Beaming in on safety

German engineers have unveiled what they claim is the world’s safest truck. Bristling with the very latest active safety systems, the so-called Mercedes-Benz safety truck is both a technology showcase and a series production vehicle. It is already available to safety-conscious German truckers.

Based on Mercedes’ Actros heavy duty truck, the vehicle can be seen as a response to safety concerns raised by EU predictions that road freight will increase by 75 per cent before the end of the decade.

The truck has been specifically designed to avoid rear-end collisions, apparently the most common type of accident involving vehicles of this kind. Uta Leitner of Mercedes parent company DaimlerChrysler said the key feature of the vehicle in this regard is a brand new active brake-assist system.

Based on Mercedes’ Telligent proximity control technology, a radar-based system that automatically maintains a pre-selected distance from the vehicle in front, the system will instigate emergency braking if a collision with a vehicle ahead is unavoidable.

It works using three radar beams to detect vehicles in the lane ahead of the truck within a cone angle of 3o and at a distance of seven-150m. If an accident looks likely the driver is first given a visual warning by a red triangle accompanied by an acoustic signal, followed by partial braking.

If the risk of a collision increases even further, the system initiates full emergency braking. The technology also includes a brake-assist function that recognises the driver’s emergency braking intention from the speed with which the brake pedal is operated, and instantly builds up the full brake pressure available. To prevent drivers from rolling back when stationary on a hill, the system is also equipped with a hill-holder.

Other active safety features include a Lane Assistant that uses a camera to monitor the distance between the vehicle and the lane markings, and a stability control system that uses sensors to help prevent skids by detecting oversteer and applying brake pressure to specific wheels to keep the vehicle on course.

Aspects of the vehicle’s physical design also enhance safety. For instance, spray guards in the wheel arches prevent the truck from generating potentially dangerous clouds of spray on wet roads.

Leitner said that Mercedes will be introducing a number of other active safety technologies over the next few years. These are likely to include ultrasonic parking aids, pedestrian detection systems and further developments to the active brake system that will enable it to react to traffic jams further ahead. She also anticipates enhancements to the Lane Assistant that will move wayward trucks back into their lanes by automatically applying brake pressure to individual wheels.

During the next few weeks, the Safety Truck will be shown in 12 European countries, where the effectiveness of the technologies will be shown in specially-organised drives. The aim of this is to encourage the widespread adoption of modern safety systems for accident avoidance by addressing policymakers, the general public, the transport sector and insurers.

‘With our roadshow, we’d like to draw attention to the great importance of safety systems in trucks and enter into a dialogue with the various interest groups,’ said DaimlerChrysler’s Andreas Renschler, with responsibility for the trucks and buses.