Driver standards falling short of technology

Posted August 19, 2015


A rollover caused by loss of control on a slippery surface.

A quantum shift in driver behaviour and training is needed to prevent new vehicle technology leading to workplace accidents, a corporate driver education instructor and crash investigator says.

Motor School chief executive officer George Foessel said standard vehicles now included features such as anti-lock braking systems (ABS), traction control, stability control systems, hill launch assist and trailer anti-sway.

“And 99 per cent of the people I’m training out there have no true knowledge of the technology,” he said.

Mr Foessel’s Queensland-based business is focused on the mining and gas industries, putting about 6500 workers through driver training last year.

He has addressed the Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre about the pros and cons of vehicle technology in the resource sector.

Mr Foessel warned that on unconventional surfaces the technology had the potential to cause accidents rather than save people if it was not properly used and understood.

He had received a number of calls about brake failures with anti-lock braking systems on mine sites, he said.

“Over the last few years ABS have become more prevalent in the industry through the ANCAP (Australasian New Car Assessment Program) 5-star cars,” Mr Foessel said.

“When they get on a slippery surface the ABS doesn’t work - so they contact me because they want to disconnect the ABS, which you can’t do because everything else runs off it.”

The computer-driven ABS technology pulsates the brakes on each wheel to prevent skidding and allow drivers to steer left or right rather than experiencing a total loss of control.

“If you are on a really slippery (low friction) surface the ABS keeps releasing the brakes causing exceptionally long stopping distances,” Mr Foessel said.

“Then manufacturers brought in another technology called hill descent control and that is where most people get left behind.”

Activated manually, this feature could overcome the problems with ABS on slippery descents if the driver knew how to use it properly, he said.

“You also have things like traction control – using the braking system or fuel system to stop wheel spin if you accelerate,” Mr Foessel said.

“That’s really handy on a bitumen road but, say you are coming up a hill on a mine site - if you don’t turn the traction control off what happens is it puts the brakes on and you stop half way up the ramp.

“On surfaces like loose gravel or sand you might need that little bit of wheel spin to keep the car moving.”

When it comes to rear-end skidding, people taught to counter steer in defensive driving courses or who have picked up such techniques through experience will get into trouble if they do not understand stability control systems and how to modify driving behaviour.

Mr Foessel’s work has included carrying out tests on site at BMA Goonyella mine and a specialised testing surface to work out how to get the best results out of various systems in 2WD and 4WD modes.

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