Transport Minister Andrew Jones gained an “immensely valuable” insight into some of the challenges facing today’s truck drivers, courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.
The Minister piloted three very different examples from the manufacturer’s Euro VI range around a test track at the HORIBA MIRA proving ground in Warwickshire.
His first experience of driving a heavy truck came at the joint invitation of Mercedes-Benz and leading commercial vehicle trade magazine publisher, Road Transport Media.
Mr Jones described road freight as the “lifeblood running through the veins of the British economy” and said his twin priorities were to improve air quality and safety. “Our roads are among the safest in the world,” he observed, “but there’s always more that can be done to improve things still further.”
He then took the wheel of an 8×4 tipper designed to do just that. With its panoramic low-entry cab and a comprehensive armoury of cameras and proximity sensors, the Econic High Visibility Safety Truck has been developed by Mercedes-Benz specifically to reduce the possibility of construction vehicles working in busy, urban environments, being involved in accidents with pedestrians and cyclists.
As the Minister engaged Drive and pulled away, Nick Blake, Head of Engineering at Mercedes-Benz Trucks, explained how the vehicle’s deep windscreen and fully-glazed, bus-style folding passenger door, provide unparalleled all-round visibility to the front and sides.
He also outlined the work that Mercedes-Benz had been doing over many years to prevent “cognitive overload” of drivers. “There’s no point in overwhelming them with more technology than they can cope with, because to do so would be self-defeating,” said Nick.
“So we ensure, for example, that our proximity bleepers are not constantly set off by street furniture. Likewise, when the vehicle is turning left, the camera image on the screen will only show the view down the left-hand side of the truck. It’s all about providing the driver with the information he needs – and no more.”
Next up was a more conventional 8×4 Arocs tipper, a vehicle that is less appropriate to urban operations but excels when the requirement is for off-road performance. “This is rather more of a climbing expedition,” the VIP guest observed apprehensively, as he took in the three steps he would need to climb to reach the cab. Mr Jones set the seal on his Mercedes-Benz driving experience by taking a flagship 460 kW (625 hp) Actros GigaSpace tractor unit for a spin.
Speaking afterwards, the Minister acknowledged that the event could not provide a true reflection of the challenges facing drivers. “It was, nevertheless, an interesting and immensely valuable exercise, and I’m very grateful to Mercedes-Benz and Road Transport Media for having given me this opportunity,” he said.
“Of course, I had no other traffic or road-users to contend with, but as someone who has never driven a heavy goods vehicle before I was struck by how easy all are to drive. That said, the first vehicle (the low-entry Econic) felt totally different to the other two. You’re surrounded by glass and sit much closer to the road, so the visibility is incredibly good.”
He added: “It is clear that the industry is trying hard on cycling safety. We need technology like the High Visibility Safety Truck and more education of both HGV drivers and cyclists of the dangers of HGVs in cities.”
Nick Blake concluded: “At Mercedes-Benz we’re committed to do everything we can to win the hearts and minds of those like the Minister who have influence over our industry. Given his role it’s essential that he has some appreciation of what it’s like to drive a heavy a truck, and what those who do the job are up against. So we were delighted to be able to give him a feel for it, albeit in very controlled surroundings.”
Nick continued: “On air quality, I was able to raise with him the growing problem of SCR bypass systems being sold on the Internet for as little as £30, which allow cowboy operators to save on AdBlue costs but can reduce their vehicles from Euro VI to the Euro II emissions standard.
“On safety meanwhile, the number of cyclist fatalities in London caused by construction vehicles is unacceptable. So it was a great opportunity to demonstrate to Mr Jones, how a truck like the Econic tipper can make a real difference when it comes to reducing injuries and deaths.”