Loughborough University research a life saver on Europe's roads

Steve Summerskill

Research by Loughborough University aimed at reducing blind spots for HGV drivers has led to a change in European legislation on vehicle mirrors and could save hundreds of lives.

Lorries are involved in around 4,200 fatal accidents in Europe every year, and almost 1,000 of these fatalities are vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Blind Spots can be a significant factor in fatal accidents.

Using SAMMIE, a CAD Digital Human Modelling system developed at the University’s Design School,the Loughborough team created a unique 3D visualisation of what can be seen through the windows and mirrors of HGVs, passenger cars and vans.  This enabled them to identify a key blind spot in the lateral vision of drivers.

Working with the Department for Transport they were able to define a change to European legislation which removed the blind spot, leading to an amendment of UNECE Regulation 46.  This standard regulates the area of coverage of vehicle mirrors.  The amended legislation, which applies to new HGVs Europe wide, came into force at the end of June and requires new vehicles to be fitted with improved mirror designs.

The research has been backed by Cynthia Barlow, a leading road safety campaigner and Chair of RoadPeace. Cynthia’s daughter Alex was killed in June 2000 when she was knocked from her bike and run over by the driver of a concrete mixer lorry turning left across her path.  Since then Cynthia has dedicated her life to campaigning to reduce road danger.

Speaking about Loughborough’s work in this area she said:  “Research such as this is incredibly important as it saves lives.  I have suffered the devastating loss of a loved one, a loss that was entirely preventable, and all the time I meet families who have had to suffer the same.  There are lives being lost that needn’t be and anything that can help stop this happening is vital.  This new legislation is another step forward in protecting vulnerable road users.”

Dr Steve Summerskill, one of the research team at Loughborough added: “We are delighted that our work has had such an impact and will ultimately improve road safety across Europe.  Using cutting edge technology we have been able to identify and remove a key blind spot that put vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians at particular risk. ”

The Design School started researching the problem of blind spots in 2010 when they undertook a major project for the Department for Transport (DfT) to examine the potential causes and locations of blind spots in the vision of drivers caused by vehicle design.  This was in response to the real world problem of a disproportionate number of accidents occurring between HGVs and vulnerable road users.

Initially the team analysed accident data to highlight specific scenarios in which accidents are likely to occur and carried out interviews with HGV drivers, before using SAMMIE to model HGV blind spots.  In parallel with the virtual assessments, testing was performed to determine the effectiveness of a range of aftermarket technologies such as camera systems and sonar sensors in allowing vulnerable road users to be identified around the vehicle.

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