One of the most common misconceptions we come across through our safety awareness work, such as See and Be Seen, is that people think they are always seen by the driver. It often surprises them when they get into a truck and discover how easy it can be, not to been seen, and miss for example a car parked right next to them.
Theoretically a driver can see everything through the windows or with the help of their mirrors, but a common mistake people can make is that just because you can be seen, does not mean you have been seen. A truck driver has multiple mirrors around them, but to monitor them all constantly as well as the traffic ahead of them, is very challenging, especially in urban traffic.
The most obvious example is the front passenger corner. At traffic lights, cyclists will often ride right next to the truck and stop at this very spot, assuming they can clearly be seen by the driver. In actual fact, it’s a very difficult spot to be seen – and potentially very dangerous if the driver is planning on making a passenger side turn.
The growing use of smartphones has made urban environments even trickier for truck drivers too. Now our streets are full of people wearing earphones looking at their screens, lost in another world. In some places, this is being addressed with new rules and regulations. For example, in Hawaii, you can now be fined if you’re caught looking at your phone when crossing a street. However, in most places people use their devices completely unaware of how vulnerable it makes them in city traffic.
The first step to improving visibility is to use the right truck in the right place. Trucks intended for city work typically have low sitting cabs so that the driver is on the same level as pedestrians and other road users. Long-haul trucks on the other hand, have an elevated cab so that the driver has a much broader overview of their surroundings. Sometimes, however, long-haul trucks need to drive in urban areas.
There are lots of rules and regulations concerning mirrors, as well as options for additional mirrors and cameras. But direct visibility is always better and more accurate. If extra windows or larger windows is an option, for example on the lower part of the passenger door, visibility can be improved on the risky passenger side.
Anna Wrige Berling is Traffic and Product Safety Director for Volvo Trucks. Anna develops and maintains the vision, the strategy and the guidelines connected to safety as a core value for Volvo Trucks. She provides internal and external shareholders with expert guidance and is a spokesperson for our industry. Anna joined the Volvo Group in 2000 and has more than 15 years of experience working with traffic and vehicle safety. During 2008-2012 she headed the Volvo Trucks’ Accident Research Team.