Beginning this month, researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) will use a Volvo VHD 430 vocational model outfitted with highly specialized instrumentation to help evaluate the safety of highway surfaces in several U.S states. The project, funded by the Federal Highway Administration, will analyze continuous stretches of pavement to determine whether improving highway materials or design could reduce crashes and save lives.
“We are proud that VTTI and its partners selected a Volvo truck for this safety research,” said Gӧran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America. “Volvo is committed to safety as a core value. The Volvo VHD model is an appropriate choice because it is easily upfit with specialized bodies such as this one.”
VTTI is located only about 25 miles from Volvo’s New River Valley assembly plant in Dublin, VA, where VHD models are built. But it was W.D.M. Limited, the United Kingdom-based company that installed the body and instrumentation, that recommended Volvo as the truck supplier based on past experience with Volvo on projects elsewhere. W.D.M. Limited is the sole supplier of the highway measurement technology – called the Sideway-force Coefficient Routine Investigation Machine (SCRIM) – and has used Volvo chassis in other countries frequently over the years.
“We have found Volvo’s build quality to be superior,” said Richard Dal Lago, W.D.M’s head of electromechanical development. “Also, Volvo’s strong reputation for safety makes it a natural choice for such a project.”
W.D.M. purchased the VHD 430 model in 2014 and shipped it to the UK for the necessary instrumentation, which required several months and included interior cab modifications as well as a special truck body. The VHD 430 model used for the VTTI project features an integrated powertrain with a Volvo D13 engine and I-Shift automated manual transmission.
The data collection phase of the research project begins in July in Florida and will include testing of highways in Washington, Indiana and Texas. Researchers with VTTI’s Center for Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure will use the specially equipped vehicle to measure pavements for friction and related safety characteristics, such as cross-slope, macro-texture, grade, temperature and curvature.
The SCRIM includes a 2,000-gallon tank that feeds a 0.5-mm film of water for testing the friction of wet pavement surfaces while driving at speeds up to 50 mph. The vehicle can test 150 miles of highway on a single tank of water. Current vehicles used for such testing in the U.S. rely on smaller tanks that would cover just a fraction of that distance before needing to be refilled if they were to test at similar intervals.
The SCRIM uses a special tire to analyze road friction continuously without locking the tire as other testers do. This feature is important because continuous application gives a complete friction profile of the pavement surface and additionally simulates today’s anti-lock braking systems better than a locked-wheel skid tester, said Edgar de León Izeppi, senior research associate for VTTI’s Center for Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure.
Continuous testing and more sophisticated instrumentation will provide more data on factors that are believed to be linked to the frictional properties of the pavement-tire interface, which should lead to improved highway safety, de León Izeppi said.
“If we can detect the problems we can find a way to solve them,” de León Izeppi said. “Most state highway agencies already maintain comprehensive databases on the types and locations of crashes, so by cross-referencing those databases with the detailed road assessments, we hope to be able to identify measures that could reduce crashes and save lives at locations that have a higher risk characterization.”