Feature: Using big data to enhance van safety

05 December 2018

From autonomous emergency braking to overload indicators, recent developments in the van industry have seen light commercial vehicles become increasingly safer. Now, big data is set to play a critical role in making the roads safer for all.

For the past 12 months, Ford has been tracking fleets of vans in London, using telematics and connected vehicle data to track driver behaviour and record vehicle data.

Using geolocation technology, the systems were able to detect areas that were not only already hazardous, but also potential future accident blackspots – data that will not only help vehicle manufacturers and fleet managers, but will also help town planners and highways agencies to identify particular junctions or stretches of road that are problematic for drivers, cyclists or pedestrians before a serious accident occurs.

Ford tracked the vans over a total of one million kilometres (618,000 miles) and logged highly detailed data from driving events such as braking, the severity of that braking, and even where hazard warning lights were applied. This helped to identify “near-misses”.The company then cross-referenced this information against existing accident reports and built an algorithm to determine the likelihood of where future incidents might occur.

“Our insights have the potential to benefit millions of people,” said Jon Scott, Project Lead at City Data Solutions, Ford Smart Mobility team. “Even very small changes could make a big difference – maybe cutting back a tree that has obscured a road sign – whether in terms of traffic flow, road safety or efficiency.”

This opportunity was identified in the Ford City Data Report, using data that was obtained and analysed with the consent of participants, which took its findings from more than 15,000 days of vehicle use, from 160 connected vans in the city.

The fleet of vans covered more than 1 million kilometres, the equivalent of 20 times around the earth, delivering 500 million data points.

“We are committed to delivering smart vehicles for a smart world – and each vehicle in the study was equipped with a simple plug-in device that recorded the journey data and then sent it to the cloud for analysis,” added Scott. “Data scientists from our Global Data Insight and Analytics team were then able to analyse the information through an interactive dashboard. This technology could be applied in any road environment, not just in cities.”

The report also investigated other opportunities, such as how scheduling delivery van journeys for earlier in the day, before peak times, could benefit all road users, and how using journey data could help to identify the best locations for electric vehicle charging points.

“The Ford City Data Report is a showcase of what we can do with connected vehicle data, smart infrastructure, and our analytical capabilities. We are calling on cities to work with us to collectively solve problems that they can become even better places to live and work in,” said Sarah-Jayne Williams, director, Ford Smart Mobility. “We understand that any data-driven solution depends upon the willingness of drivers to share their data, but believes that where there is a clear benefit, that consumers will be more open to supporting such a service.”

Meanwhile, active safety systems have also been providing big benefits to van fleets, backed up by a recent survey carried out by the insurance industry. Using data from its clients, insurance comparison site GoCompare established that van drivers are involved in 3.8 times fewer accidents per 100,000 miles than cars.

Telematics play a part, as does improved driver training, but there’s no argument that improved safety tech on the vehicles themselves is also a key driver behind of the vastly improved safety data.

Last year, for example, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles made Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) a standard feature across its van range. AEB works by intervening if a vehicle or obstacle is detected ahead of the van and the driver hasn’t made any manual intervention.

Carl zu Dohna, director of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said: “Autonomous emergency braking systems mean safer vehicles, fewer accidents and therefore reduced downtime and lower costs for fleets – as well as the potential to save lives. These are vital goals for any vehicle manufacturer.”

Vehicles fitted with autonomous emergency braking also benefit from an average insurance premium saving of 10 per cent compared to those without – the insurance rating of the VW Crafter was reduced by four groups, for example, thanks to standard fitment of AEB.

The latest innovation that makes today’s vans even safer comes from PSA – the parent company behind Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall.

Its ‘Overload Indicator’ is blindingly simple, yet at the same time extremely useful to van drivers and fleet operators alike, as it sounds warning alarms when the vehicle is close to its payload, and a separate alarm for when it is overloaded. The Overload Indicator’s measurement of load weight is triggered in two ways: automatically, when the engine is started or manually, when parked, by pushing a button located in the load area. The system then remains active for five minutes.

The technology was cited by judges as one of the primary reasons that the Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Vauxhall/Opel Combo were jointly awarded the 2019 International Van of the Year Award, announced at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hannover in September.