Death in the Blind Spot

Author: Norbert Hiller

Aug 21, 2019 Safety on the road

Every victim is one too many. According to figures published by German automobile club ADAC, 34 cyclists lost their lives last year in accidents involving trucks turning a corner.

The danger lurks in the blind spot – the non-visible area in front of and next to the vehicle. Help is at hand with the turning assistant. If another road user is located within the blind spot, the driver receives a visual warning and, with some systems, an optional acoustic warning. The systems can be retrofitted – and are put through their paces by Michael Winzer and his team at the DEKRA Automotive Test Center at the Lausitzring track in Klettwitz. Turning is a complex procedure. The driver has to pay attention to traffic lights, signs, and oncoming/cross traffic while still keeping an eye on pedestrians and cyclists at the side of the vehicle. It’s easy to miss something. Michael Winzer: “It’s like going down a blind alley with countless visual stimuli.” And that’s why drivers need a little help.
Depending on the manufacturer, turning assistants use cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and/or radar to monitor a 1.6-meter-wide and 6-meter-long strip next to the truck, with the area covered starting at the front of the vehicle and 0.9 meters to the side. Winzer’s demonstration shows that if a cyclist or pedestrian is detected in the blind spot on the passenger side, a yellow warning light is activated on the dashboard. A red light flashes if there is a risk of collision – and this is accompanied by an acoustic warning signal. The intelligence of the system plays a key role, as only the smartest systems can tell the difference between cyclists and road signs, traffic lights, or trees, thus reducing the number of false alarms. And Michael Winzer is all too aware of the fatal consequences of false alarms: “They reduce driver acceptance. Drivers stop taking the warnings seriously.”
Numerous companies have already spotted the potential. EDEKA, for instance, is setting a good example and has fitted the warning system on the trucks in its fleet. And discount supermarket chain Netto is following suit, with the system set to be retrofitted to all the company’s 500 trucks during the course of the year. And law­makers are also sending out a strong message. At EU level, turning assistants will be mandatory in all new commercial vehicles starting 2024, and will be compulsory starting 2022 for all new vehicle models. Until then, voluntary retrofitting is the way forward. Michael Winzer: “Any turning assistant is better than none at all. After all, they save lives.”