Each year more than 400 people die from heavy equipment and agricultural tractor rollover accidents, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. A researcher at the University of Missouri has finished an app that may save some of those lives.
 
Called VRPETERS (Vehicle Rollover Prevention Education Training Emergency Reporting System), the app is a download to a smart phone or tablet. The app uses the sensors and GPS capability built into these mobile devices to detect a rollover, and then send an automatic emergency e-mail and phone message with accident location coordinates.
 
The app was designed by A. Bulent Koc, assistant professor of Agricultural Systems Management at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and research assistant Bo Liu.  Another version of the app consists of hardware installed onto the machine that detects upsets and sends out an emergency message.
 
Data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests that one of every 10 equipment operators will overturn a machine in his or her lifetime.
 
Koc said that many rollover accidents usually occur some distance from a road or residence, which means an accident can go undetected for hours. Having the emergency alert go out automatically is important if the operator is unconscious or pinned under the vehicle and can’t reach a cell phone.
 
The automatic call and email for help are an important part of the system’s ability to save lives.  Many farmers and heavy equipment operators think they can jump clear of a rollover, but that seldom works, Koc said. Side over-turns can occur in just three-quarters of a second. Most people need a second or more to react to an event, once there is the realization of a problem.
 
The app is designed to be used with dangerous vehicles including farm equipment, construction and mining vehicles, trucks, snowmobiles, military vehicles, riding lawnmowers and ATVs. The federal Consumer Products Safety Commission’s 2010 Annual Report of All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV)-Related Deaths and Injuries states that there were 726 deaths and an estimated 115,000 emergency room visits related to ATV accidents in 2010.  
 
Heavy equipment accidents include those involving bulldozers, backhoes, fork lifts, cranes and excavators.
 
Koc said he and Liu wanted VRPETERS to be as simple and inexpensive as possible. Increasingly, he said, farmers are using their smart devices to monitor weather or calculate production inputs, already putting them in the cabs of farm machines.
 
To minimize the number of false alarms, a VRPETERS-equipped smartphone is attached to the tractor, rather than left in a pocket. The app is designed to calculate the stability characteristics of the vehicle, and can provide a warning to the driver as the vehicles rollover point approaches.
 
Koc and Liu have also developed another device that can be permanently attached to a vehicle.  Parents or fleet managers can install this device in ATVs, riding mowers or fleet vehicles to obtain real-time data on how the machines are being used. Here, improper operation can be detected before an accident and an intervention made.