60 per cent of all accidents in which a truck collides with a pedestrian or cyclist can be blamed on the driver’s blind spot. Many of the people injured are children. In Denmark, Volvo Trucks and several other organisations have therefore joined forces in a project designed to teach children how to behave when there are trucks around.
It is the middle of the morning rush-hour in the little town of Svendborg on the Danish island of Fyn. At the Byskolen village school, curious children are crowding around a large truck parked in the school playground. The third-graders are having a traffic education lesson.
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“Many of my pupils cycle through the village to school, and it’s important that they learn more about the traffic they encounter,” class teacher Lise Jakobsen told Tachoblog.
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 organisations. 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. Two-thirds of blind spot-related accidents resulted in fatalities.
Speaking to Tachoblog, Peter Andersen, PR manager at Volvo Trucks in Denmark said, “These accidents are very difficult to prevent. That is why we joined forces with several partners to start the campaign and highlight the risks.”
In the beginning the training sessions were held on Saturdays at Volvo Trucks dealerships. However, it was difficult to attract families with young children at weekends. It was only when the campaign started coming to schools that it picked up speed. So far, more than 60,000 children throughout Denmark have done the course.
“As a manufacturer, we want to help ensure that this type of accident never happens again. 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. That’s why we must actively teach cyclists about the risks. That is our responsibility as a truck manufacturer,” says Peter Andersen.
Place: Byskolen village school. Inside one of the classrooms, the pupils in class 3A are sitting in a circle. Their attention is focused on a model road junction on which there is a Volvo truck, scale 1:32. 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 manoeuvre when they are on their bikes.
“I’m a lot more careful about trucks now. These things can actually kill someone,” says 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 manoeuvre 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 up into the truck’s cab and see the view from the vehicle’s right-hand mirror,” explains instructor Jens Hesselvig.
There is no difficulty getting the children out into the school playground for the next exercise. After a bit of pushing and shoving on the staircase, a couple of boys are the first in the line to climb up into the truck cab. Meanwhile, 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? Sit in the driver’s seat and count them,” 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 down there on the road. I’ll probably jump off my bike and get onto the pavement from now on whenever I have a truck beside me,” says Jens Erngard, class 3A.
“When we were told about the course it felt perfectly natural to accept the offer. It’s a good opportunity to learn more about this now that my pupils are at the age that they are beginning to cycle to school on their own. They are more receptive to information about the dangers involved,” says 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 highly appreciated by the schools. That’s reason enough for us to continue,” says Peter Andersen, PR manager at Volvo Trucks in Denmark.
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