SHARE THE ROAD – What‘s the cyclist doing in a truck with no mirrors?

6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineNovember 6, 2020

Photo: Need peace of mind when sharing the road with unpredictable road users? This Mercedes-Benz Actros 2663LS might be just the thing.

Once I settle in my seat in the comfortable, spacious cab of the Mercedes-Benz Actros 2663LS, which has large screens in place of mirrors, my quibbles with the model‘s slightly unusual exterior appearance quickly fade. Nick Allan, general manager of Trucks & Trailers, kindly arranged this ride. Mercedes-Benz brand manager Damon Smith is driving me into Ponsonby in the hope of encountering some cyclists. It would have been hard for me as a passenger to visualise what Damon can see in regular side mirrors. However, I clearly saw a cyclist squeezing up on the inside of us while waiting at traffic lights. If only the cyclist had attended a Share the Road Blind Zone Workshop, and known to wait behind us! The bottom section of the screen can see right into the blind zone next to the passenger door and, with no distortion from the normal lower convex side mirror, Damon moves off on the green light, confident there are no hidden cyclists or pedestrians. The spotting mirrors over the left door and front windscreen are also handy. Radar and a camera in the front grille pick up any unwary cars, pedestrians, or cyclists straying into Damon‘s path. If by chance he doesn‘t see them in time, the truck automatically applies the brakes to reduce the impact of contact, or hopefully avoid it altogether. The side mirror screens are positioned further forward than normal external mirrors, so Damon can see them without having to turn his head as far, and less focusing is required.

And because they‘re inside the cab, they aren‘t obscured by fog, dirt, rain, or sunstrike. Damon notes that he can also check the position of the truck‘s wheels at a glance – particularly helpful in the narrow lanes on Ponsonby Road. Every driver knows how much can be hidden behind side mirrors, but in this Actros, only the A-pillars remain. Another neat feature of the mirror screens is the distance-indicator lines, which can be calibrated by placing a road cone at the rear of the trailer (however long). Then, when you look at the mirror screen, you can tell where the back of the trailer is in relation to cars or cyclists, and be sure you‘ve allowed enough space before and after changing lanes. Truck drivers can also back to within inches of a loading dock before slowing down and making contact. This is all great stuff since, according to research by Daniel Blower, almost 20% of truck contact incidents have something to do with the mirrors. Furthermore, crashes involving other vehicles behind the truck are more than four times more frequent when the truck is turning left rather than right. We‘ve all seen ‘If you can‘t see my mirrors, I can‘t see you‘ signs on trucks. I‘ve never felt this makes much sense, as it assumes the driver has to be looking in the relevant mirror at exactly the right time. In my view, this can create a false sense of security.

Photo: The cyclist was clearly visible as she squeezed up our left-hand side.

In the Actros 2663LS, the driver is far more likely to actually know that other road users are there. Many drivers have told me that most days they need to take evasive action to avoid the consequences of poor decisions made by other road users. After the tragic death of a child run over by a truck last year, the coroner observed that truck drivers are expected to check five mirrors and (in that case) a camera screen before accelerating the truck. This means that by the time they start moving, the first check ‘would have become stale‘. Damon tells me that with many truck operators now ordering safety features as a matter of course, truck drivers are taking to the road with much more confidence because the chances of things going wrong are greatly reduced – if not eliminated altogether. As I pedal home through South Auckland in the rain, I feel greatly encouraged that the Actros technology is making that possible. Thanks again to Trucks & Trailers for the opportunity to go for a ride, and for being part of the solution by supplying the transport sector with trucks like the Actros 2663LS.