Massive trucks in Hong Kong are lacking radar and camera technology that could save elderly pedestrians’ lives, according to a crime scene investigator speaking at a police safety demonstration in Hong Kong this week.
At the demonstration, which aimed to show how pedestrians are essentially invisible to truck drivers when standing too close to the vehicle, government chemist Dr Tam Cheok-ning, of the Government Laboratory’s Forensic Science Division, said he was surprised the Hong Kong trucks he investigated in fatal cases didn’t have at least camera technology to eliminate blind spots.
“Private cars have a lot of sensors, but for large vehicles, we don’t see a lot of sensors yet,” says Tam. “Even if you just had a camera looking directly downward to see just in front of the vehicle, it would help the driver, so instead of looking at the fisheye mirror they could look at the screen in front of them… but we don’t see those at all in these large vehicles in Hong Kong,” he says.
While the EU will mandate side-facing radar from 2022, Hong Kong has no such laws in the pipeline. The last truck safety law introduced was rear-vision cameras, required for all new trucks from 2014. Transport Department (TD) said it would be “open-minded” about new technologies while it would welcome the introduction of new driver assistance systems.
Sitting in the Mercedes-Benz Arocs truck at the police demonstration, the pedestrians standing in front of the truck appeared as tiny figures in the far fisheye mirror, reversed in position, and are indeed invisible from the driver’s seat. The truck has no technology fitted, according to a police driver at the event: meanwhile all Arocs sold in Europe since late 2017 have side radar as standard, according to manufacturer Daimler Trucks and Buses, citing research that shows the number of accidents between trucks and cyclists can be halved by using such systems.
Police say 34 elderly pedestrians were killed in Hong Kong last year, prompting an in-depth investigation into the issue.
Chief Inspector Andy Tay, Traffic Branch, says the results of the investigation dispelled preconceptions about elderly deaths. “Before we did this study, a lot of people had ideas that maybe the health condition of the elderly could be a factor. But we found it’s not about their health,” he says.
Eighty percent of the deaths were caused when elderly people were crossing the road against the lights, or crossing at a non-designated crossing, says Tay. But 80% were also caused by large vehicles – vans, MGVs and HGVs, he adds.
“People of all different ages encounter traffic accidents, but it’s the elderly who suffer the most,” says Tay. “That’s why the fatalities for elderly are so much higher.”
Pedestrians 60 and over make up 50% of pedestrians killed or seriously injured on the roads, and 30% of their accidents are fatal, compared to 22% for all ages, according to TD figures.
Forensic scientist Tam is brought in to help police reconstruct many such accidents. And while he says it’s difficult to prove whether a driver checked a blind-spot mirror or not, he says he can show whether a pedestrian would have appeared in the mirror or windscreen view at the time of the accident.
For example, one case last year in Tai Kok Tsui involved an elderly lady pushing a trolley between a truck and a bus which had both stopped in traffic. When the traffic started off, the lady was still in front of the truck, which struck and killed her. Reconstruction of the case showed the truck driver was to blame. “We reconstructed the scene, with the truck and the lady and the cart,” says Tam. “And when I sat in the driver’s seat, I could see the pedestrian appear in the mirror. The driver had a chance to notice the existence of the lady if he had looked in the blind-spot mirror,” he says.
In this case, the driver was charged with careless driving and sentenced to 200 hours community service.