Highways England develops VR headgear as part of motorway safety initiative


Highways England (HE) is using virtual reality (VR) technology to help reduce the risk of commercial vehicle drivers being involved in incidents as they travel up and down the country’s road network.

HE has developed a free VR app to raise drivers’ awareness of their blind spots. The app can be accessed on a smartphone attached to a simple pair of cardboard goggles so drivers can use it before they get behind the wheel. Of particular benefit to continental drivers, the app includes five road safety scenarios for both left- and right-hand drive vehicles and has been developed to stress the importance of adjusting mirrors to cater for driving in a different way when in the UK. The blind spot app’s scenarios are:

• Mirror adjustment;

• Identifying vehicles in blind spots;

• Joining a motorway from a slip road;

• Overtaking; and

• Tailgating.

HE demonstrated the VR app at The Commercial Vehicle Show last week at the NEC center in Birmingham, UK, with the agency giving the free headsets to visitors. Although developed for commercial vehicle drivers, HE says the app could also benefit private motorists by giving them a sense of what truck drivers experience every day. For example, helping them to understand the location of commercial vehicle blind spots and hence reduce the potential for unnecessary accidents.

The new VR app is one example of the safety initiatives that HE has developed as part of its commercial vehicle incident prevention program, which also includes schemes to improve the design and maintenance of commercial vehicles, and to assist operators and drivers. Other examples include:

• A joint initiative with police using truck cabs to target dangerously driven vehicles;

• The installation of sophisticated tire/vehicle measurement (pressure, tread depth, vehicle weight, axles heat) technology at key locations;

• Initiatives with the Health & Safety Executive and the police to improve load security;

• Interventions to reduce diesel spillages that damage the pavement and cause long delays;

• Development of truck stop apps in Polish and Romanian.

HE has also partnered with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) to offer bespoke safety training for truck drivers who travel on smart motorways. A key aspect of the new course is that it now integrates into the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) qualification, for which all professional coach and truck drivers must complete 35 hours of training every five years.

“We have set ourselves the long-term vision that no-one should be harmed while traveling or working on our roads, and within that we are doing all we can to help reduce collisions involving lorries because they tend to have a greater impact when they do occur,” explained John Walford, HE’s commercial vehicle incident prevention team leader.

“They most commonly occur when trucks change lanes or attempt to overtake, and using this technology allows us to provide a realistic environment for commercial vehicle drivers so that they can experience the impact of not using their mirrors to check blind spots. It’s just one of the steps we’re taking to help improve safety for this valuable group of drivers and ultimately everyone who uses our network.”

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James joined the Traffic Technology International team in 2017. Previously he was Assistant Editor on an engineering title for several years and has worked for various other trade magazines before that. James is happily married and has a young daughter and son who keep him busy.