Playing it Safe – Steve Brooks takes a snap look at the evolution of truck safety amid Volvo’s latest efforts

Safety has always figured high in Volvo product development but never more than in the new FH range, with the Swedish giant ‘smashing’ its new flagship far beyond the limits of legislative demand. STEVE BROOKS takes a snap look at the evolution of truck safety amid Volvo’s latest efforts.

Safety! In some respects it’s such a trendy, even over-used word nowadays.

More than that, it has become the ultimate defence. Almost anything, any system or new fangled device shown to reduce the risk of injury, no matter how serious or slight that risk may be, can be justified and its implementation and cost seemingly defended on the grounds of enhanced safety.

Consider, for instance, the massive industry that has evolved off the platform of OH&S. To the majority, the letters stand for ‘occupational health and safety’ while others of a more practical or cynical nature (typically those who bemoan the slow death of commonsense and individual responsibility) may well define the letters as enforced protection for the ‘Obviously Hopeless & Stupid’.

Whatever the case, OH&S has become an integral part of the legislative landscape. It’s also big business, thanks in no small part to modern society’s inspired fascination for litigation and the American way.

Still, it’s a business which owes its creation to the fact that for so long, generations in fact, some industries and companies didn’t give safety a second thought. Nor did they appear particularly thoughtful of the long-term effects of its absence on the individuals and families of those maimed, mutilated, disfigured or deceased.

In short, OH&S evolved out of commercial and corporate indifference, was nurtured by its impact on commercial and corporate coffers, and grew to maturity on the back of commercial and corporate opportunism.

Yet for all safety’s much vaunted attributes in this age of protection from ourselves, it isn’t always an easy sell, particularly in the commercial vehicle sector. It’s different in the car business, of course, where the emotive value of safety features are easily marketed to a population justifiably terrified of familial carnage.

Unlike most cars, however, trucks are the tools of a business, built and sold largely on the singular premise of making a buck for the owner. Consequently, as schools of salesmen will attest, asking a new truck buyer to part with extra funds for features that don’t deliver an immediate and quantifiable benefit to the bottom line isn’t an easy or particularly rewarding exercise.

Sure, most owners will say driver safety is important and obviously none want to see their truck on its side or starring in a news report or police investigation. But in many cases, safety has been little more than lip service. The fact is that when it comes to actually convincing a truck owner to part with several thousand dollars extra for some advanced safety feature shown to significantly reduce the risk or effect of collision … well, the attitude appears to be that safety features are fine so long as someone else is paying.

A case in point: A few decades back, Mercedes-Benz Australia did its utmost to convince heavy-duty truck operators of the safety value of anti-lock braking, or ABS. Try as they might, cutting the price of the ABS option to below cost, Benz struggled to find any takers and to its great credit ultimately made ABS a standard inclusion with the cost simply tucked into the price of the truck.

Today, ABS is a fact of life, an acknowledged attribute and mandatory component on B-double prime movers. But back when Benz was pushing the anti-lock barrow, ABS had all the economic appeal of a six inch spike through a new Bridgestone.

It’s fortunate, therefore, that some truck makers have viewed the safety of drivers and other road users far more seriously than some truck owners. Mercedes-Benz is certainly one of them. Volvo is another.

Roll your own!

From the outside looking in, it could be confidently asserted that Volvo’s new FH range has undergone more safety testing than any other truck before it, of any brand.

Wisely, however, Volvo has shied from publicly making such an assertion, no doubt realising the difficulty of proving the claim against continental competitors similarly steadfast in their dedication to the safety cause.

Instead, six years after the first design drawings of the new model, the company describes the latest FH as the safest truck it has ever made, which is of course a major statement in itself given the Swedish maker’s historic emphasis on safety features. The Volvo name is, after all, synonymous with safety.

Still, to see some of the graphic footage of development models being brutally smashed from every angle in test centres and on test tracks is to witness a program that has left little to chance in the safety stakes. As a driver, the footage makes you shudder with the sense of reality and destruction, but it also imparts the message that if Fate ever decrees the misfortune to be involved in a collision, then you could do it in far worse places than the cab of the new Volvo.

Read more of this story and more in the March-April 2013 edition of Diesel – Australia’s Premier Truck and Trailer Magazine available in newsagents or subscribe today so you don’t miss an edition.

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