Ending Road Fatalities and Injuries with Driver Visibility Improvements

Mockup showing how truck drivers can't see adults standing in front of their vehicle

Our Global Leadership Council for Fleet Safety, a brain trust of the best and brightest fleet operators committed to helping small and midsize fleets, defined a shared problem—vulnerable road users in drivers’ blind spots (or zones). We then helped create an innovative technology solution known as “Truck of the Future” for aftermarket vehicles through our Safer Roads Studio (SRS). We’re also continuing to work on implementing Direct vision cab design for new trucks in the U.S.

SRS is the center of gravity for our work to continually improve workplace safety, create thriving communities, and eliminate fatalities and severe injuries on the world’s roads. The Studio focuses on creating safer fleets, developing innovative road safety infrastructure, and building a network of innovators who want to save lives.

But why does our SRS see an urgent need to eliminate blind zones? Because, “(In the U.S.) trucks, in general, represent 12 percent or so of the total road fatalities, but the interesting thing is the trucks themselves are only about 4 percent of the vehicles operating on the road,” says Kate Fillin-Yeh, Director of Strategy, the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Truck fatalities are high because drivers of large vehicles have limited visibility, making it difficult to make the safest choices.

As Kate continues, “two of the reasons are really specifically tied to vehicle design itself – where the driver sits compared to where the front of the vehicle is. The higher up and the further back, the worse the blind spots are. And those blind spots, particularly in the front, particularly on the side, are deadly for people walking or people biking.”

Truck of the Future Pilot Program: Driver Visibility Improvements for Aftermarket Vehicles

The Truck of the Future (TOTF) program was developed inside TSR’s Safer Roads Studio — the
hub for our work with forward-thinking corporations, innovative startups, researchers and
municipalities, and was developed with guidance from TSR’s Global Leadership Council for Fleet

The problem: Driver skill cannot overcome what the driver cannot see. Drivers of large vehicles
have limited visibility behind the wheel, making it difficult to make the safest choices.

The solution: Working with TSR member VisionTrack, installing a state-of-the-art Vulnerable Road User (VRU) Detection System on fleet vehicles, designed to improve driver safety as well as the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists via camera technology that gives a full 360-degree view of vision around the vehicle and provide real-time feedback on imminent risks and near-misses.

Direct Vision

In 2021, we made a case for Direct Vision in the U.S. by introducing the concept of high vision (or direct vision) cab design to North American fleets. And in 2022, we launched a Direct Vision Cab Standard and Certification program in collaboration with U.S. Dept of Transportation’s Volpe Center.

We know that humanizing the problem of unsafe roads alone doesn’t work and that blind zones are a major contributing factor. Still, even telematics and retrofittable collision avoidance systems are a workaround to the root causepoorly designed cabs. 

As explained by Alex Epstein from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center, this is what happens when you can have all the safety equipment in the world, but your line of sight is impaired because of design flaws. In a classic conventional cab, a heavy vehicle driver follows all the rules and pulls to a stop as instructed. Federal guidance for the stop is set four feet back from a crosswalk. But, according to Volpe Center research, that driver, who is operating correctly, would still be unable to see twelve preschool-aged children in the crosswalk.

If the driver can be more aware and make eye contact with pedestrians, they can avoid these collisions and avoid tragedies. Trucks designed this way with poor visibility are a problem worldwide, but they shouldn’t be — as cab designs that reduce driver blind zones exist in Europe. 

A Direct Vision Truck

If private and public sector fleet leaders come together, we could make direct vision cab design the universal standard. Our primary focus is how cities and municipalities can work together to create market demand and leverage it to transform trucks.

Why start with cities? Municipal fleet vehicles make up a large proportion of the trucks in the U.S. and therefore carry significant weight with manufacturers on the way trucks are designed. Cities can decide what they want on municipal fleets, which means they can determine what they require for cab design.

The problem of severe injuries and fatalities on our roads has only gotten worse. Humanizing the issue has not worked, so retrofitting existing trucks while we work towards redesigned truck cabs is the solution to future trucks.

Learn more about our work on Direct Vision.