Refuse collection vehicle drivers always use a reversing assistant when their vehicle has to back up ' local authorities and their sub-contractors insist on it as they are determined to avoid reversing accidents. The reversing assistant carefully guides the driver backwards, ensuring the vehicle doesn't hit anything or anyone. That, at least, is the theory, writes Steve Banner.
In practice, however, all too many crews simply do not bother, claims Innovative Safety Systems (ISS) managing director Gavin Thoday.
If they're lucky, they get away with it or have a bump into a wall or a bit of street furniture. However, there is always the risk that a person will be struck (why is it always a child or an elderly pedestrian that comes to mind?) with serious consequences.
To make it less likely that this will happen, Coventry-based ISS has developed a package called Rearclear (international patent pending) which, it says, costs roughly the same as a good quality reversing radar system.
'We've got it on trial with Bournemouth Borough Council which has been closely involved in Rearclear's development,' said Thoday.
When using Rearclear, the reversing assistant is issued with a hand-held device ' which features a radio transmitter ' and they walk to the rear of the vehicle. The driver can see the assistant by using the truck's exterior rear-view mirrors and rear-mounted camera.
Once the assistant is in position (up to 30m behind the vehicle) and there are no obstructions, they press a button on the device to let the driver know that it is okay to reverse.
If no signal is received but the truck starts to go backwards anyway, then an alarm sounds in the cab and an LED warning light starts flashing. The truck's camera system will also flag up the fact that an unsafe reversing manoeuvre has occurred and it will record what's happened. The matter can then be raised by the fleet manager when the driver returns to the depot.
Rearclear includes a two-way radio so that the assistant can keep the driver abreast of exactly what is happening and the final design may also incorporate a torch. Refuse trucks often have to reverse in murky, early-morning weather and the light from a torch will make it easier for the driver to see the assistant who can also use it to illuminate their intended path ' in a dark alleyway, for example.
Rearclear also has the potential to be linked to the truck's braking system which would then come on automatically if the button has not been pressed when reverse is engaged.
'We're planning to officially launch Rearclear and take orders for it at the RWM show in September,' said Thoday.
'Production will be limited at the outset and, with a high level of interest already, the lead time is extending into February 2017.'
But the question arises: if you already have rear-facing cameras fitted that cover the driver's blind spot, do you really need Rearclear?
'The problem with relying on cameras is that the driver can become distracted and glance away from the screen if, say, a car approaches the vehicle from the left or the right or if something suddenly happens on the highway ahead,' said Thoday.
'That second or two of distraction can mean that a child scampering around behind the truck may not be spotted quickly enough. Drivers are less likely to be distracted from watching a reversing assistant who may be signalling or speaking to them. Assistants will no longer be passive with Rearclear in hand.'
It was onboard cameras from ISS that first identified that reversing manoeuvres were often being conducted without assistants in place. ISS had supplied operators with digital video recorders (DVRs), along with sets of four cameras (front, rear, nearside, offside) for refuse collection vehicles, to help them refute fraudulent insurance claims by motorists and it was during the investigation of these cases that the absence of a reversing assistant was all too regularly spotted.
Thoday will be delighted if the success of Rearclear is as great as that of ISS's DVRs and cameras which he says, in the last financial year, had about 66% market share among UK new refuse vehicles.
'Our DVRs and cameras have advantages over other systems,' he said.
'The images are clear, recorded at a rate of 25 images per camera per second and are not pixelated.
Thoday pointed out that some systems make a feature out of downloading images remotely over the 3G or 4G cellular network but then the compression of the images may result in lost detail and number plates being unreadable.
'Our images are recorded onto a removable hard disk and can either be downloaded manually when the truck returns to its depot or through the depot's wifi system via our LANlink software, which automatically downloads the footage without the driver having to step out of the cab,' he said.
'If the DVR or any of the cameras on a truck are out of action and the ISS system has been installed, the fleet manager is notified automatically via a daily equipment health check before the vehicle departs so that remedial action can be taken.
'Our RX3 DVR can record footage from up to 16 cameras and captures speed, acceleration and GPS positioning data.'
ISS now sees itself as a leader in the field 'despite only being set up in 2009 by Thoday, who had a degree in transport and product design from Coventry University and had previously worked with vehicle CCTV systems and reversing cameras.
'Rearclear would have been developed and introduced earlier ' we began work on it seven years ago ' had it not been for councils telling us that introducing a system to help protect cyclists needed to take precedence,' he said.
'As a consequence, we came up with Cyclear which engages both cyclists and truck drivers and places responsibility on both parties for avoiding accidents.'
That system was developed by working closely with both FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) and CLOCS, the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety programme.
It consists of a rear-mounted image of a bike with a prohibition line across it which illuminates when the driver signals to turn left. This is a clear message to dissuade bike riders from cycling up on the vehicle's nearside. It is also backed by an audible warning that the truck is about to make a left turn. An optional sensor can be added to warn the driver that a cyclist is approaching.
Cyclear has been praised for its effectiveness by the corporation of the City of London and is fitted to 117 waste and recycling vehicles operated by Serco on behalf of five London boroughs. It is also becoming a standard fit for Biffa, Amey and many Local Authorities across the country.
'We launched Cyclear just over 18 months' ago and now around 1,000 vehicles are equipped with it and we've got a big order book ' so we're obviously hoping Rearclear can be just as successful,' said Thoday.