A brand-new safety technology designed to prevent cyclists and pedestrians from being crushed underneath a lorry in the event of a collision made its worldwide debut at the Freight in the City Expo in London earlier this week (27 October).
The brainchild of former Metropolitan Police safer transport command sergeant James Dawes, the system is designed to eliminate the danger zone he said still remains beneath underrun bars currently fitted to vehicles.
Dawes Highway Safety’s Drop-Down® system makes constant contact with the road surface and provides a physical barrier that prevents a person entering the path of the wheels.
How does it work?
An aluminium upper chassis and airbag mounted behind existing underrun bars is automatically deployed from inside the cab when in built-up, urban areas. The airbag remains permanently inflated in line with the vehicle’s body at all times when driven on the public road.
Underneath the airbag is another channel fitted with a row of stiff brushes, such as those used on commercial road sweepers. These make contact with the ground at all times and help prevent hands and feet passing under the airbag where they could be crushed by the vehicle in the event of a collision.
The company said the material used in the airbag technology is a robust, drop-stitch fabric used by the Ministry of Defence in its own inflatable technology, which becomes fully rigid when filled with air.
When the vehicle is used in an off-road environment, the driver can retract the airbag to increase ground clearance. This will enable construction and waste vehicles to make deliveries to landfill sites and quarries where low-level solid fixed sideguards may prove problematic.
Dawes Highway Safety told freightinthecity.com that the product is currently awaiting testing by the Transport Research Laboratory in Wokingham, after which it is due to go into commercial on-road trials with its launch partner, London-based civil engineering and construction operator McGee Group.
It is expected the Drop Down® system will be available commercially in January next year.
Developing the concept
Company founder Dawes first came up with the idea when working at the Metropolitan Police, which meant he witnessed the aftermath of collisions on a regular basis.
He explained: “My experience in education and enforcement with various road user groups taught me that despite every effort being made, collisions of any nature will always happen to some extent.
“I soon realised that one of the most significant differences between minor accidents and a KSI (where a person is killed or suffers ‘life changing’ injury) is when they come into contact with the motion of the rear wheels of a large vehicle. Road safety research shows that permanently-fixed low side guards significantly reduce KSI figures, however this fitment on construction vehicles does not meet the needs of industry.
“Visibility aids such as cameras and proximity warning sensors are an excellent addition to large vehicles, however the beneficial effects of furthering these technologies is limited due to possible ‘sensory overload’ for the driver who only has one set of eyes and ears.
“After much deliberation I realised that what was needed was a safety apparatus that is always present in the ‘danger area’ to help protect vulnerable road users while still allowing the vehicle to perform its primary on-site function.
“Our newly formed company is motivated by social responsibility and the need to help save lives. We have worked extensively with industry leaders from all road user groups and conducted primary research to create a product that meets everybody’s requirements.
“The Drop Down® safety system is 100% British-made using only the best quality components. It is light, reliable, unaffected by dirty environments and extremely robust. We are grateful to our launch partners for their support and look forward to bringing it to the UK’s roads in the new year.”