How safe is it to travel by bus in a European city today?
“Right now, buses and coaches are actually the safest means of road transport – in fact they are ten times safer than travelling in a passenger car. Currently there are around 25,000 causalities each year on European roads, and approximately 600-700 of these are from accidents involving buses or coaches.
“Since 2000, road causalities in Europe have been reduced by around five per cent each year, and within buses and coaches the decline is even steeper – around six per cent per year.
“The overall trends are clearly positive, and a lot of progress has been made. However, our safety vision is for zero accidents, so as long as there are still casualties on our roads, there are still improvements that can be made.”
Our safety vision is for zero accidents, so as long as there are still casualties on our roads, there are still improvements that can be made.
When it comes to buses, what are the main areas of improvement?
“Of the 600–700 casualties on European roads involving buses and coaches, around 30 per cent are car occupants. These are typically from accidents involving frontal collisions at high speeds on highways. Around 40 per cent are pedestrians, cyclists and other unprotected road users, and these accidents are usually in city environments.”
When it comes to product development and safety, does Volvo Buses have a specific strategy?
“In general, we try to follow legislation that applies to trucks since safety regulations that are applied in that segment are often implemented a few years earlier for heavy-duty buses and coaches. One of the advantages of being part of the Volvo Group is that we can often use the same hardware and software used in trucks, with only some minor modifications.
“For example, last year, we saw stricter legislation regarding collision warning with automatic braking and lane keeping support. Volvo Buses had already implemented both systems in 2015 with the enhancement, three years before it became mandatory for trucks and coaches.”
What are some of the latest safety innovations from Volvo Buses?
“Lately we have introduced the Pedestrian and Cyclists Detection system, which includes a camera, image processor and sophisticated algorithms to identify and predict pedestrian and cyclist behavior. The system provides both a visual and audio warnings whenever a possible incident is detected. Vulnerable road users – including pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists – account for around 40 per cent of casualties in accidents involving buses, so this innovation will hopefully play an important role in getting the number of casualties down.
“The new detection system will also help deal with the increased safety risks we now face due to the use of mobile devices. With so many more pedestrians now focused on their cell phones rather than surrounding traffic, bus drivers have to be even more vigilant when driving in urban environments.
“We are also working on systems that monitor driver behaviour, primarily in coaches and intercity buses. We have one system now, Driver Alert System, that is linked to the vehicle’s forward-looking camera and tries to figure out where in the lane the vehicle should be placed. When driving over 50 km/h, if it detects any abnormalities or small movements in the steering wheel that indicate a tired or distracted diver, it issues a warning. We are also testing a system that can track where the driver is looking and eyelid movement in order to monitor distraction and drowsiness.”
Is the current pace of technological change creating any new challenges when it comes to traffic safety?
“Since we introduced electric vehicles, one new dimension to traffic safety is sound – electric vehicles can be too quiet for pedestrians and other road users to hear. New
legislation will soon come into force which will require a minimum sound from silent vehicles. Our electric buses already meet the minimum standards through tire noise, but we still feel that it is too low so we are in the process of developing a better warning signal. We are also looking into how we can use a forward-looking camera to combine with a warning signal and even a warning light.”
One of the advantages of being part of the Volvo Group is that we can often use the same hardware and software used in trucks.
Apart from technology, are there any other important measures we can take to improve traffic safety?
“Driver training will always be an important issue, especially in city public transport, since there is a shortage of drivers and rotation is high. The technical solutions we are working on are designed to help the driver, but they will not take over full responsibility, so driver training and safety awareness is still very important.
“Public awareness can also be improved, so that pedestrians and cyclists know the safety risks around buses, which is why we have joined Volvo Trucks’ Stop, Look, Wave campaign for children and adapted it for buses.”
Do governments and city authorities have a role to play, or is the onus on vehicle manufacturers?
“Whether its national governments or local municipalities, their role is absolutely vital. In fact, if you want to get the number of accidents down, at a consistent pace, the best way to do it is through legislation. At Volvo Buses we can play a part, but legislation is the only way to cover all vehicles from all manufacturers and ensure widespread social change.”
Do you feel that the passengers value safety in public transport?
“We conducted a survey involving more than 6000 coach passengers in seven European countries, and more than half said they would like to know the safety status of a coach before travelling. In the same survey, we also asked 1000 drivers what were the most important features of a vehicle and more than half nominated safety features. We have not conducted the same study with public transport users, but yes, I believe safety awareness and a wish to have high safety standards is generally high, and it is something that drives us to develop more safety solutions.”