducing these current technological solutions as a production line feature, nor are they liable to until a unified EU wide policy has been developed, at a time of economic austerity no manufacturer is going to add to the cost of their on the road fleet without it being ordained for one and all.

Retrofitted camera systems can cost as little as £500 but the Intrasafe-2 project aims to be much more by interacting with roadside devices fitted at intersections and traffic lights. Laser scanners and ultrasound sensors are positioned at the front and blind side of a vehicle with a TV monitor showing a view from above the vehicle and windscreen camera observing the junction. A radio receiver in the cab alerts the driver to the likelihood of any imminent collision as well as advising him of potentially vulnerable road users (e.g. someone pressing a pedestrian crossing button). Driver warnings are audibly and visually scaled to determine the seriousness of the situation.

Many truckers will point out, with some justification, that as the ones in most danger it is for cyclists and motorcyclists to exercise more care, this attitude however is quickly forgotten in the light of a serious, or even fatal, accident. It is also noticeable that all the literature to the projects mentioned above refer to the ‘right’ side of the trucks involved, of little use in the UK. With many accidents occurring when foreign vehicles are involved it should be noted that in fact cyclists are probably safer in this case, given their propensity to ride up the inside of heavy lorries in urban situations.

Whatever the long term solution nothing will ever substitute for diligence at all times but given the likely costs to insurers in cases similar to that of Mr Kuzmenok and Ms Cairns it is perhaps time to negotiate discounts to companies who are prepared to fit sensing devices to their fleets in order to mitigate the chances of being involved in such unfortunate occurrences, wherever the blame may lie.