Thorsten Wagner

European safety gap?

25 June 2024

Now and again, touring coaches tip over or have other spectacular accidents. Unfortunately, 2024 is another notable year with a relatively high number of such incidents. It’s high time for our guest author and bus and coach expert, Thorsten Wagner, to call for a voluntary agreement from the bus industry to adopt two important new safety systems.

TEXT I Thorsten Wagner PICTURES I Thorsten Wagner, Daimler Buses, MAN Truck & Bus

Modern buses and coaches are safe! This fact is undisputed, no matter what statistical basis is used, but in the rare „worst-case scenario“, the question usually arises as to whether it is due to technical or human error – or even something in between. The four double-deckers that overturned in quick succession in the spring of this year each represent the classic accident scenario for coaches, especially double-deckers: including the serious consequences of leaving the right lane. Once the front right-hand wheel of the coach, which weighs up to 26 tons, has sunk into the soft verge, there is almost no way around tipping over to the side.

Due to their higher center of gravity, double-deckers tend to be somewhat more prone to this fatal behaviour. The structure of the frame and the survival spaces for passengers are also weaker or more limited due to the design, because the ECE R66.02 vehicle stability directive, which otherwise applies to buses and coaches, does not apply to double-deckers, making it all the more important that the industry does everything technically possible to prevent them from leaving the road as reliably as possible. After all, the lifes of around 80 passengers are at stake!

„Active Lane-Keeping“ is still very rare

Active and radar-supported lane departure warning systems and passive, camera-based lane keeping systems, which warn by means of vibration in the seat but do not actively intervene in the steering, have been available for around 20 years now. Both systems are required by law, as are the beneficial emergency brake assistants. Active lane-keeping systems like those in cars were first introduced for coaches last year by market leader Daimler with the „Active Drive Assist 2“ (ADA 2) system. Daimler has often been ahead of the law in terms of safety development, putting pressure on the industry and legislators (in this case mostly the EU).

The latest major package of European legislation is called the „General Safety Regulation (GSR)“. It will be introduced in three stages up until the year 2029. In mid-2024, many useful new systems such as radar-based turn assistants or drowsiness warning systems will become mandatory for buses, coaches and trucks, but not the aforementioned active lane departure warning system - this is only required for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles! This in turn means that very few manufacturers actually offer this highly developed system for coaches.

The pivotal point is that the latest electronics platform is required to implement the sophisticated new technology in the vehicles, and this is often linked to the long model cycles of around ten years. The development is expensive and time-consuming, especially for models with small unit numbers such as double-deckers, of which only around 500 are sold in Europe each year (out of a total of around 5,000 touring coaches). It is therefore hardly surprising that Daimler has not yet converted its iconic Setra S 531 DT double-decker, that was completely overhauled in 2018, to the new electronics of its single-deckers - active lane guidance is therefore not available for the time being, as it has been for the other Setra models since the middle of last year. All four of the buses recently involved in the accidents were Setra double-deckers from the 400 or 500 series. Likewise the Mercedes-Benz “Safety Brand“ is unfortunately misrepresenting the issue with its sole touring coach model Tourismo, that has the same “safety gap“.

„Safe Stop Assist“ now also from MAN

The ADA-2 system could possibly have prevented some of the four recent accidents in Germany - despite all the imponderables in the fragile interplay between technology and physics. In addition to automatically guiding the bus back into its lane, Daimler‘s “ADA 2“ system can even recognize when the driver has stopped responding for a certain period of time, that means he or she no longer steers or performs other driving actions. After several warnings, the system automatically initiates an emergency stop in its own lane whilst taking possible obstacles into account. This is an extremely useful system, which has been offered until now only by Daimler for single-deck Setra coaches and is not required or even mentioned by EU-legislation.


After all competitor MAN Truck & Bus is now following suit and is also offering its “Safe Stop Assist“ as an option for the new 2024 models, which are currently going into production with the new electronics. For all MAN and Neoplan coaches and even for the Lion‘s Intercity intercity bus! “Late, but powerful“, one is tempted to say. The fact remains, however, that two of the most important systems that could prevent serious accidents with coaches are neither required by law nor have they yet penetrated the broader market. As the GSR is clearly incomplete here, the industry in Europe should seriously consider a voluntary joint commitment as in 2003 – another „annus horribilis“ for coach accidents, in which German manufacturers (and only those)  committed themselves to electronically decelerating coaches, even downhill and with a tailwind, at the national speed limit of 100 km/h. In this way the tables would be turned and the EU legislators would be put under pressure by the industry for a change.

Basically positive Busbuilder Feedback

Daimler Buses is generally not averse to such a voluntary commitment and, when asked by us, commented as follows: “From our point of view, a voluntary commitment is basically conceivable, at least to have such a system as optional equipment in the range.“

Unfortunately, however, the system in question is not available for all models! “Ultimately, the customer decides which systems they want to have in their vehicles,“ Daimler continues, but the company does not want to reveal how the customers really decide on this issue: “Please understand that we do not comment on installation rates.“ The price for the life-saving system will also not be disclosed.

According to my research, it is around 4,000 euros, which is still within reasonable limits.

MAN Truck & Bus also prefers not to name a pricetag, but it is likely to account for a significant proportion of the general price increase of around 30k euros for all the 2024 model year changes. The manufacturer is converting all coaches to the new electronics and can offer the active lane departure warning system across the modelrange - including the Skyliner, the double-decker of their premium brand Neoplan. The Munich-based company is therefore quite sure of its case: “We are fundamentally positive about a possible voluntary commitment by the bus industry to install active lane departure warning systems or to include them in GSR Level 2, as this function can further increase safety. The investment decision is ultimately made by the customer.“ But should safety be a pure investment decision? Not in my opinion.

Safe is safe – but more can be done!

In short, bus and coach safety has come to a very high level. But even the few accidents could be further reduced if the best available technology were also widely installed, even for vehicles with very small numbers such as the double-decker as the undisputed climate champion with record breaking CO2 values per passenger kilometer (less than ten grams when fully occupied). This is just what the „Vision Zero“ programme of the EU to avoid accidents altogether is intended for.

And when it comes to the topic of buckling up as a passenger, we all need to take a good look at ourselves and think about whether wearing a seatbelt in a coach has already become a matter of course, as it is in a car or plane. Only then can we make a real quantum leap in bus safety instead of getting helplessly tangled up every few years in nebulous “expert discussions“ with no tangible consequences for the safety of bus and coach users. ◼

Thorsten Wagner

DON'T IMITATE: For a short period of time, the ADA-2-System from Daimler keeps the coach safe and sound on the motorway in a partly automisation within SAE level 2.

Thorsten Wagner

THE DOUBLE-DECKER NEOPLAN SKYLINER offers from now on the newly introduced MAN electronics platform and the ingenious „Safe Stop Assist“.

Thorsten Wagner

MODERN FUSED RADAR- AND CAMERA SYSTEMS detect also „vulnerable road users“ like pedestrians and cyclists.

Thorsten Wagner

RADARBASED EMERGENCY BRAKE ASSIST is an important help to prevent fatal rear end collisions in traffic jams.

Thorsten Wagner

The Author

Thorsten Wagner (52), who was born in Hesse and now lives in Rhine-Hesse, is a bus and coach tester and commercial vehicle author for more than 20 years now, including twelve years at ETM Verlag. He carries out professional vehicle tests, his first test being the Setra double-decker in focus here in 2003. Normally he drives gurgling water puppets as ballast for testing, but he definitely prefers to move people made of flesh and blood. In January 2022, he also co-authored a book about the Neoplan Cityliner published by Stuttgart-based Motorbuch-Verlag. At Busworld 2023 he was initiator and Jury Member of the new "Busworld Digital Award" as well as the only German member of the Busworld Vehicle Award Jury.