The evolution of heavy vehicle safety in Australia

Isuzu Australia Limited

By Simon Humphries, Product Manager, Medium-Duty & Heavy-Duty/Chief Engineer at Isuzu Australia
Thursday, 30 November, 2023

The evolution of heavy vehicle safety in Australia

Great improvements have been made in recent times when it comes to the comfort and efficiency of heavy vehicles across the transport industry. But by far, some of the greatest advancements have been made in improvements to safety technology for both vehicle occupants and other road users, writes Simon Humphries, Product Manager, Medium-Duty & Heavy-Duty/Chief Engineer at Isuzu Australia.

Australia’s road transport industry is under great pressure to support a growing population — from the on-road logistics of moving products and produce across the country to truck-reliant businesses that work in all manner of applications.

Not only that, but operators have a unique combination of factors and challenges to tackle, encompassing operating conditions, climate and the roads themselves. This is, of course, across the vast Australian landscape that covers more kilometres and a much greater range of road conditions compared to most other countries on the planet.

With this in mind, government regulatory bodies stipulate a range of safety requirements under Australian Design Rules, more commonly referred to as ADRs. ADRs are applied to trucks manufactured overseas, but some companies take further steps by conducting their own safety testing programs within Australia. This helps to ensure that safety requirements are met within unique local conditions.

Active versus passive safety

Vehicle safety can be seen in two broader forms — active and passive safety.

In past years, passive safety features were a key focus, namely the development of components such as seatbelts and airbags, as well as improving the overall construction of cabins and running gear to protect occupants.

However, since the late 1990s, many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have placed a much greater emphasis — and expended more resources — on conducting extensive research and to improve ‘active’ safety features. The idea behind this is to prevent incidents from happening in the first place.

This is of particular importance in the development of heavy vehicles, where even low-speed accidents can have catastrophic consequences — not only to the driver and passengers, but other users on the road.

Even in recent times and with improved safety measures in place, heavy trucks and buses have been involved in high-profile crashes that have ended with fatalities. The tragic event that unfolded in the Hunter Valley recently springs to mind.

The commercial heavy vehicle industry therefore has an obligation to take truck safety seriously, and it is very important to apply local knowledge and engineering rigour to help refine the safety technology on the trucks that are sold here in the Australian market.

Electronic stability control testing: an Isuzu case study

Isuzu Australia recently conducted a rigorous round of ESC testing and calibration exercises in conjunction with Knorr-Bremse Australia.

This was undertaken at the DECA (Wodonga TAFE) testing and training facility in Shepparton, Central Victoria. The test involved a medium-duty Isuzu FTR 150-260, fitted with a test body customised for Knorr-Bremse.

The test body featured flexible loading racks and extended outrigger wheels attached to the body sub-frame, to enable a safe testing environment and assist with development of a new calibration for the EBS-5 control unit.

This control unit is factory-fitted to Australian-market MY22 Isuzu FTR 150-260 models and all MY22 FV models in the range. The FTR model involved in the testing had an extended wheelbase of 7.2 metres, which is a dimension beyond that available from the factory in Japan. This is also the longest possible wheelbase that enables a vehicle to remain within the ADR turning circle limit of 25 metres.

To determine the new calibration, the truck was put through a series of specific manoeuvres within the controlled environment of the DECA facility. Specialised Knorr-Bremse equipment on board the truck recorded and sent data back to the team throughout the manoeuvres.

The types of manoeuvres undertaken by the test truck were tailored to the way in which trucks are deployed within Australian industries and applications. This helped to simulate what a possible rollover situation would look like on the bitumen, being operated by an Australian driver in Australian conditions.

The ESC system being tested and calibrated would then intervene automatically for the test driver and help to prevent those incidences of rollover or loss of directional control. The system works by firstly removing the throttle from the driver’s control and then automatically applying appropriate braking to individual wheels to slow the truck down to a safe speed.

The data collected throughout the testing was critically analysed and fed back into the programming of the EBS-5 control unit. The use of outriggers during this testing phase prevented any rollovers and determined the exact point at which it would happen on the test truck.

Further extensive on-road testing was then carried out to ensure that calibrations were correct and the systems were working as they should in an everyday situation.

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