Thursday, September 5, 2013

Road Haulage and Freight Groups Speak Out on 'Cycles versus Trucks' Safety Issue

New Measures to Protect Cyclists Essential but Self Preservation Enters the Equation
Shipping News Feature

UK – Yesterday, the Mayor of London and the Department for Transport (DfT) announced measures to improve cycle safety in the capital, by tackling issues primarily in the road haulage industry and asking Londoners for their views on whether he should levy a ‘safer lorry charge’ on any HGV which is not fitted with basic safety equipment to protect cyclists, but the Freight Transport Association (FTA) referred to the ‘thin end of the wedge’ whilst the Road Haulage Association (RHA) was disappointed by the overall tone of the announcements.

Boris Johnson, along with Transport Minister Stephen Hammond and London’s Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy CBE, announced that the DfT, in collaboration with Transport for London (TfL), will ‘strengthen the enforcement’ of HGV standards, by dedicating more Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and Metropolitan Police officers to this activity in the capital. They will establish a dedicated London-based industrial HGV task force to raise awareness of safety requirements for vehicles and drivers and to take enforcement action against the minority of dangerous operators, vehicles and drivers.

Under national legislation, most HGVs, such as supermarket delivery lorries, are required to be fitted with safety equipment such as sidebars or low skirts which protect cyclists and other vulnerable road users from being dragged underneath the vehicle in the event of a collision. However, a small number of vehicle types, particularly those operating in the construction sector, are exempt from fitting certain safety equipment. The rising number of such vehicles in London’s building boom present a risk to the growing number of cyclists, who now make up almost a quarter of all rush hour traffic in the centre.

TfL and Crossrail procurement conditions already require that exempt vehicles are fitted with such safety equipment. Through a combination of contractual conditions and action taken by responsible operators, it has been proven possible to install safety equipment such as side guards as standard to construction related vehicles in London without a negative impact on operations. The government has stated its intention to review these exemptions with Hammond saying:

“...I have also committed to review vehicle regulations to ensure there are no unjustified exemptions from safety standards and, together with the Mayor, will press the EU to improve vehicle safety designs as soon as possible.”

By engaging involvement of the EU, the Minister and the Mayor hopes that vehicle manufacturers will improve vehicle design which should better the visibility of cyclists from lorry cabs. In addition to this, Hammond and Johnson also want to work with cycling proficiency training providers to promote better awareness of trucks, as well as with the road freight industry to help further improve driver training. Speaking yesterday in London, the Mayor Boris Johnson said:

“I have long been worried that a large number of cyclist deaths involve a relatively small number of problem lorries which are not fitted with safety equipment. In my ‘cycling vision’ in March, I said that no lorry should be allowed in London unless it is fitted with equipment to protect cyclists. After a lot of work behind the scenes, we have taken the first steps to make this a reality.”

In response to the Mayor’s announcement, the FTA stated that HGV operators are already doing a lot to improve safety by installing additional equipment, training drivers and making changes to the way they operate. FTA Director of Policy, Karen Dee said:

“FTA views the Mayor’s decision as unprecedented and authoritarian and considers it to be one that will create a mess of confused standards, leaving HGV operators not knowing what they are trying to achieve.”

“Improving road safety is a priority for FTA members and many lorry operators already work to the highest standards. A huge amount of investment has been made by responsible operators who have gone over and above the minimum legal requirements to ensure that safety equipment is fitted to their vehicles. There are better ways of achieving safe roads for all road users.”

The FTA is also calling for the need of all road users to take responsibility for their actions; stating that if London is to be declared a safe cycling zone, then tougher standards for cyclists’ behaviour should be introduced, and that they now have an increasing part to play in improving road safety. Dee added:

“We need to see cyclists taking responsibility for their actions, obeying traffic regulations, giving space to HGVs making manoeuvres and generally riding responsibly. Unless you also improve the behaviour of cyclists, the problem will not improve in the way that everyone wants.”

The FTA now calls on government and cycling groups to work together in order to ensure that current and future cyclists obey the rules and share the road co-operatively and responsibly. Whilst broadly comfortable with the review of the regulations covering side guards for trucks and keen to see the outcome of the EU to the joint TfL/DfT approach to Brussels regarding low cab/extra visibility truck design, the RHA was far from happy with the tone of some elements of the latest pronouncements. RHA Director of Policy, Jack Semple, commented:

“It would be unfortunate if the impression was left that the industry was being scape-goated, seen as easy targets because other necessary safety actions are too difficult or too sensitive. Cycle safety is affected by HGVs and their drivers, certainly, that is a point the RHA makes repeatedly to members; but it is also affected by the driving standards and culture in London as a whole and we need to see more emphasis on that. In 2012, more than twice as many cyclists were killed by cars as by HGV’s and more than 300 times as many were seriously injured by cars as by HGV’s.

“Poor cycling standards and wholesale disregard for the law and Highway Code is a hugely important issue and it should not be left to figures such as Laura Trott [double Olympic champion] to highlight the need for improvement, as she did a few days ago. There is a deafening silence from Boris Johnson and TfL on that issue, and then there is the design of the roads that cyclists and drivers are asked to share. Were either TfL of DfT to set down a specification for a safe road for driving and cycling, I doubt if many London roads would pass the test”

An RHA statement pointed out that no matter what actions were taken by the authorities if the roads are fundamentally unsafe, car drivers behave irresponsibly and cyclists continue to break the law, weaving in and out of traffic and can’t be seen in the dark, then accident rates would remain unacceptably high. Despite these reservations the RHA nevertheless welcomed the involvement of both HMRC and DWP in high profile roadside enforcement supporting the new HGV Task Force saying the latest action followed a well tried and successful formula. Jack Semple continued:

“The Task Force has the merit of taking an identified problem and addressing it head-on. The RHA proposed a similar clamp-down more than five years ago, when the issue of HGV operating standards was first raised by TfL. DfT minister Stephen Hammond’s statement that ‘we will target the small minority of large goods vehicle operators who are unaware of, or just wilfully non-compliant with, safety regulations for HGVs and their drivers,’ sends a very clear message and strikes the right tone.”

For road haulage operators who have cash to invest in better safety there are numerous systems on the market which can aid a driver, particularly in urban environments when directing a truck through traffic takes every bit of concentration yet inevitably leaves blind spots in his (or her) field of vision. We have detailed various solutions to this in the past and there are more and more products coming to market that will not only allow all round visibility, but also record details in the case that anything untoward does occur.

Photo: Sometimes a truck and a cycle can make a good combination!