10 Ways to Increase Backup Safety

Truck backing up

by Adam Maxfield

Truck fleet managers regularly ask, “How can my drivers backup safely?”  Backup safety is a growing problem in the United States, especially with semi-trucks and service vehicles. 

Every year there are more vehicles on the road with bigger engines and increased safety for the passengers. The additional airbags and smaller windows do increase safety for passengers but also reduce the driver’s visibility, making it difficult to see pedestrians.  According to Kids and Cars, 50 children are backed over every week, which is approximately 2,600 children each year. 

Unfortunately, this type of tragedy impacted my family. My grandparents lived through a backover loss of their second child. A neighbor on his way to work hit Billy while backing out of his driveway into the street.  These accidents not only affect the victim’s family, but the vehicle operator’s family too.  

It wasn’t until 2018 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated that all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds must include a backup camera.  This has decreased the number of passenger vehicle backovers. The challenge is that this law forces passenger vehicles to use backup cameras, but does not apply to large commercial vehicles.  

Below are the top 10 ways to increase backup safety:

    Strobe Light 

    Increasing safety includes alerting those around the interaction.  At a young age, we are taught that flashing lights are a sign of warning from police cars and fire alarms. Flashing lights are a common practice for heavy equipment too. This is a great solution that is not used often enough.  Today, LED strobe lights are very inexpensive, easy to install and they are almost zero maintenance. A white light will not confuse pedestrians with emergency vehicles but will efficiently alert pedestrians.  A strobe light can not be relied upon as the only backup system because the strobe light will not alert the operator, visually impaired pedestrians will not be alerted, and distracted pedestrians may not see the light in daylight.

    Pros

    • Low Cost
    • Low Maintenance
    • Effectively alerts pedestrians

    Cons

    • Does not alert truck operator
    • Does not alert visually impaired pedestrians
    • Not easily visible in direct sunlight

    External Backup Alarm 

    Increasing safety includes alerting those around the interaction. An audible backup alarm quickly notifies pedestrians in the area that something is happening.  Audible alarms are a great option to alert pedestrians, and even animals will listen to the warning.  The audible backup alarm is a great solution for delivery trucks and over the road vehicles because it is a low cost, low maintenance solution that quickly alerts pedestrians to danger.  Backup audible alarms will require additional safety solutions because they do not alert the truck operator of obstacles in the path and hearing impaired pedestrians will not hear the alarm.  Stationary obstacles such as trees and fire hydrants will not move, causing damage to company vehicles and city property. 

    Pros

    • Low Cost
    • Low Maintenance
    • Effectively alerts pedestrians

    Cons

    • Does not alert truck operator
    • Does not alert pedestrians with hearing impairments

    Rear Crossview Mirror

    Safety is greatly increased when the truck driver can see the vehicle’s path.  The postal service has been using rear crossview mirrors for many years. Even on small postal vehicles, a blind spot is very dangerous.  The benefit of this type of mirror is that the truck operator can see obstructions including people and objects. However, this product does have a few challenges.  The mirrors are easily damaged because they must hang off the edge of the vehicle or trailer. The mirrors are affected by mud, dirt, snow, rain and fog which requires regular cleaning.  If the distance is too great, the mirror is unable to easily allow the operator to see obstacles. Overall, rear crossview mirrors are a great option for smaller vehicles that can not afford a camera system.


    Pros

    • Low Cost
    • Medium Maintenance
    • Truck driver can see reverse path

    Cons

    • Does not alert truck operator
    • Not an option for longer trucks
    • Easily tarnishes or damaged

    Walk Around

    Effective options do not need to be expensive.  A vehicle walk around is a good practice for passenger drives all the to tractor trailer operators.  If a person walked around their vehicle every time they shifted into reverse, the world would be a much safer place.  A challenge with this practice is that people tend to take the path of least resistance, and most do not want to stand in the rain, snow or extreme heat.  A walk around gives the truck operator an opportunity to note children playing nearby and obstacles in the path.

    Pros

    • Zero Cost
    • Zero Maintenance
    • Immediate obstacles are visible
    • Possible obstacles can be observed

    Cons

    • Does not alert truck operator of changing conditions
    • Does not alert pedestrians
    • Relies on human factor

    Spotter

    A spotter can quickly reduce accidents, but a challenge is many times the spotter can quickly become an obstacle.  A spotter is a great option because the spotter will see changing conditions and be able to warn the truck driver quickly.  A spotter must wear bright clothing and complete training. Without training, a spotter can quickly become an accident statistic.  The US Department of Labor has documented the correct attire and hand signals that a spotter should use.  Multiple government fleets have stopped using spotters because they have been backed over when the spotter did not follow the correct protocols.

    Pros

    • - Zero Maintenance
    • - Spotter can notify driver when the environment changes
    • - Possible obstacles can be observed

    Cons

    • Requires two people
    • Spotter can add to obstacles
    • Relies on the human factor
    • Requires training and protocols need to be followed

    Cone Rule

    Insurance companies have found that a walk around quickly increases backup safety.  It is very difficult to know if an employee is walking around the vehicle every time it is operated.  A parking cone is relatively inexpensive and it is an easy way to ensure that employees walk behind the vehicle every time it is parked.  The rule is simple, every time the truck is parked, the operator must place a cone two feet behind the vehicle.

    To ensure that the cone is placed two feet behind the vehicle, the cone should be permanently chained to the vehicle, which also reduces forgetfulness and theft.  This forces an employee to see what is behind the vehicle before driving away. This practice also makes it easy for a manager to verify that the employee is walking around the vehicle; if the cone isn’t out, then the employee isn’t completing the task.

    Pros

    • Zero Maintenance
    • Low-cost solution
    • Forced action

    Cons

    • Not a solution for all backup situations
    • Does not alert pedestrians
    • Relies on the human factor
    • Requires training and protocols need to be followed
    • Does not warn an operator in a changing environment

    Backup Camera

    Backup cameras greatly increase backup safety when used correctly.  In 2018, the United States enacted a law forcing all new vehicles less than 10,000 pounds to include a backup camera.  This act is a testament to American safety and care for human life; in many countries, airbags are not required. Back up cameras allow the vehicle operator to see what is behind the vehicle in real-time, which means that as the environment changes the driver is aware.  Today's camera systems work during the day, at night, rain or shine, which makes this a highly effective solution. The camera and monitor placement is very important to the function of the system. If the camera is not placed in an intuitive location, the truck driver can easily become confused when using it.  A camera should be placed in either the bumper or from the top of the truck. Monitor placement is also very important.

    Many passenger cars place the monitor in the middle of the console near the stereo, which is confusing for many to use. The problem is that the operator must turn their head to view the different safety features and this decreases safety.  A monitor should be placed near the most common safety feature, in most cases, this is the left side mirror. This allows the truck driver to see the left side of the vehicle and behind without moving their head. The challenge with a camera system is that it doesn’t warn the driver of obstacles but it does enable the operator to view obstacles. TPC Automation Vehicle Safety offers cameras designed for industrial applications. Use the code ADAM15 for a 15% discount.


    Pros

    • Low Maintenance
    • Works for all backup applications
    • Operator can see environmental changes
    • Works day and night
    • Extremely reliable

    Cons

    • Does not alert pedestrians
    • Does not warn the operator about obstacles
    • Small monitors may be useless

    Backup Sensor

    Backup sensors use ultrasonic transceivers and detectors to alert the operator for obstacles in the path.  This is one of the safest options for back up safety. Even though the operator can not see what is behind, the operator will be alerted when a child, tree or object is in the path.  Sonar is an active system that constantly monitors and alerts, rather than a passive system like a camera system, which relies on the truck driver to see an obstacle. As humans, we like to feel like we are in control, which is why the camera systems are more popular, but sonar systems have proved to be a safer option.  TPC Automation Vehicle Safety offers low-cost sonar systems.  Use code ADAM15 for a 15% discount.

    Pros

    • Low Maintenance
    • Works for all backup applications
    • Works day and night
    • Works with rain, snow or fog
    • Extremely reliable
    • Medium cost

    Cons

    • Does not alert pedestrians
    • Operator can not see the behind the vehicle

    Camera and Backup Sensor Combination

    The safest single item solution is a combination of a camera and sonar.  The backup sonar will alert the operator to obstacles in the path, without leaving the truck the driver can verify what is in the path.  This solution has proven itself over and over again; for this reason alone it is impossible to buy an expensive luxury vehicle without a combined system installed at the factory.  All service vehicles should have a combined system. The financial payback is almost instantaneous, as most insurance companies offer large discounts for combined systems, not to mention a single fender bender will pay for multiple systems when a customer only needs one to increase safety.  TPC Automation Vehicle Safety offers easy to install combo systems.  Use code ADAM15 for a 15% discount.

    Pros

    • Low Maintenance
    • Works for all backup applications
    • Works day and night
    • Works with rain, snow or fog
    • Extremely reliable
    • Medium cost
    • Safest single solution

    Cons

    • Does not alert pedestrians

    Safety Check I.A.R.

    Often, implementing a basic common sense process is the safest operation.  Every item on this top 10 backup safety list will GREATLY reduce accidents, but this option should be incorporated into every service vehicle.  The “I” is for INSPECT. The act of inspection includes a wide range of behaviors. A technology-based option means the operator can use a fisheye camera that displays everything behind your vehicle to view and INSPECT the vehicle path prior to reversing.  A simple low-cost option is for the operator to get out and walk around the delivery truck looking for objects and ensuring the path is clear prior to reversing. “A” is for ALERT. Even after the operator walks around the truck, a pedestrian can walk behind the vehicle, so the operator needs to ALERT the public to the action by using a backup alarm or honking the vehicles horn.  Three honks of equal time will ALERT pedestrians to the trucks planned action. The last “R” is for REVERSE with caution.  

    Pros
    • Low Cost
    • Zero Maintenance
    • Truck driver will know what objects are behind the vehicle
    • Action alerts pedestrians

    Cons

    • Does not alert truck operator to changes in environment
    • Leaves accidents to human error or forgetfulness

    References:

    https://www.kidsandcars.org/how-kids-get-hurt/backovers/ 

    https://www.nhtsa.gov/