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SGESCO-MAX occupant safety system is gaining traction

Two bus and coach tragedies throughout 2023 have led SGESCO-MAX to promote an occupant safety system that is gaining traction with safety conscious fleets
safety system

In 2023, two separate bus and coach serious incidents rocked the industry. A month after a school bus full of kids rolled over after being struck from behind by a truck in Exford, Victoria, the Hunter Valley bus crash resulted in 10 passengers losing their lives and another 25 being hospitalised. In the wake of the tragedies, the Australian bus and coach industry has spent the past year looking for ways to make vehicles and transport journeys safer.

Heavy vehicle safety specialist SGESCO-MAX, through its MAX-SAFE range of solutions, is hoping that its occupant safety system will provide the key to improving the safety of bus and coach transport.  

“Those two accidents within a short period of time spurred the industry to get serious about solutions that could help bus companies to ensure people are wearing seatbelts,” SGESCO-MAX managing director Scott McPherson told ABC. 

“We’ve witnessed the safety side of the industry evolve rapidly over the past 18 months.”

In the aftermath of the past year, SGESCO-MAX’s MAX-SAFE occupant safety product range has gained traction as a solution for both bus operators and OEMs to use. The system focuses on monitoring the application of seatbelts and ensuring that they’re worn correctly. 

There’s also been personal motivation within SGESCO-MAX’s four walls to design and introduce the MAX-SAFE occupant safety system. SGESCO-MAX director of research and development Marc McPherson, who is also Scott’s brother, has been with the company for 40 years. When a close friend of his had a child injured in a bus accident, Marc began a mission to design a solution that could identify the seatbelt issue and fix it.

“It became a personal issue for us,” Scott says. 

“It’s taken plenty of hard yards – Marc got nowhere trying to meet with industry members, but now that other tragedies have occurred, it’s captured the attention of the market.”

With the MAX-SAFE maximum safety range installed on more than 18,000 vehicles to date and a dealership network that spans most of Australia and New Zealand, SGESCO-MAX has turned its attention to tackling the seatbelt challenge.

The occupant safety solution has enjoyed some success after being introduced to the market eight years ago with support from Greyhound Resources to promote safer mine transfers for companies like BHP. Whether it be the smaller mini-buses completing work in and around mines or coach transfers used in the resource sector, Scott says that the majority of buses used on those sites have the SGESCO-MAX system installed and operating effectively.

“The solution features four key components, starting with the seat itself,” Scott says. 

“The membrane in the seat is designed to understand if someone sits on the seat while the microswitch in the buckle also monitors if the buckle and seatbelt is applied in the correct order.

“The buckles and membranes then connect to a smart module located underneath each row of seats, which in turn is connected to a bigger spine through the bus to the main operator screen.

“Finally, there’s a buzzer under the seat that alerts the passenger if their seatbelt isn’t being worn correctly, as well as an optional light connection, providing both a visual and audio choice.”

Once a part of this system identifies that a passenger is sitting on a seat and not wearing the seatbelt in the correct fashion, the spine, which connects to a control display in the driver’s bay, notifies the driver of which seat features an occupant that isn’t properly wearing the seatbelt. Whether it be via a buzzer or a visual cue, the bus driver can then take action to ensure all people are safely secured in their seats.

Irizar has implemented the SGESCO-MAX occupant safety system on its bus bodies

The system has recently caught the attention of bodybuilder Irizar, who has begun working with SGESCO-MAX to offer the solution as standard for operators.

“I’d known about SGESCO-MAX and been involved with them previously while Irizar used an alternate supplier for seat sensors on mining and certain application vehicles,” Irizar Asia Pacific managing director Steve Heanes told ABC. 

“We had an issue with the sensor’s reliability, so we approached SGESCO-MAX and worked with them on a new system that we could integrate into our product.”

Now, Irizar is already looking at introducing the system into its factory, making it part of the seating harness that’s installed on all new Irizar bus bodies. This would make it easier to install the MAX-SAFE occupant safety system, meaning more new buses in Australia will feature the detailed technology.

“Most seat manufacturers have a sensor on the seat, but it doesn’t tell you what sequence the seatbelt has been put on and if it’s being worn incorrectly,” Heanes says.

“The SGESCO-MAX system has certain programming that recognises when a seat is connected properly, making it a smarter system that is harder to trick.

“The overall goal is for us to produce a safer vehicle and for operators to have safer passengers onboard.” 

Heanes and the Irizar team are intent on getting the system installed on as many new vehicles as possible, with the factory roll-out set to make it more affordable too. Much like SGESCO-MAX, Heanes is hoping recent accidents in the past year will motivate more in the industry to include this technology as standard.

“We feel that there’ll continue to be more opportunities to keep promoting safer vehicles that use this system,” Heanes says.

“SGESCO-MAX is a good and flexible Australian company, so we’re keen to help grow its bus and public transport side of the business.”

From SGESCO-MAX’s perspective, the next phase of its evolution on Australian buses will be to fully integrate its occupant safety system onto Irizar’s control system, using the Irizar display instead of its own. 

This comes as SGESCO-MAX is also conducting a trial of its MAX-SAFE occupant safety system on a CDC school bus in Ballina, NSW, alongside Transport for NSW (TfNSW).

“We’ve currently got our system in passive mode so that it just monitors seatbelt wearing without alerting so we can see how effective the process is,” Scott says.

“We’ll then turn the system on and see how much more effective the technology is.

“The end goal is to be able to run this remotely as part of our broader fleet management system – we’re thinking ahead.”

With the system being connected to more and more vehicles, SGESCO-MAX will look to produce reports on seatbelt wearing in the future to monitor the long-term usage of the safety technology on buses. Once the occupant safety system is connected to the Irizar harness, SGESCO-MAX is anticipating that the product will become a popular part of its MAX-SAFE catalogue that includes anti-rollaway protection, fleet management devices and blind spot/passenger monitoring. 

While the system may have gained traction following personal and industry-wide tragedies, Scott wants the occupant safety system to be a positive to emerge out of the incidents.

“A lot of forward thinking has gone into the product to introduce it into our entire safety ecosystem,” he says.

“Our core focus is occupant safety because we want to see change in the industry – we hope this product can help motivate the change needed.” 

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