Added: 26 August 2020
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Think Direct Vision, and for most ‘in the know’ the first truck that comes to mind is the Mercedes-Benz Econic.
Thanks to its deep, panoramic windscreen, fully glazed, folding nearside door, and a low-floor cab that allows them to make direct eye contact with vulnerable road users at junctions and in traffic, Econic drivers see more of what matters than those in conventional trucks. No surprise, then, that Transport for London awarded the Econic a maximum five stars for Direct Vision, or that this model is now the chassis of choice for safety-focused operators working across a broad variety of sectors in and around the capital. Despite its many attributes, however, the Econic will never be the right vehicle for everyone.
The good news, for those falling into this category, is that in the new-generation Actros and Arocs ranges Mercedes-Benz Trucks offers a line-up of tractor units and rigid vehicles that not only includes the right chassis for virtually any application, but also scores more highly than equivalent competitor models when it comes to Direct Vision. The new standard measures how much an HGV driver can see directly through their cab windows. This indicates the level of risk to cyclists and pedestrians in particular. The regulations were due to come into force in October 2020. However, given the additional pressures heaped on the industry by the Covid-19 pandemic, enforcement has been postponed to March 2021 at the earliest. Trucks over 12 tonnes GVW will require a Direct Vision safety permit to enter or work in Greater London. The permit is free, but operators face substantial fines if they do not have one.
The zero- to five-star rating system is based on how the vehicle left the production line – with the sole exception of additional, manufacturer-approved door windows, it takes no account of aftermarket safety systems. Depending on the star rating, permits are valid for up to 10 years. From launch, only vehicles with at least one star will be allowed to operate in the capital without additional safety equipment – forthose with a zero-starrating, operators must prove they have fitted the cameras and sensors needed to achieve compliance and secure their permit. By 2024, meanwhile, trucks will require a three-star rating to be granted a safety permit; again, those whose vehicles do not meet this standard will have to take extra steps to work in London.
Why then, do so many Actros and Arocs models attract higher Direct Vision ratings than their competitors? In part, the answer lies in the design oftheir cabs – seen through the driver’s eyes, the bottom edge of the window in a Mercedes-Benz sits lower than in other makes of truck, a relationship that contributes to better visibility. And then, of course, there is MirrorCam, the compact, camera-based replacement for conventional mirrors. In Direct Vision terms, the benefits of MirrorCam have nothing to do with how much more the driver can see behind, and everything to do with what they cannot see in front – those huge mirrors that create blind spots which get bigger as distance from the truck increases. Several factors have a bearing on how much a driver can see, and therefore the star rating awarded to their vehicle. The most obvious are cab height and width – the lower and narrower the better is the ‘rule of thumb’ – but axles, spring settings and particularly tyre sizes also come into play. No other manufacturer offers a flat-floored cab that merits even a single star, and the same is true of Actros variants with 2.5m width. Choose the 2.3m version, though – and it’s a switch several operators have already made – and your truck can have a one-star rating. Opt for a lower mounted day or sleeper cab with an engine tunnel, and thanks to MirrorCam your Actros can even be a four-star truck.
As for construction models, an operator can secure a 10-year permit by purchasing a three star-rated 8x4 Arocs tipper with extra nearside door window. Bob Gowans, Product Management & Sales Technical Manager at Mercedes-Benz Trucks UK, says: “These new regulations relate solely to London, of course, but every driver, wherever they work, is safer if they can see more. The design of our cabs and availability of MirrorCam gives Mercedes-Benz a huge advantage in this respect, and I would urge every operator to ascertain a truck’s Direct Vision rating before they purchase.”