The mandated proliferation of active safety systems in Europe’s heavy-truck fleet could lead to a convoy of like technologies in light vehicles, says TRW Automotive’s vice president-product planning.

By 2014, Europe’s heavy trucks must feature systems that provide lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking. Benefits of the measure for motorists and pedestrians are obvious, but the boost in business also will make life easier for truck makers and their suppliers, TRW’s Matt Roney tells Ward’s.

“It provides some volume to the industry to bring these technologies down the price curve,” he says. “And it provides some stable volume. The price curve of these technologies is quite steep. An awful lot of R&D has gone into these.”

TRW’s “ultimate goal” is to “get affordable safety systems onto every vehicle, (not just) the high-end luxury vehicles,” Roney adds.

In the meantime, the heavy-truck industry affords a test-bed for the performance of active systems employing cameras and radar to mitigate conditions that could lead to crashes. And the resulting data likely will be high-quality, Roney suggests.

“The interesting thing there is you get a fleet of professional drivers who are also on the road 8-10 hours at a time,” he says.

A variety of light vehicles currently feature lane-departure warning systems that utilize alarms – visual, audible and vibrating. But, not surprisingly, TRW advocates active solutions.

The more active, the better, Roney says. “Some of these beeps and chimes and rumble strips can easily be ignored by the driver. Whereas torque input is really effective in terms of getting the right behavior out of the driver.”

TRW, a producer of brakes, electronics and occupant restraints, has such a system in production with Fiat Automobiles SpA. The Lancia Delta can sense when the vehicle is off-course and gently prompt driver intervention by introducing a slight steering input in the proper direction.

Roney expects the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. will favor such solutions. The agency is studying technologies such as collision avoidance – for light vehicles and heavy trucks – with results due in 2011.

“That’s the kind of thing that NHTSA tends to gravitate towards,” he adds.

Further, Congress is contemplating a bill that would provide tax credits to cover half the cost of the systems mandated for Europe’s heavy trucks. “For fleet owners, that proposition can start to look quite good,” Roney says.

Roney’s observations come on the heels of a U.S. Department of Transportation proposal to require lap-shoulder belts in new motorcoaches. If adopted, the benefit for suppliers would be minimal, but still welcome in the current competitive climate, he says.

“We like it every time the market gets bigger and there’s more to access. And we’ve studied this market segment as well as anything else you could imagine, from airplanes to dog seatbelts and some of the more obvious things.”

But in terms of sophistication, the restraints covered by the DOT’s motorcoach proposal don’t come close to technology featured in today’s passenger cars.

Says Roney: “We have pyrotechnic pre-tensioners. We have energy-management systems, which are really a fancy term for ways that we limit the amount of load displaced to the shoulder through the use of torsion bars. Then you can get more sophisticated by having something that classifies the occupant.”

So for the industry, the motorcoach segment represents “the next frontier for vehicle safety,” he adds.

emayne@wardsauto.com