SIXTY per cent of all accidents in which a truck collides with a pedestrian or cyclist can be blamed on the driver's blind spot, and unfortunately many of these are children.
To help combat this, Volvo Trucks in Denmark has linked up with several organizations in a project designed to teach children how to behave around trucks. It is the middle of the morning rush-hour in the town of Svendborg on the Danish island of Fyn. At the Byskolen village school, children are crowding around a large truck parked in the playground. The third-graders are having a traffic education lesson.
"Many of my pupils cycle through the village to school, and it's important they learn more about the traffic they encounter," said teacher Lise Jakobsen. Denmark's largest-ever traffic safety campaign, 'Traffic Safety at Eye Level', has arrived in Svendborg. The campaign was launched in 2003 by Volvo Trucks and other organizations.
The background was that there had been many accidents involving cyclists and trucks, caused by the blind spot that becomes particularly hazardous when the driver turns right in a left-hand drive truck. In 2003 alone, more than ten people died in Denmark, several of them children. In 2007 the International Road Transport Union carried out an analysis of more than 600 accidents involving trucks in seven European countries (France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain). The study revealed that 60 per cent of accidents in which a truck drives into a pedestrian or cyclist are attributable to the truck driver's blind spot.
In half the cases, the accidents took place when turning right and two-thirds of blind spot-related accidents resulted in fatalities.
"These accidents are very difficult to prevent. That is why we joined forces with several partners to start the campaign and highlight the risks," says Peter Andersen, PR manager at Volvo Trucks in Denmark. In the beginning the training sessions were held at Volvo Trucks dealerships on Saturdays. However, it was difficult to attract families with young children at weekends, but it was only when the campaign started coming into schools that it picked up momentum. Today, more than 60,000 children throughout Denmark have attended the course.
"As a manufacturer, we want to help ensure that this type of accident never happens again," says Peter Andersen. "For instance, we have developed a safety system featuring cameras that monitor the blind spot. However, not everything can be solved with technology and driver training, which is why we must actively teach cyclists about the risks because that is our responsibility as a truck manufacturer."
Inside Byskolen village school, the pupils in class 3A are sitting in a circle. Their attention is focused on a model road junction, on which there is a toy truck. Instructor Jens Hesselvig shows how the truck's trailer cuts the corner as the vehicle turns right. The aim is to show the children how easy it is to be run over in such a maneuver when they are on bicycles. "I'm a lot more careful about trucks now. These things can actually kill someone," said third grader Vera Meyer after the lesson.
The biggest danger occurs as the truck slows down and is about to start its right turn. This maneuver creates blind spots where the driver cannot see everything that is happening on the vehicle's right side. Several accidents have happened when cyclists have continued straight ahead at the same time as a truck is negotiating a right-hand turn.
"The cyclists believe the truck driver can see everything. However, there's a huge difference between a passenger car and a truck when it comes to the blind spot. That is why it is vital for children to come into the truck's cab and see the view from the vehicle's right-hand mirror," explained instructor Jens Hesselvig. There is no difficulty getting the children into the playground for the next exercise. A couple of boys are the first to climb into the truck cab,while, instructor Jens places the rest of the class along the truck's right side. "OK, how many of your classmates do you see in the right-hand mirror?" shouts Jens.
The boys in the cab cannot see more than half the class. It is particularly difficult to see their classmates standing right beside the first pair of wheels, even though they are waving their arms and doing their utmost to be seen.
"It was fun sitting in the cab, but now I understand how difficult it is to see cyclists on the road," said Jens Erngard, class 3A.
"When we were told about the course it was a good opportunity to learn more about this now my pupils are at the age they are beginning to cycle to school on their own. They are more receptive to information about the dangers involved," said class teacher Lise Jakobsen. In Denmark, the number of accidents involving cyclists and trucks in right-hand turns has dropped since the campaign got under way in 2003 from about ten fatalities a year to just one in 2009. It is, of course, difficult to quantify precisely how much the campaign has contributed to this result, but today there is immense demand for the course among Danish schools. "When we started visiting schools in 2005, there were many people who doubted whether this was the right method. After just one year, however, we saw that the project was appreciated by the schools. That's reason enough for us to continue," said Peter Andersen, PR manager at Volvo Trucks in Denmark.