If cycling is on the increase on our roads, then so too, unfortunately, is the number of collisions between cyclists and HGVS. Paul Clarke takes a look at the worrying statistics.

Introduction

Cycling is high profile in London, with the Mayor encouraging the "Boris Bikes" scheme and being regularly seen on two wheels himself. Calling for a significant increase in cycling, Boris Johnson cited the health and traffic congestion benefits. Unfortunately, as even Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins can testify from personal experience, bikes and other forms of transport can sometimes be a dangerous mix.

From the point of view of transport operators, the most concerning statistic is that in 2011, in London, there were 16 cyclist fatalities, with nine of the accidents involving a heavy goods vehicle (HGV). A substantial proportion of those (25%) involved a large vehicle turning left or changing lanes to the left and striking a cyclist.

The worrying number of these collisions, and particularly those involving construction vehicles, led Transport for London (TfL) to commission an independent review into construction logistics and cycle safety. This found that, between 2008 and 2011, more than half (56%) of the cycling fatalities in London have involved large commercial vehicles, including a disproportionate number of vehicles involved with construction.

The review, carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), recognises the excellent levels of safety management that the construction industry provides on worksites. However, it argues that this needs to be extended to all vehicle movements related to the construction project, whether these movements are on or off site.

Asking the right questions

TRL was asked to investigate two particular areas of inquiry.

  1. Is it possible to understand the relative risk represented by construction vehicles to cyclists, when compared with general haulage vehicles? If so, what is it? What are the limitations in the data available?

  2. Are there features of contractual arrangements, working practices, driver behaviour, or vehicle design (or combinations of these) that contribute to the apparent over-involvement of construction vehicles in fatal collisions with cyclists in London?

The report includes 11 findings and 12 associated recommendations, detailed under four main headings: raising the profile of work-related road safety; improving work-related road safety management in the construction industry; making construction vehicles and journeys safer; and data improvements. A summary of the report is available on the TRL website.

Work-related road safety

TRL found that in the construction industry (as in other business sectors), road risk is viewed as less important than general health and safety risk. It therefore recommended that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) should extend the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) to include on-road collisions. Accepting that changes to RIDDOR of this magnitude will take a considerable amount of time to implement, the report suggests that, in the shorter term, HSE could develop an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) for work-related road safety (including the requirement to record on-road collisions), for use by all industry sectors.

The second main recommendation in this area is that adherence to a nationally-recognised standard on work-related road safety (such as the ISO39001 standard on road traffic safety management) should be promoted. Given that a new International Standard has recently been issued (ISO39001:2012), organisations of five or more employees driving to or from construction sites within the capital should be required to achieve this standard, or a similar standard as determined by the industry.

Making vehicles safer by design

Six specific findings relate to the safety of vehicles, journeys and drivers. The first two of these relate to the visibility around vehicles and to drivers' mental workload. First, although total blind spots seem likely to be rare, based on the small number of vehicles scanned in the current project, visibility of cyclists in some areas around vehicles still has the potential to be poor. Second, from the task analyses carried out, it is clear that there is great potential for driver error and high mental workload, particularly (although clearly not exclusively) in construction industry driving, and multiple changes will be needed to reduce this.

Two recommendations are offered to address these issues.

  1. Vehicle manufacturers should work to improve vehicle and mirror design, seeking to identify and implement design improvements that might be made specifically for vehicles driving on London’s streets (which could include changes to windscreen or dashboard design, as well as new technologies and improved mirror design).

  2. A wider review of the blind spots in different vehicle types should be conducted. The current research considers three vehicles of differing ages and produced by different manufacturers (a construction tipper, a concrete mixer, and a general haulage curtainside lorry), and therefore was not representative of the range of tippers, mixers and other vehicles available. A comprehensive review of vehicles used, in the construction industry and others, would greatly improve understanding of the challenges faced by drivers in relation to observing cyclists on the road. The outcome of such a review would be a business case for demonstrating the need for regulatory change in the UK or the EU.

Planning ahead

The report notes that mechanisms that might be used to manage road risk in London are not used as widely or as seriously as might be hoped. In particular, it highlights the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), which is a voluntary certification scheme ensuring and assisting fleets in managing their legal responsibilities and helping them strive for best practice.

Following this research, London's Transport Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy, is reported to have begun contacting the HSE, the Minister for Road Safety and Freight, and the European Commission to discuss how the recommendations can be taken forward.

Is this a transport or a construction problem?

When fatal collisions with cyclists involving HGVs in London are considered, it can be seen that rigid vehicles (which are more likely to be associated with construction than are articulated vehicles) make up 89% of the fatalities from 75% of the distance travelled; articulated vehicles are responsible for 11% of the fatalities from 25% of the distance driven. When the freight task is also considered, this analysis becomes much more stark, with rigid vehicles involved in 89% of the fatalities but only 54% of the freight lifted (tonnes) or 27% of the freight moved (tonne km); articulated vehicles are involved in 11% of the fatalities despite lifting approximately 46% of the freight (tonnes) or 73% of the freight moved (tonne km), on journeys to, from and within London.

Although road casualty statistics make it difficult to identify industry sectors associated with collisions, the evidence considered by the report did suggest to TRL that construction traffic is over-represented in collisions with cyclists in London. In order to clarify this position, it would like to see the police including the vehicle type "construction vehicle" in future accident reports and statistics.

The TRL report recognises that it is likely that the differences in risk between rigid and articulated vehicles are associated with features of the routes they drive, the vehicles themselves, and the types of journey in which they are engaged. The current project provides some initial findings on these issues, although more detailed research (including modelling of flow rates of cyclists and other vulnerable road users on routes used) would be required to answer this question conclusively.

Last reviewed 19 February 2013