Published: 23 September 2013
British Cycling has put improving HGV safety at the top of its campaign priorities. HGVs are involved in more cycling fatalities in London than any other vehicle-type (despite making up just 5% of traffic) and in 20% of casualties across the country as a whole.
There are various ways which government and industry can improve the safety of people choosing to travel by bike and in the past few weeks positive steps have been announced.
Last week, Transport for London and the Department for Transport made a joint announcement on a number of campaign priorities which represents real progress. Here look in bit more detail at what was announced
DfT and TfL to establish new industrial HGV task force to take direct action against dangerous HGV drivers, vehicles and operators
This essentially means that more vehicles will be stopped to check if they are compliant with the law. This is extremely welcome because cuts in numbers of traffic police mean that there are fewer checks on the road. Previous campaigns by the police to target HGV drivers came back with shocking levels of law breaking. For example, when the City of London Police conducted spot checks on lorries in 2008, 100% of the lorries stopped at random were breaking the law in some way and spot checks in Wales recently found 80% of all HGVs were breaking the law.
DfT to review exemptions to current HGV regulations
Regulations state that HGVs need to install safety features such as mirrors that remove blind sports and side-guards that help prevent people from being dragged under the vehicle if involved in a collision. Of the 16 people killed on bikes in 2011, 9 were killed by HGVs, of which 7 of them involved vehicles without side-guards. Loopholes in the legislation mean that there are exemptions for certain types of vehicles, the age of the vehicle or if it is taken ‘off-road’. British Cycling has been calling for these outdated exemptions to be removed so this action is extremely welcome.
Call for European Union to speed up its review on the design of HGVs to increase drivers’ visibility of vulnerable road users
This is the single most important change needed to improve cycle safety. Vehicle design is controlled by EU Directive 96/53/EC which places limits on size and weight of vehicles. The European Commission has tabled proposals to update the Directive but in their current form it will do little for cycle safety. TfL is involved in lobbying efforts to make improvements to the legislation but will also need support from DfT if it is to be successful.
DfT and the Driving Standards Agency issuing a call for evidence about how driver training could change
The vast majority of commercial HGV drivers need to hold a Certificate of Professional Competence which requires 35 hours of periodic training every 5 years. However, the system needs to be revised to include elements that test drivers understanding of how people on bikes behave, the common causes of crashes and how these can best be prevented. Any review should take the opportunity to include a mandatory cycle safety element. For example, the ‘Safe Urban Driving’ course is a requirement for all drivers delivering contracts for Transport for London. It is seen as the gold-standard of cycle awareness training and includes elements of on-bike training. This means that the whole country will benefit for better trained drivers not just those in London.
The Mayor is also asking Londoners for their views on whether he should use his powers to levy a substantial “safer lorry charge” on any HGV which is not fitted with basic safety equipment to protect cyclists
This is a new and interesting idea. The Mayor would use powers to dissuade vehicles without certain safety equipment (e.g. mirrors, side-guards, sensors etc.) form London’s streets by imposing a significant levy. The charge would effectively close the current legal loopholes that allow many vehicles to operate without vital cycle safety equipment. It would be another sign of the Mayor being one step ahead of government on cycle safety issues.
One crucial element missing from this announcement, and something that the Mayor promised to do in his vision for cycling in London, is to review policy options for restricting HGVs at the busiest times as Paris and Dublin have successfully implemented. In Paris, there are strict controls on HGV deliveries - this effectively stops them from using the road. The most restrictive times are for the largest and most polluting vehicles which are kept away from roads during peak hours. There are no restrictions like this in the UK but they have the potential to make big improvement to cycle safety.