It's Like Your Drivers Have Been Operating With One Eye Closed. How About Adding a Third One?

Operating small, off-road vehicles on a day-to-day basis is a dangerous job for many utility workers.

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By Kirk Knobel

Operating small, off-road vehicles on a day-to-day basis is a dangerous job for many utility workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor reports that in 2008, more work-related fatalities resulted from transportation incidents than from any other event. In addition, highway incidents alone accounted for nearly one out of every four fatal work injuries. Together, highway and transportation accidents accounted for 63 percent of all fatal accidents that happened on the job in 2008.

And then there is property damage. Accidents are extremely costly to owner-operators. In fact, the typical lifetime cost of accidents is $3,000 per vehicle or more. This is just per vehicle, not to mention the complications and compensations that come as a result of injuries. As electric, cable and telecom utilities face the debilitating cost of vehicle repairs, owner-operators are seeking out new ways to save money and ensure the safety of their drivers.

Many fleet owners use back up cameras or obstacle detection systems to prevent unnecessary accidents. Obstacle detection technologies are legitimate warning devices whereas cameras are merely silent observers. With cameras, drivers do not know they are going to hit something unless they are looking directly at the screen–and even then, they could hit something that is outside of the camera's field of vision.

The foundation of Transportation Safety Technologies (TST) is built on developing products that save lives, prevent injuries and reduce operating costs by enhancing vehicle control. Chief among our safety products for specialty, commercial, utility and emergency vehicles is the Eagle Eye obstacle detection system.

This technology monitors side and rear "blind areas" or "no zones" for vehicles and objects. It consists of sensors mounted around the vehicle and a single driver alert module (DAM) inside the cab that alerts drivers to potential contact beginning at eight to 10 feet away from the vehicle. A rugged, extreme grade product, this system is specifically designed to withstand harsh elements and physical abuse.

Following is a list of the top 10 reasons obstacle detection technology should be implemented on small, off-road utility vehicles:

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Safety. Obstacle detection systems help drivers avoid accidents and reduce injuries and fatalities. TST guarantees its customers that they will reduce accidents by at least 25 percent with its technology. Most users achieve a 75 percent decrease in the number of collisions.

Visual and audible alerts. Mass transit highways and crowded city streets can be loud and stressful driving environments, which can pose significant threats to workers' safety. Often, workers become immune to the volume of surrounding noise. Audible alerts that notify operators of the proximity of surrounding people and objects to the vehicle are not enough to keep the site completely safe. Dash-mounted digital displays that visually and audibly alert drivers to potential contact beginning at eight to 10 feet away from the vehicle will improve overall driver hazard awareness. Some obstacle detection technologies provide technology that digitally displays the distance of the object in feet and 10ths of feet. The sensor's zone lamps on the DAM flash yellow if an object is greater than five feet from the sensor and red for less than five feet from it. Systems can also be programmed to emit audible "Geiger counter-like" tones that begin at 10 feet away and then change in intensity as the vehicle closes to within five feet of the hazard.

Active and passive system. Obstacle detection technology can operate in both active and passive modes. Some systems sound off so frequently that drivers can become immune to them. Obstacle detection systems constantly pick up or detect objects, but will not warn the operator of their presence until the driver takes action. The technology turns on four-way flashers, a turn signal or shifts into reverse–cutting down on inadvertent warnings.

Saves money. Obstacle detection technology saves vehicle and property damage costs, reduces insurance costs and ensures high productivity. These systems can lower the overall cost of ownership for work trucks and provide a 200 to 500 percent return on investment. This equates to a one to two year payback for most customers.

Easy to install and use. Although some obstacle detection technologies are difficult to install and hard to manage, others are easy-to-install, plug-n'-play products that can be installed by a technician in less than two hours (less than one for many configurations). Users also can be trained on how to perform the installation on their own, or vendors can handle installation. The system requires no regular maintenance costs.

Rugged. Contractors need technology that can withstand dirt, mud, asphalt, concrete, chemicals and high pressure washers. Some systems are rugged and resist corrosion and impact damage.

Rear vision. While rear-mounted cameras are a useful measure to help avoid accidents, they are simply not enough to alert heavy equipment operators working in hectic construction sites. Operators need audible, visual and distance-to-hazard alerts that provide a side, rear and overhead obstacle detection network.

Versatile. Obstacle detection systems work when users are driving fast or slow, backwards or forwards. As many as seven sensors can be placed anywhere on the vehicle, cab or trailer–wherever the driver needs an extra "set of eyes."

Weather-resistant. In rain, fog, snow and other difficult weather conditions, drivers need all of the help they can get. High-end obstacle detection systems feature patented heated sensors that are SAE Certified and are rigorously tested by original equipment manufacturers in extreme conditions.

Smart. Some of the more robust obstacle detection technologies can be programmed to sound alerts only in specific situations. For example, Eagle Eye can warn on sides when the blinker is on.

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It is impossible to put a price on employees who are on the road, day in and day out! Obstacle detection technologies are on the rise and have proven to be successful in creating safer environments for transportation workers.

About the Author:
Kirk Knobel is sales and customer service manager for Transportation Safety Technologies (TST), an Indianapolis-based leader in the design and manufacture of a wide array of electronic components for transportation and other industries that use all types of commercial vehicles. For more information, call 800.428.4449, or visit TST was purchased by Riverside Mfg., LLC in 2007. For more products and information, please visit

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