Commercial vehicles are the barometer of an economy but they can also have an adverse impact on the socio-economy as a significant contributor to road accidents. India, as is well known, holds the dubious distinction of the highest road accidents and fatalities globally. In 2016, India saw 480,652 road accidents that injured 494,624 individuals and claimed 150,785 lives. This translates to an average of 1,317 accidents and 413 accident deaths taking place on Indian roads each day – or 55 accidents and 17 deaths every hour, according to data released by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH), Transport Research Wing.
Of all the vehicles involved in accidents, two-wheelers accounted for nearly 33.8 percent, followed by cars, jeeps and taxis (23.6 percent), trucks, tempos, tractors and other articulated vehicles (21 percent), buses (7.8 percent), autorickshaws (6.5 percent) and other motor vehicles (2.8 percent).
The data highlights driver fault as the single-most important factor responsible for road accidents in India, accounting for almost 84 percent, killing 80.3 percent and injuring almost 83.9 percent on all roads in the country. Of all the factors attributed to the driver’s fault, exceeding speed limit accounted for a lion’s share of 66.5 percent in accidents and 61 percent of accidental deaths.
P Kaniappan, MD, Wabco India: "Nearly 30 percent of the road accidents in India are contributed by CVs. Data suggests that most of them were caused by the instability of the vehicle. ABS has clearly been able to handle this issue."
Road accidents have three key elements including vehicle safety infrastructure, and driver attitude and behaviour. While OEMs and suppliers are addressing the vehicle part by deploying new safety technologies, the government and industry stakeholders including apex bodies SIAM and ACMA are doing their bit to heighten awareness. Historically, the major safety initiative for commercial vehicles came into existence in the form of the failsafe brake system introduced in the early 1980s. A fail-safe brake automatically stops a drive when electrical power fails.
In India, a major step towards safer CVs was taken when on April 1, 2015, MoRTH made the anti-lock braking system (ABS) mandatory. Initially, all new trucks launched in the N3 category (above 12 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight) and buses in the M3 category (above 5 tonnes GVW and carrying nine passengers) were to be compulsorily fitted with ABS at the time of manufacture.
ABS technology is well proven globally. This advanced braking mechanism prevents wheel locking and skidding of the vehicle during sudden braking and in slippery road conditions, thereby preventing accidents. ABS enhances vehicle steerability while braking, reducing the stopping distance and ensuring controlled stopping. To briefly put, it helps the driver to bring the vehicle under control under emergency braking.
ABS fitment in CVs in India kicked off in October 2006 when the government notified it for the N2 and N3 categories for vehicles carrying hazardous goods as well as LPG in the 3.5 tonnes and above GVW. From October 2007, it became mandatory for all smaller-size M2 buses plying on hilly terrain as well as all tourist buses (M3) double-decker transport buses (N3) and for the tractors in tractor-trailers as well.
Wabco, the global supplier of technologies and services that improve the safety, efficiency and connectivity of commercial vehicles, has been striving to address the safety needs of trucks and buses in India. “ABS was probably one of the major interventions driven by the regulations brought by us in India. Close to 30 percent of road accidents are contributed by CVs; data suggests that most of these accidents were caused by the instability of the vehicle. ABS has clearly been able to handle this issue,” says P Kaniappan, managing director, Wabco India.
ECU for the ABS
The data also reveals that after just one year of implementation of ABS, there has been an accident reduction of 4 percent but the rate of accidents is still high and the fatalities have not come down. This is due to an increase in average speeds and higher engine power too.
Wabco says it works with customers way before a mandate for any new technology comes into force. At the launch of its intelligent trailer program in March 2018, Jacques Esculier, chairman and CEO, Wabco, told Autocar Professional, “Worldwide, we follow a model of introducing technologies early in the cycle, way before they are mandated as it takes time to educate the market and for it to mature to the real value proposition. We are not waiting for the market to call for a technology; we want to be pro-active, anticipate it and take the role of educating the market by building the validity and importance of the product.”
New tech for safer drives
Wabco, which has been working on a number of new technologies suitable for the Indian market, is actively engaged with truck and bus manufacturers and fleet operators to educate them about the benefits of these technologies.
In June 2017, the company introduced its air disc brake (ADB) technology, believing the time has come to introduce advanced safety products. Air disc brakes offer a value proposition to improve safety, efficiency and significantly reduce vehicle weight.
The air disc brakes
In October 2017, in a bid to make CVs safer and offer an additional margin of safety to the driver, Wabco and Tata Motors jointly introduced the safety-critical electronic stability control (ESC) system in Tata’s Prima and Signa M&HCVs.
The ESC Module
Stability control is fundamental for trucks, especially higher-tonnage M&HCVs, which travel to the far corners of the country transporting diverse goods ranging from tonnes of hot-rolled coils for automobile manufacturing plants, scores of auto components as part of the supply chain, through to delivery of production-ready vehicles to dealers. And this is only the automotive industry.
On the regulation front, the government has mandated ESC from April 2019 for M2 and M3 buses (5T GVW and above) and legislation for trucks is under discussion. “This will go a long way in eliminating accidents arising of a vehicle rolling over. There are a growing number of organised domestic and overseas transport players, who transport sensitive and hazardous goods, who are proactively looking at new technologies like ESC way before the mandate comes into effect. They value the importance of these technologies in safety and efficiency of vehicles,” says Kaniappan.
Kaniappan believes that in terms of safety, India should take one step at a time. This is necessary to develop the whole eco-system to introduce advanced technologies to the market.
In April 2018, the company launched its Intelligent Trailer Program in India. This constitutes a series of 40 new technologies for trailers to make them safer and efficient, which are important elements of transportation.
As is known, Tata Motors and Wabco have joined hands to deploy Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) which include a Collision Mitigation System (CMS) and a Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) for its Prima and Signa trucks. This is aimed at reducing the number of road accidents and increasing vehicular as well as occupant safety, in a broad range of visibility conditions in the country. Offering enhanced operational efficiency, the ADAS solutions will also help reduce operating costs for fleets.
Wabco’s pioneering safety technologies have been optimised for India’s operating conditions and are designed to help mitigate some of the most common causes of accidents involving commercial vehicles, ADAS solutions enhance vehicle safety, driver comfort and effectiveness. ADAS for medium and heavy-duty CVs rely on sensors, such as radar and camera, to provide enhanced vehicular and occupant safety. Helping to reduce driver error, these systems are capable of identifying a variety of different road traffic hazards to enhance driver and vehicle safety.
In February, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles' BharatBenz brand of trucks introduced an innovative Driver State Monitoring System (DSMS). An industry-first in India’s commercial vehicle segment, the goal is to avoid dangerous situations of drivers falling asleep or otherwise being distracted at the wheel. The DSMS has been rolled out in the heavy-duty truck range and is available for order on other heavy-duty models and as an aftersales solution for existing heavy-duty customer vehicles.
DSMS with its state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and computer vision technologies helps identify facial patterns including eyes, face, head gaze, and other natural cures. Based on this, it is able to differentiate between safe driving conditions, or driver drowsiness and inattentiveness – in this case, it gives an audio and visual alert. The system is trained for most ethnicities and eye wears, can handle various headgears and works in day and night conditions.
The way forward
Though India still has a long way to go to reduce road accidents, a pragmatic Wabco believes that the country is headed in the right direction by adopting new safety technologies and suitable regulatory intervention.
Five years ago, India was lagging in CV safety technologies compared to most developing countries. But over the past two to three years, there has been a rapid shift towards introducing new safety technologies and considerable progress had been achieved in making trucks and buses safer. “I believe India is on the right track on the commercial vehicle safety front and the progress, especially in the past 3-4 years, has been rapid. In terms of regulation, we have a clear roadmap, awareness towards safety has been increasing and customers are showing a preference for improved safety technologies. This makes us far more capable to address the challenge of safety,” signs off Kaniappan.
(This article was first featured in the May 15, 2018 issue of Autocar Professional)