DRAFT - 11 Mar 2003
VEHICLE-RELATED COUNTERMEASURES AND CHILD SAFETY
SOME ISSUES AND RECOMMENDED ACTIONS
Seat belt remindersACCIDENT AVOIDANCE
3 point seat belt for centre rear seat
Child restraint design
Car front design to minimise pedestrian injury
Bus Door Entrapment
School Bus Seat Belts
Flashing Warning Lights on School Buses
Daytime running lights
Devices to help drivers control their speed
While road safety countermeasures to improve child safety understandably tend to focus on educational and behavioural issues, there are many vehicle-related countermeasures that can assist in this area. These notes briefly describe a range of countermeasures that I have been involved in over the past decade. There are other countermeasures which I have not covered that also deserve attention.
These notes do not represent the policy or views of any organisation. They are provided to simulate discussion on these important issues.
Seat belt reminders
Under its consumer crash test program, Euro NCAP is now encouraging the fitting of advanced seat belt reminders to vehicles. For driver and front passenger seating positions the system must give a visual and audible warning to the driver if a seat belt is not used, once the vehicle reaches a speed of 25km/h. For the rear seats the system need only indicate the status of seat belt use.
Since children generally travel in the rear seat of vehicles in Australia the rear seat system has obvious benefits. It enables the driver to easily confirm that each rear seat occupant is wearing their seat belt. The latest (2004) Subaru Liberty/Outback is fitted with rear seat belt status indicators.
Recommended action:3 point seat belt for centre rear seat
ANCAP to promote the availability of "bonus" points Include seat belt reminders in (future) lists of vehicle safety features, for the information of consumers
The proposed Euro NCAP scoring system for child restraint systems (CRS) will reward those vehicles with 3-point centre-rear seat belts.
In Australia it is becoming more important that the centre-rear seat has a 3-point seat belt. For example, over the next few years we will see the introduction of CRS that utilise ISOFIX lower anchorages. Since these new anchorages will generally only be available for rear outboard seating positions it possible that older children will end up in the centre rear seat. These children need the protection of a 3-point seat belt.
ANCAP considers bonus point for centre-rear 3-point seat belt
When used correctly, Australian child restraints perform exceptionally well in most types of crashes. However, improvements could be made in side impact protection, reducing misuse rates and ensuring that appropriate restraints are used for each age group. Utilisation of the new ISOFIX lower anchorages also needs to be addressed.
Australian NCAP now tests and rates the pedestrian protection of car fronts, using EuroNCAP protocols. One of the test simulates the potential injury when a child’s head strikes the bonnet. These tests are revealing a wide range in injury potential between similar looking vehicles. It is evident that some simple design changes can dramatically improve performance.
In the early 1990s Dr Michael Henderson did consulting work for NSW DOT and Mr Paine did work for the RTA. This project arose from fatalities where school children were caught in bus doors. It involved a review of accident records and other sources to try and identify the scale of the problem and a review of technology to reduce the risk of entrapment. Key outcomes were:
In 2001 Mr Paine commenced a review of the NSW Specification for the RTA. That work is still in progress (draft project report with the RTA).
Conducted with Dr Michael Henderson in 1993. This project arose mainly from parent concerns about the safety of children travelling in buses. We reviewed Australian and overseas regulations, accident records and bus construction techniques. Key outcomes were:
Around 1996 the National Road Transport Commission issued "Guidelines for the Voluntary Modification of Existing Buses and Coaches to Improve Occupant Protection". In effect, this followed the sequence described above. It does not appear to have been widely adopted in the bus industry.
Irrespective of the issue with ordinary school buses, there is a clear need to encourage the use of coaches with 3-point seat belts for school excursions. It is also important that passengers in these coaches wear the seat belts. Michael Paine attended the scene of the Grafton Bus Crash in 1989, to assist with initial investigations and to advise ministers and executives at the scene. 19 bus occupants died in that crash and it was one of the triggers for the Australian innovation of 3-point seat belts in coaches (the other being the Kempsey crash between two coaches that occurred a few months later).
This project was carried out in 1995 for the Department of Transport NSW. It arose partly because the government had been approached by several inventors seeking to have a variety of warning systems fitted to school buses. Dr Alec Fisher, from UNSW, and Mr Paine looked at these systems and others, including bright halogen lights that were being trialled in Tasmania. Key outcomes were:
Recent work for the Motor Accidents Authority of NSW revealed the severely limited rearward view from most vehicles (a popular sedan is amongst the worst). Countermeasures evaluted included proximity sensors that warn the driver when an object is in the path of the vehicle and visual aids for the driver. Key findings were:
European studies show that vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists can benefit greatly from well-designed daytime running lights on vehicles that are approaching them. The benefits for children are unclear but there is likely to be an improvement in judgement of the speed and distance of approaching vehicles. Most effectiveness studies are based on low beam headlights, which are marginally useful as DRLs. Dedicated DRLs are likely to be much more effective than headlights and it is expected that the so-called latitude effect would disappear if dedicated DRLs are introduced.
In 2000/2001 I carried out research for Vicroads on the safety of recreational scooters. Using a series of performance tests and theoretical analysis, the safety of scooters was compared with that of conventional bicycles. This work confirmed the view that small-wheeled vehicles like scooters are much more susceptible to bumps and road surface irregularities and most scooters have poor braking and handling performance, compared with adult bicycles. It was also found that scooters are inherently unstable meaning that, in effect, the rider must concentrate on maintaining stability at all times. In contrast a bicycle is stable enough to allow the rider to turn their head to look at surrounding traffic, for a second or two, if necessary.
Motorised scooters compound the problem. Their noise masks the noise of traffic from the rider and it is generally difficult to maintain low speeds that are safe for mixing with pedestrians and bicycle riders (ie under 10km/h).
Several experiments with Intelligent Speed Adaption (ISA) are taking place around the world. In a research project undertaken for the RTA in 1996 I identified this field of ITS as having tremendous road safety potential (particularly for vulnerable road users). It was conjectured that many drivers are inadvertent or harassed speeders – they either didn’t know they were speeding or were bullied into travelling faster other drivers. ISA would help to overcome this because the system "knows" the speed limit and warns the driver (preferably in subtle ways like increasing resistance of the accelerator pedal).
These days in-car navigation systems and GPS make the concept viable. What is lacking is an electronic database of speed zones (perhaps an RTA responsibility) and an agreed data format. In particular, it is very important that the system has temporal and well as geographic information about speed zones so that 40km/h school speed zones (now throughout NSW) can be covered by the system.
Incidentally, my handheld Garmin GPS has a tracking function. Journey data can be downloaded to a PC and a speed profile for the journey can be analysed. This is a very simple form of in-car data recorder that could encourage drivers to stick to speed limits.
10 March 2003. Update 17 Jan 04.