Safety in num­bers

Mercedes-Benz has tested 1000 trucks in an at­tempt to cut se­ri­ous crashes, writesGRAHAMSMITH

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

MOD­ERN safety sys­tems could cut the num­ber of se­ri­ous truck crashes by half. That’s the find­ing of an ex­ten­sive test run in Europe by Mercedes-Benz.

The test was held us­ing a fleet of 1000 Mercedes-Benz Ac­tros semi­trail­ers, half of which were fit­ted with the lat­est safety sys­tems such as Lane As­sist, Prox­im­ity Con­trol and Sta­bil­ity Con­trol, which are avail­able here as a Safety Pack on Mercedes-Benz Ac­tros 4x2 mod­els.

The re­main­ing 500 trucks were con­ven­tional semi-trail­ers not fit­ted with the sys­tems.

The test ran for 12 months, and the trucks were closely mon­i­tored as they ac­cu­mu­lated more than 106 mil­lion kilo­me­tres.

It was found those trucks not fit­ted with the lat­est safety tech­nol­ogy were in­volved in twice as many crashes as the trucks that were fit­ted with them. And the cost of crash dam­age to the un­pro­tected trucks was nine times more than the dam­age done to the pro­tected trucks.

The test demon­strated that safety sys­tems ef­fec­tively re­duce the main causes of crashes, namely rear-end col­li­sions and veer­ing off the road.

It was to help driv­ers avoid th­ese two main crash causes that Mercedes-Benz de­vel­oped and suc­ces­sively in­tro­duced the driver as­sis­tance sys­tems from 2000 on­wards, beginning with Lane As­sist.

A re­cent run along Mel­bourne’s no­to­ri­ous Monash Free­way in heavy traf­fic in a Mercedes-Benz Ac­tros equipped with a Safety Pack showed how valu­able th­ese sys­tems can be.

As cars driven by un­think­ing or un­car­ing driv­ers dodged from lane to lane, of­ten re­duc­ing the gap be­tween ve­hi­cles to a danger­ous few me­tres, the sys­tems worked over­time try­ing to keep the truck out of harm’s way.

Even helped by the awe­some brak­ing power of the Ac­tros and its anti-skid disc brakes, a semi-trailer weigh­ing 40 tonnes needs quite a lot of road to stop or change lanes.

The radar-based prox­im­ity con­trol sys­tem linked to the ac­tive cruise con­trol was con­stantly as­sess­ing the dis­tance to the car in front and read­ing what it was do­ing.

A sit­u­a­tion in which one car was mov­ing away from the truck af­ter hav­ing pulled in was as­sessed as not re­quir­ing in­ter­ven­tion, but a car that dropped in front and slowed brought all sys­tems into action.

En­gine power was re­duced, but when that wasn’t enough to re­store the set dis­tance the driver had se­lected, the en­gine brake ac­ti­vated and in­creased as much as it de­ter­mined was nec­es­sary.

Fi­nally, the truck’s own brakes were brought into play.

Ac­tive Brake As­sist will even­tu­ally ap­ply ev­ery­thing if that’s what is needed to avoid crash­ing into the ve­hi­cle ahead. It will not al­ways be able to avoid an ac­ci­dent, but its ap­pli­ca­tion of full brak­ing power re­duces the im­pact speed and there­fore con­sid­er­ably lessens the con­se­quences of the col­li­sion.

The sys­tem has clocked about 350 mil­lion kilo­me­tres in cus­tomer ve­hi­cles, and has es­tab­lished a con­sis­tently pos­i­tive track record.

The Safety Pack costs $14,500.

Leader of the pack: a Mercedes-Benz Ac­tros truck fit­ted with the lat­est safety sys­tems, avail­able here as a Safety Pack.

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