Transport Canada explores technology to protect vulnerable road users

Transport Canada’s test mannequin stands near a red and orange dump truck equipped with pedestrian sensors.

‘Share the road’ is a common message in our cities as more cars, trucks, pedestrians, and cyclists all compete for the same space.

Road design plays an important part in protecting vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Technology can also play a crucial role.

In September 2016, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau announced a new task force to improve the safety of vulnerable road users. As a member of this task force, Transport Canada is exploring new technologies that can help.

“Heavy trucks are a small portion of the vehicles on our roads, but over-represented in fatal collisions with pedestrian and cyclists,” says Dominique Charlebois, a senior crash avoidance research engineer with Transport Canada. “A big factor are blind spots.”

According to Mr. Charlebois, a truck driver’s high seating position makes it harder to see pedestrians and cyclists. Trucks also make wide turns, and their back wheels could hit pedestrians or cyclists that get too close.

To address these concerns, Mr. Charlebois and other Transport Canada engineers are looking at 360-degree cameras, sonar, radar, and other types of smart camera system technology to help drivers see and detect cyclists and pedestrians. How? They recently equipped a dump truck with sensors, on a closed-circuit track north of Montreal at Transport Canada’s Motor Vehicle Test Centre in Blainville, Quebec. The aim was to see if the truck sensors would give the driver enough warning to avoid a cyclist or pedestrian.

“We created common situations a truck driver would face – tight turns, difficult sightlines, as well as pedestrians and cyclists near the vehicle,” says Mr. Charlebois.

Early results were promising enough that several Canadian municipalities expressed an interest in testing the sensors on trucks in their regions.

“We think these sensor systems have some potential, but a test track isn’t the real world,” says Mr. Charlebois. “The only way to understand how drivers might accept the warning system is to expose them to it as a driving aid as they do their usual work. This will tell us if the sensors work on real roads, day and night, in all kinds of areas, and in different weather and traffic conditions.”

Municipal trials of the sensor systems are scheduled to begin in 2018. Transport Canada will review results and share them with the vulnerable road user task force. In the meantime, Mr. Charlebois is quick to remind everyone that technology is here to help, but is not a perfect solution.

“As promising as these truck sensors are, keep in mind, there’s no technology system that can replace your efforts,” says Mr. Charlebois. “Road safety is everyone’s responsibility, and we all have to do our part to stay safe and be aware of our surroundings at all times – after all, it might just save your life.”