Volvo's Carl Johan Almqvist: “The multimillion dollar question is why do accidents happen?” Photo: David Cullen

Volvo's Carl Johan Almqvist: “The multimillion dollar question is why do accidents happen?” Photo: David Cullen

ORLANDO – Getting beyond the always sobering yet stultifying dry facts and figures that safety experts often recite to make their case, Volvo Trucks’ Traffic and Product Safety Director Carl Johan Almqvist presented a common-sense take on why vehicle accidents occur and what we can all do to help prevent them.

“Every year, about 1.2 million people are killed in road traffic accidents worldwide,” he said in opening his talk on Oct. 27 here at the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition. “That’s the equivalent in lives lost to having 10 airliners crash every day. If that were to happen, we would ground all airplanes.” But, he pointed out, we don’t “see” highway fatalities in the same way — as massive losses of human life.

Almqvist, who helped direct the latest annual Volvo Trucks Safety Report (produced by the Swedish OEM’s Accident Research Team), then said one of the first obstacles pretty much everyone has to overcome to sharply reduce the carnage on roads across the global is the “it won’t happen to me” feeling.

He said to instead think of who it will it happen to. “But is it ever okay,” he asked, “the number of people killed? Is it okay if it is someone in your family?” Almqvist said the recognition that it matters that anyone has to die in accidents is why “Volvo’s vision is to have zero accidents with our trucks.” He added that what no one wants to talk about “must be talked about or [improvement] will never happen.

“The multimillion dollar question is why do accidents happen?” Almqvist continued. He said that in his own globetrotting travels, no matter where he has gone, he has heard tell that “one major cause is ‘bad luck.’ But is it really about that? No, it’s not. But what we do know is that 90% of the accidents the world over are caused by human factors.” As an aside, he remarked that “that’s why it’s getting so popular to talk about getting rid of drivers.”

Almqvist pointed out there are several factors that, once added into the driving mix, will very negatively affect human performance behind the wheel: Distraction, misuse of alcohol and drugs, and speed. He gave particular attention to that last contributing factor, stating that speed plays a large role in accident causation because “humans are not equipped with a speed sensor. We do have a ‘height sensor’ that keeps us from falling. But we have no sense of how fast we are going.”

He then presented a snapshot of the fatality rates resulting from accidents for which trucks were held responsible both here and overseas. In the European Union, the rate was 15% while for the U.S., it was 11.5%.

The detailed 2017 Volvo Trucks Safety Report cited by Almqvist identified the following as being among “the most important focus areas” for advancing truck safety:

  • Increase seatbelt use by truck drivers
  • “Secure driver awareness” as well as direct and indirect visibility from the cab
  • Improve both direct and indirect visibility
  • Enable driver-coaching services that provide direct feedback to the driver, both when it comes to safer driving and more economical driving.
  • Develop Active Safety Systems—these have “great potential when it comes to truck occupants as well as fellow road users… Active Safety Systems aim by design not merely to mitigate an accident but also to avoid it.”

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