Trucks from Mercedes-Benz – safe as never before

Nov 7, 2019
Stuttgart / Berlin
  • From January 2020, the Active Brake Assist of the fifth generation will be standard in the new Actros Europe-wide as well as in other truck model series from Mercedes-Benz
  • Active Drive Assist marks a first major step on the way to autonomous driving
  • The further improved Sideguard Assist from Mercedes-Benz Trucks is not only available ex works but also for retrofitting on par with the production solution
  • Operating with digital cameras and displays, the MirrorCam replaces the conventional main and wide-angle mirrors in the new Actros and in the Arocs
  • The comfortable Multimedia Cockpit in the new Actros also helps the driver concentrate on what's most important: the road 

A strictly timed trip schedule, deadline pressure, heavy traffic, stress, fatigue, poor parking situations, distraction when taking a drink from the water bottle for example, possible unfavourable weather conditions and much more: in their everyday work truck drivers often have to cope with difficult working conditions. A single moment of inattentiveness or suddenly dozing off for a second can quickly lead to devastating consequences given the size and mass of the truck – for truck drivers themselves but above all for car drivers and certainly for unprotected road users like pedestrians or cyclists.

Besides the human suffering of the accident victims, in most cases the driver is left traumatised, while the freight forwarders and rescue teams are also affected. It must also be kept in mind that each accident may have high consequential costs. Examples are factors like loss of labour and use, procurement of a replacement vehicle, reduced productivity, higher insurance premiums and much else. Depending on the level of damage, the ensuing costs may run quite high and in a worst-case scenario even the economic viability of the shipping company may be jeopardised. Serious accidents in particular also always damage the company's image.

While the number of heavy-duty freight vehicles involved in accidents is relatively low, especially in relationship to the travelled distances, collisions can in the worst case be fatal. According to a study by the Federal Office for Roads and Traffic (BASt), the number of victims in accidents involving heavy-duty freight vehicles between 2002 and 2015 decreased in Germany by nearly 20 percent, from 19,058 to 15,238, while the number of fatalities dropped by nearly 30 percent, from 762 to 524. That corresponds to around 15 percent of all traffic deaths in Germany in 2015.

High safety level further increased

As every accident is one too many, everything must be done to avoid accidents wholly or at least to mitigate their consequences for everyone involved. Crucial here are safety assistant systems actively supporting drivers in situations identified by the system as critical, without relieving drivers of their responsibility. For example, years ago the Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal (BGL), together with the Accident Prevention and Insurance Association for Transport and Traffic and KRAVAG Insurance, conducted a field study with over 1,000 vehicles showing that trucks equipped with driver assistance systems had an accident likelihood that was 34 percent lower compared with reference vehicles of the same type.

The assessments of efficiency of such systems regularly conducted by Mercedes-Benz Trucks also speak a clear language: for example, internal studies of nearly 100,000 Mercedes-Benz trucks equipped with the emergency braking assist system Active Brake Assist of the fourth generation and Sideguard Assist conducted in 2017 and 2018 showed drivers to have been warned 15 million times in critical situations. An assistance system intervened more than a million times with a partial application of the brakes, and in over 10,000 cases, a full brake application occurred. Moreover, the trucks reacted around 155,000 times to pedestrian situations.

Mercedes-Benz has significantly raised the safety level for its trucks by means of highly intelligent systems like the emergency braking assist system Active Brake Assist of the fifth generation, the further optimised Sideguard Assist with pedestrian and cyclist detection, Active Drive Assist for partially automated driving and the MirrorCam instead of main and wide-angle mirrors. This applies in particular to the new Actros and to a large share of the Arocs models, which in terms of safety architecture and the respectively installed assistant systems currently offer the highest standard of all Mercedes-Benz trucks. But other model series, like the Econic with Sideguard Assist, can also help rescue lives in emergencies. All in all, with its safety line of products Mercedes-Benz Trucks has consolidated more than ever its vanguard role while also making great advances towards realising its vision of accident-free driving – whether in long-distance, distribution and construction haulage or municipal transport.

Active Brake Assist 5 – as effective at the tail end of a traffic jam as in pedestrian detection

For years, a large proportion of accidents involving heavy-duty freight vehicles have concerned collisions in parallel traffic: accidents in which a truck collides with a preceding or stationary vehicle due to the driver's distraction, too short a distance to the vehicle in front or failure to adjust the vehicle speed, for example. Active Brake Assist (ABA) of the fifth generation, the latest highlight in a long series of continued logical developments of the automatic emergency braking assist systems from Mercedes-Benz Trucks, can for the most part prevent such accidents within the system limits.

Notwithstanding this achievement, every truck driver must be aware that not even the best driver assistance system can suspend the laws of physics. The system can neither further increase braking power nor compensate for an insufficient following distance. Indeed, wet or slippery roads pose the risk that the braking distance will not suffice to wholly avoid a collision.

ABA 5, from January 2020 no longer available only as special equipment in all new Actros and Arocs in Europe, but to be standard wherever an emergency braking assist system is required by law, operates for the first time with a combination of radar and camera system. In contrast to ABA 4 presented in 2016, the new system can moreover react to moving persons not only with partial braking but with maximum full-stop braking, from a vehicle speed of up to 50 km/h.

And here's how ABA 5 operates in detail: on detecting the danger of an accident with a preceding vehicle, a stationary obstacle or a person crossing in front of the vehicle, walking towards the vehicle or in the vehicle's lane or suddenly coming to a halt when startled, the system first warns the driver visually and acoustically. If the driver does not respond appropriately, in a second stage the system initiates partial braking with 3 meters per second – around 50 percent of the maximum braking power. If the threat of a collision continues, ABA 5 can execute automatic maximum full-stop braking within the system limits. Finally, on coming to a stop the vehicle applies the new electronic parking brake.

Like its predecessor, ABA 5 also more than complies with the legal requirements. Current EU regulations require that as of November 2018 truck emergency braking assist systems reduce the vehicle speed by 20 km/h when braking for stationary obstacles, and avoid collisions with moving obstacles. ABA 5, however, can carry out automatic maximum full-stop braking for stationary and moving obstacles as well as automatic maximum full-stop braking for moving persons at vehicle speeds up to 50 km/h within the system limits.

Drivers remain responsible

All in all, like its predecessor ABA 5 is intended to support the driver in minimising the danger of a collision and reducing or wholly preventing the consequences of an accident. ABA 5 does not support autonomous driving, however, which would allow the driver to ignore traffic. In line with their legal obligations, drivers continue to have full responsibility for driving their vehicles safely. That is to say,: drivers must adapt their way of driving to the traffic situation and above all monitor following distances and vehicle speeds, in addition to other driving tasks.

In assessing the situation for themselves, drivers can therefore counteract ABA 5 with the accelerator, turn signal or kickdown following initiation of a warning and cancel either the warning or automatic brake application. Emergency braking will not be cancelled, however. As to switching off Active Brake Assist, discussed so often in the past, the fifth as well as the fourth generation has been generally designed and technically matured so as to render this procedure appropriate only in rare exceptional cases. In the fifth generation the driver moreover can no longer simply turn off ABA at a hardware switch, but must deliberately use the menu of the on-board computer for this purpose. In fact, internal studies by Mercedes-Benz Trucks have also shown that drivers have actually turned off the systems only in the most seldom cases.

Semi-automated driving with Active Drive Assist

Active Drive Assist (ADA) also represents a milestone in safety – a system which, in the case of the new Actros for the first time worldwide in a production truck, allows partially automated driving according to level 2 of automated driving. Under certain preconditions it actively supports the driver in the longitudinal and lateral guidance of the truck and can automatically maintain the following distance, accelerate and steer if the necessary system conditions such as sufficient curve radius or clearly visible road markings are met. In other words, the perfect synthesis of safety and comfort.

When ADA is active, the driver sees a blue steering wheel icon in the central display of the Multimedia Cockpit, along with blue-coloured lane markings. If the new Actros then comes too close to a preceding vehicle, this situation will also be displayed here and ADA can automatically brake the truck to the pre-set distance from the preceding vehicle. When the distance to the preceding vehicle is sufficient again, the system accelerates the vehicle to the specified speed.

The position of the truck in its lane can be set in several stages via the multifunction steering wheel. Depending on the direction in which the truck is to move within the lane, the driver swipes left or right horizontally across the Touch Control pad and confirms the entry. Vertically swiping up or down changes the distance to the preceding vehicle. ADA also helps the driver in a traffic jam, as the system builds on the proven Proximity Control Assist with stop-and-go function, among other things. It also utilizes the radar and camera technology of ABA 5. Moreover, Lane Keeping Assist and the electro-hydraulic Servotwin steering handle active lateral guidance of the truck in its lane. Lane Keeping Assist warns the driver once the vehicle inadvertently strays from its lane. If the driver fails to react, the system will bring the truck back into its lane through corrective steering intervention. Another added safety factor: active track guidance is retained even if the driver deactivates ADA.

ADA plays its strengths in both heavy traffic and on long, monotonous trips. As with all driver assistance systems, the driver bears full responsibility for safely operating the vehicle even with partially automated driving with ADA.

Another world première: the new MirrorCam for better all-around visibility

A big problem for many truck drivers is monitoring all aids for indirect visibility from the vehicle. Keeping six mirrors and three windows in view at the same time, in addition to complex road traffic, can be overtaxing in some situations. To relieve the driver in this task, in both the new Actros and the Arocs with MirrorCam a camera system replaces the conventional main and wide-angle mirrors for the first time in a production truck. As standard equipment, the system operates exclusively with two digital cameras attached on the right and left to the roof frame and two 15-inch displays. While the MirrorCam does not change the number of the 46 fields of view specified by the UN/ECE directive, focussing the eyes becomes easier for the driver, as the picture to be captured lies much closer to the cockpit monitor than conventional mirrors placed far outwards in the corners. Indeed, the driver practically no longer needs to turn his or her head – everything lies within the visible field of the controls.

The MirrorCam thus offers considerably improved all-round visibility, and the driver also has a good view forwards at an angle past the A-pillars, for an increased field of vision. Another added safety factor: it can happen that the mirrors in conventional systems are not optimally set, so that the driver will in particular overlook pedestrians and cyclists on the co-driver's side located in the truck's blind spot when steering the towing vehicle inwards. That's a risk that has often led to tragic accidents in urban traffic, especially in right turns. The MirrorCam avoids the problem of incorrectly positioned mirrors as the cameras automatically adopt the correct positions before starting off and the display always shows the same complete image from every perspective – regardless of the driver's size and seat position.

The developers at Mercedes-Benz Trucks have added further utilities for the driver to the MirrorCam, itself already certified according to the applicable UN regulation R46 for rearview mirrors. During cornering the picture on the display swivels along with the semi-trailer, to provide an optimal view of the entire trailer. Distance lines can also help the driver better estimate following traffic. A separately adjustable line can moreover indicate the end of the trailer for further facilitating centimetre-precise manoeuvring. The MirrorCam features a special manoeuvring view for reversing: the upper part of the display shows the area proximate to the vehicle and the lower part – with a certain overlap – the distant areas. In addition, zooming-in can be adjusted in the rank view mode.

As darkness falls, the system changes to a type of night vision or dusk mode, to prevent dazzling the driver and to reduce the glare from other road-users' headlamps. During the day, too, the system prevents the driver being dazzled from behind by direct sunlight. Another advantage of the MirrorCam is the significantly lower susceptibility to fouling compared with previous outside mirrors. And should the driver take a break or nap, he or she can activate the system for two minutes at a time with a switch on the bunk. The driver can then check the vehicle environment in the displays at any time, even with the curtains closed – at least under the minimal conditions provided by parking lot lighting, for example.

Sideguard Assist available from Mercedes-Benz Trucks ex works or as a retrofit solution has been further improved in the new Actros

The problem has already been addressed in connection with the MirrorCam: right-turn manoeuvring in urban traffic. In front, the driver has to pay attention to traffic lights and road signs as well as oncoming and cross traffic, while at the same time keeping an eye out for pedestrians and cyclists to the left and right. Unprotected road users are often not aware that a truck driver may not see them in certain situations, however. Added to that is the problem that heavy-duty trucks with a large wheelbase or trailer have turning characteristics not always easily understood by cyclists: before turning, trucks first drive straight ahead into the intersection, in order to allow for the following characteristics of the semi-trailer or trailer. A cyclist located on the co-driver side may then no longer expect the truck to steer inwards, but rather to continue straight-ahead. In 2018 34 cyclists died in accidents involving trucks making right turns in Germany. The General German Bicycle Club (ADFC), has determined this figure on the basis of police reports.

A turning assistance system provides a countermeasure in the truest sense of the word. Accident research by insurance companies, for example, supposes that such a system could prevent around half of all accidents involving trucks and cyclists. The number of related fatalities can be ideally reduced by nearly a third, and the number of serious injuries by more than 40 percent.

Whether Actros, Arocs or Econic: Mercedes-Benz Trucks began offering Sideguard Assist ex works as a production solution for many models as early as 2016. Most recently, Mercedes-Benz Trucks has also begun offering its Sideguard Assist as a retrofit solution for most of these models. As with Active Brake Assist and other assistance systems, this one again underscores the company's pioneering role in matters of safety. To recall: a resolution by the EU Commission requires turning assistance systems for new truck models only beginning in 2022 and for all new trucks only from 2024. For new long trucks a turning assistance system is required on German roads from 1 July 2020 as per the 9th amending regulation for long truck field trials, and for all long trucks – and therefore also for all stock vehicles – from 1 July 2022.

In Germany today, around every other Actros for which the Sideguard Assist is available comes with the production solution ex works. Mercedes-Benz Trucks continues to be the only manufacturer offering a driver assistance system fully integrated in the vehicle architecture. Fitting with a turning assistance system has also been subsidised by the government since 2019: for each installation the Federal Office for Goods Transport provides up to 1,500 euros in line with the available funds. This applies of course also to the system available ex works from Mercedes-Benz Trucks.

Mercedes-Benz Trucks has once more overhauled its own Sideguard Assist in developing the new Actros and Arocs – especially in view of the digital future of trucks. Whereas previously drivers were warned visually by an LED lamp on the A-pillar inside the cab, Sideguard Assist now uses the display of the MirrorCam, which the driver must keep in view anyway in turning manoeuvres.

As already in the predecessors, Sideguard Assist operates with a multi-stage warning process: if a moving or stationary object is detected in the monitored zone on the co-driver's side, the driver is first given a visual warning. This comes in the form of a yellow triangular warning symbol which lights up in the MirrorCam display on the co-driver's side. If there is a risk of collision, the indicator flashes brightly several times in red. After two seconds, it remains permanently illuminated in red. In addition, at the same time a warning tone sounds on the co-driver's side through a speaker in the radio system. Sideguard Assist does not actively intervene in the brake system, however. Assisted by the system's warnings, the driver is responsible for duly braking the vehicle. The tractrix curve warning system operates up to a vehicle speed of 36 km/h and also warns the driver about stationary obstacles like traffic signs and lighting masts. The overhauled Sideguard Assist can now also support the driver in left turns under certain conditions: on trucks with a frame overhang of more than 1.5 metres behind the last rear axle, there is a risk that the right-hand rear corner of the vehicle will veer out when turning to the left. The frame overhang could then dangerously collide with other road users. To avoid such situations as much as possible, Sideguard Assist also duly warns the driver about such collisions at speeds of up to 36 km/h. There is yet another feature: the system can also indicate the threat of a collision in lane changes at a speed of up to 90 km/h.

The core of Sideguard Assist is made up of two short-range radar sensors on the frame on the co-driver's side in front of the truck's rear axle. The system is designed so as to monitor the entire length of the vehicle combination plus two metres to the front, one metre to the rear and up to 3.75 metres to the right. It works for solo vehicles as well as tractor/semi-trailer or tractor/trailer combinations up to 18.75 metres in length.

Electronic parking brake, Traffic Sign Assist and Trailer Stability Control Assist are further safety highlights

Besides Active Drive Assist, MirrorCam, Sideguard Assist and Active Brake Assist 5, other innovative systems increase safety in the new Actros. An example is the new electronic parking brake, whose integrated HOLD function is automatically activated when the engine is turned off. The function is released once the accelerator pedal is operated again. The system's integrated Hill Holder starting-off aid performs a valuable service when starting off on a gradient.

Within its system limits Traffic Sign Assist can detect speed limits, the start and end of no-passing zones and warning signs, and shows them on the display. A visual warning appears if the driver drives at a speed exceeding that indicated by the detected traffic signs.

Finally, the new Actros travels more safely on the road thanks to the new Trailer Stability Control Assist for semi-trailers and trailers. Whether tractor/semi-trailer combination or drawbar combination: in overrun mode and when cornering the system brakes the trailer with moderate brake pressure to stabilise the vehicle train.

Multimedia Cockpit with intuitive operation and innovative functions

When it comes to safety, the new Multimedia Cockpit in the new Actros must be mentioned. The core of this newly developed interface between driver and vehicle comprises two central colour displays. The primary colour display with its high-resolution flat screen technology replaces the traditional instrument cluster with its speedometer, rev counter and fuel gauge. The neatly arranged and clear display informs the driver about all essential driving and operating states, as well as the actions performed by Active Drive Assist, Predictive Powertrain Control and other driver assistance systems. The second monitor, the secondary display, features touchscreen technology. The driver can use it to conveniently control most of the functions in the truck, as well as to display the vehicle condition, such as tyre pressure and axle load, at any time.

As an expanded version of the Multimedia Cockpit, Mercedes-Benz Trucks offers the even more extensively networked interactive Multimedia Cockpit, with even more functions. At 12 inches, its primary display is considerably larger. The driver has the choice between the two screen designs "Classic" and "Advanced". The "Classic" version is the same as the display in the conventional Multimedia Cockpit and can be manually selected by the driver. The "Advanced" version allows personalised and variable display of content, plus the display changes to driver assistance graphics optimised for partially automated driving on activation of Active Drive Assist or Proximity Control Assist. It provides the driver with excellent support in monitoring the traffic situation and thus also contributes to the safety of all road users.

Mercedes-Benz Uptime increases road safety besides vehicle availability

Assistant systems make an important contribution in compensating for human error at the wheel, hardly avoidable in hectic everyday driving. Crucial, however, is that electronic systems as well as all mechanical components – whether brake and steering systems, lighting systems, axles, wheels and tyres, suspension systems, chassis or bodies – operate trouble-free. For besides human error, technical defects can also cause or negatively influence accidents.

With smart vehicle networking and intensive customer care, as provided by Mercedes-Benz Uptime, it is possible to duly detect and rectify malfunctions. The fully automatic tele-diagnosis system continuously checks the status of many vehicle systems in the truck in real time. It takes just seconds to interpret the data, identify critical conditions and provide concrete recommendations for action. Should the need for maintenance or repairs be indicated, Mercedes-Benz Service will immediately assist the customer with an individualised solution. For the customer this means not only significantly improving planning workshop visits and vehicle availability, but also a greater measure of road safety.