Last reviewed 3 December 2013
Crispin Kenyon, Partner at Weightmans LLP, looks at recent developments in technology that can be of assistance to HGV operators.
It is all too frequent, particularly in London, to read in a newspaper or see in an online or television news report of an accident involving a large goods vehicle and a bicycle.
All too often such incidents end as a tragedy for the family of the cyclist and the driver of the HGV involved. There are daily examples of appalling driving by car drivers, HGV drivers, motor cyclists and cyclists — with the cyclist or motor cyclist being the most vulnerable of these.
Transport operators must therefore live in a constant state of heightened anxiety at the prospect of a call from one of their drivers or the police to say that one of their vehicles has been involved in a collision.
As in the case of many collisions, it is not always the fault of the large vehicle. There are many occasions when car drivers fail to understand that a long vehicle at a roundabout or junction is going to have limited space to turn and that it is unwise to go between it and the apex of a bend. Other road users disappear into HGV mirror blind spots and then blame the HGV driver for not seeing them.
Advances in technology
Fortunately for commercial operators, there have been many advances in technology that can provide valuable back up to help deal with disputes between drivers before they escalate into costly litigation.
There have been tachographs in HGVs for many years. These assist with speed and working times but do not tell the story of what is happening outside the vehicle.
CCTV can help as it can show what really happened, compared to one driver’s opinion of what he or she did or did not do.
A case in point was a rear-end collision between an HGV and a taxi in early morning traffic which resulted in a prompt call by the taxi insurers to the transport manager of the operator alleging fault by its HGV. The HGV carried CCTV, which showed that the taxi cut across in front of the HGV so sharply that there was no chance to avoid a collision. The case was not pursued by the taxi driver and a claim for repairs to the HGV was processed by the taxi insurers.
Telematics enable operators to gather much more detailed information about the driving of a vehicle. Some insurers are offering this facility to car drivers as a means of keeping premiums low. The data gets fed back to the insurers who can then lower or increase premiums to match the standard of the insured’s driving.
EC Directive 2007/46/EC has promulgated vehicle safety as an issue for EU Member States and its interpretation is bringing telematics into play for private cars, according to a telematics consultant. The same, however, does not look like applying to commercial vehicles in the foreseeable future.
The haulage sector has shown a lack of interest in telematics, possibly because tachograph data provides what is regarded as sufficient information for current needs. It may be questioned as to whether the best protection for hauliers is being achieved through that approach.
There is also perhaps an understandable reluctance to engage in yet another layer of administration by transport managers. Drivers would also no doubt feel that the level of monitoring of their driving is already at the appropriate strength.
In the world where the HGV is always regarded as the “villain”, a combination of tachograph and CCTV can save a driver from prosecution where his or her standard of driving is under scrutiny against that of the all-knowing “reasonable driver”, who could be the driver of the legal fiction of the Clapham Omnibus rather than just a passenger. How much more effective would that be with the benefit of telematics as well?
There are also tracking systems available, so that with the GPS system fitted to the vehicle its location can be monitored at all times. This no doubt improves fleet efficiency to keep vehicles working but must also help in matters of security and safety of the driver and the load.
There are other devices available to enhance safety for the driver and those outside the vehicle, as outlined below.
Blind spot cameras
Some operators are now fitting blind spot cameras, but here the concern is that it is another focus of attention for the driver, in addition to wing mirrors and the view of the road ahead ─ whether or not the vehicle is turning.
There are audible warnings outside the vehicle when an HGV uses an indicator, and a cycle alert system has been trialled. This relies upon a device being carried on the bicycle or the rider’s helmet which emits a signal to be received in the cab of the HGV to alert the driver.
This raises a concern that the absence of a signal may be a reason for the HGV to make a turn without a full check of the near side mirrors.
Driver sleep monitors
For the driver, there is a device to detect, through monitoring of eye movement, whether he or she is entering a phase, especially at night or in the early hours of the day, where falling asleep at the wheel is imminent.
When reversing a large vehicle, the blind spots create dangers for other road users and this can be controlled by a proprietary brand of reversing detector. Most modern cars are fitted with such a device and it seems logical that large vehicles with limited visibility to the rear, even with cameras, should benefit from such a piece of equipment. This is in use by waste management companies and those operators who routinely make deliveries in close proximity to pedestrians.
Why technology can help
A fleet operator who takes occupational road risk control seriously will be pursuing these technological answers to the dangers faced and created by HGV drivers and other road users.
The police and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency are, of course, the main regulators for fleets but the Health and Safety Executive can become involved in vehicle accident cases where the driver is injured or work was being carried out, such as loading and unloading.
In that situation, it may be necessary for the operator to show that it has done everything reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of both its employees and non-employees.
A radio-operated Hiab crane system enables the driver to position him or herself away from danger and to monitor the safety of others in the vicinity, which would be a good example of a technological response to the duty imposed on fleet operators.
At the wheel of the HGV the responsibility rests with the driver to ensure his or her own safety and that of other road users. In the operator’s office the responsibility is with the transport manager and the business for whom they both work.
Technology should be seen as just one of the means to achieve the aim of safe vehicles and safety on the road.
Regular driver training and monitoring of driver performance through tachograph reports and driver assessment should, despite advances in technology, play the more prominent role in the management of occupational road risk.