As a global brand on the forefront of automotive innovation in both passenger and commercial vehicles, Volvo has become synonymous with safety. Features that range from the latest suite of electronic driver aids to items as fundamental as cabin design and strength have since become important factors in Australia Post’s operation of its Volvo prime movers.
Why do accidents happen at all? It remains a big question. Volvo’s research shows that the basic causes are 90 per cent human, 30 per cent environment and 10 per cent vehicle.
The reality of the situation, before readers start questioning the mathematics, is that various combinations of the three main factors can be the root causes of accidents.
On the surface it would at least seem easier to concentrate on eliminating drivers from the equation as they are an overwhelming factor, but Volvo Trucks recognise that is, in most instances, an impractical solution to the problem both now and well into the future.
From the three-point lap sash seatbelt that became standard equipment in Volvo cars in 1959 to leading edge autonomous and electric vehicle projects today, in the final analysis it remains the customer who determines the application or abandonment of fresh technologies.
“We go to market and we look at the different submissions and safety at the end of the day is a greater choice for us than price,” says James Dixon who is the General Manager Transport and Aviation at Australia Post.
“We did look pretty stringently at the Volvo, mainly about the capsule of the interior of the truck and how it takes an impact. That was after we had a major incident with one of our drivers who was driving through fog and hit an aluminium water tanker that had rolled in the middle of the highway. He couldn’t see it and hit it head-on, yet he was able to walk away with just a broken arm.”
It’s that level of occupant protection inherent in Volvo cabs which is recognised by operators such as Australia Post and StarTrack.
“From our perspective we think the design of the Volvo and its driver compartment is the safest truck in the world,” says James.
“We’ve seen in recent times the video of a Volvo driver up in the Pilbara who has hit a roadtrain that had become disconnected. He hit it at 85 kilometres an hour up and walked away.”
Australia has what is universally regarded as one of the toughest truck markets in the world.
Not only do we have heavier loads and extreme weather and environmental conditions, the marketplace itself is crowded with some world class local manufacturing and assembly plus the best that manufacturers from North America, Europe and Asia can provide. Australians are spoiled for choice which probably makes the decisions more complex than they otherwise could be.
In such circumstances the sometimes-competing factors require prioritisation as Australia Post’s National Fleet Manager Terry Bickerton explains.
“The safety values that Volvo embraces align very closely with the core values of Australia Post,” he says. “They want people to return home in the same shape that they started the job. The safety and innovative features that Volvo provide in their vehicles certainly help support that.”
In the area of safety Volvo continues to be deeply immersed in the development of active safety systems which use an understanding of the state of the vehicle to both avoid and minimise the effects of a collision. On November 1 2015, systems for collision warning with emergency brake and lane keeping support became a legal requirement on all new heavy vehicles in the EU.
Volvo Trucks has continued to expand upon the numerous benefits of connectivity and is well beyond the basic vehicle tracking and fleet management modules.
Volvo’s ever-evolving connectivity programs remain very customer centric and go a long way to maximise uptime, optimise the vehicles’ operations and enhance the safety for the trucks’ occupants as well as other road users.
In a development unveiled in Sweden last year Volvo trucks and cars can be connected via a cloud-based computer system that provides real time safety warnings between vehicles in similar locations.
“We look at our minimum requirements like ABS and lane departure where available, and we look backwards at ergonomics and environmental factors and ask ourselves what are the emissions like? The load carrying capacity? What’s the service network like? There’s a lot of things that come into play,” says Terry. “But the key criteria for us is safety and reliability.”
Fatigue and inattention are significant issues in the industry and Australia Post is tackling these head-on with its workforce via a multi-pronged approach.
According to James, Australia Post is currently trying several initiatives around these areas but says there’s always more to be done.
“We schedule our drivers where they do change-overs so they are back at their home bases every night or every day depending upon their shift,” he says.
“We ask for our contract suppliers in the Australia Post world to run to the same schedule. We’re also looking at other technology we can use to help us.”
The Volvo prime movers in the fleet contribute to fatigue safety with advanced technology such as lane departure warnings and Australia Post is seriously looking at other emerging technologies to further enhance the safety bottom line.
“We recently started dialog with a couple of fatigue technology people who are charting face and eye movements,” says James.
“But we haven’t progressed with that at the moment because there is a lot of conjecture around whether it’s the right way to go or not. So we’re actually just looking at what’s out there. We sent a delegation of people to Israel to a forum sponsored by Telstra not long ago to look at how telematics and technology can improve collision avoidance and fatigue management. We’re just working on it from that perspective at the moment.”
Driver training aimed at maximising safety and the productivity of the Volvo prime movers is carried out by Australia Post’s in-house trainers in each major state with supplementary support from the factory trainers available through Volvo.
Servicing for the trucks is also a combined exercise.
“With our prime movers at Volvo,” says James, “we stick with the service and maintenance program with the supplier.”
Recent changes in Chain of Responsibility (CoR) legislation are taken very seriously by Australia Post and StarTrack.
According to James CoR has become what he calls a Tier One risk and receives regular Board attention.
James says he leads CoR for the organisation and reports to the Board every month on any infringements or breaches to the legislation.
“Now the Board is asking us to go to the next level and start showing them any non-conformances we capture,” he says. “Our Board is 100 per cent supportive of anything we need to do to remain a leader in the CoR space.”
James Dixon is as passionate about safety and responsibility within one of the largest organisations in Australia that literally has contact with every community.
“We want to be market leaders in this,” he says. “It’s compliance and innovation but it’s making the network safer and our Board is so supportive of it. We’ve got some great Board members who have a history in logistics and transport worlds and they are a fantastic support for us.”