Last reviewed 20 August 2014
Of the 14 cycling deaths in London in 2013, 9 involved a heavy goods vehicle (HGV), even though lorries make up only around 4% of traffic on the capital's roads. Paul Clarke investigates.
Some London blackspots have seen fatal accidents involving cyclists occurring several times in recent years, so poor road design must be a factor to be taken into account, as must lack of road awareness by cyclists themselves.
This does not, of course, relieve lorry manufacturers and drivers of their responsibilities, and it seems sensible to investigate the measures that can be taken to reduce the toll on cyclists when they share the often-crowded roads with vehicles that weigh several tonnes, and can be more than 40 feet long. That is certainly the view of Mayor Boris Johnson who has asked Transport for London (TfL) to look at ways in which the use of lorries can be made safer.
Safer Lorry Scheme
Early in 2014, TfL undertook a feasibility study that resulted in the report, Safer Lorry Scheme: The Way Forward. This highlighted that construction vehicles, which tend to be older than the general HGV fleet, are over-represented in the accident statistics. In 2011, for example, there were 16 cyclist deaths with 9 involving HGVs; 7 of these were construction vehicles.
Significantly, the report went on, many of these construction vehicles are exempt from national requirements to fit safety equipment such as side guards (also known as lateral protection devices) and extended view mirrors. TfL, working with London Councils, the umbrella organisation for the London boroughs, therefore decided that the quickest and simplest solution would be an outright ban on any lorry not fitted with this equipment. Discussions with the boroughs identified widespread support for the proposed measures.
If this is a sensible move for London, then clearly action at a national level would make even more sense, and TfL has already lobbied the Department for Transport (DfT) asking it to remove the exemptions to safety standards. Given lack of action in that regard, it has been decided to go ahead with plans to try to deliver safer HGVs in London. Based on analysis by the Transport Research Laboratory of data for the period 2008 to 2012, it is estimated that the presence of safety equipment on all exempted HGVs would mean that between 3.20 and 6.85 fatalities, and between 1.24 and 4.75 serious casualties, could have been prevented in that period. The highest cost-benefit ratio would be achieved, the TfL report concludes, by issuing a pan-London Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) to prohibit the currently exempted lorries, which are not fitted with required safety equipment, from using London’s roads. That proposal has been put forward for public consultation.
Following on from the feasibility study, the Safer Lorries consultation proposes issuing a TRO to prohibit HGVs over 3.5 tonnes, which are not fitted with the required safety equipment, from driving in London in an area equivalent to the Low Emission Zone (LEZ), a map of which can be found at www.tfl.gov.uk. This well-understood and established zone extends from Biggin Hill in the south, to Barnet and Enfield in the north, and from Hillingdon in the west, to Upminster in the east. Some diversionary routes around the periphery will be kept outside of the requirements of the scheme to allow HGVs not fitted with the required equipment to be able to drive around the M25 without entering Greater London.
Aiming to start in "summer 2015", the ban will apply to all roads within the zone, apart from motorways, and will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will be initially enforced through a criminal process with a £50 fixed penalty notice. The Traffic Commissioner would be informed of all offences.
There is the potential to move to a civil process, which would mean enforcement being carried out by civil enforcement officers and CCTV cameras, although this step would be subject to DfT approval. If it is introduced, it would be by way of a penalty charge notice set at £130 for "a moving traffic contravention".
How to comply
At present, UK law requires most HGVs to be fitted with side guards and extended view mirrors. Side guards are intended to reduce injury severity by preventing pedestrians and cyclists from being run over by the vehicle’s wheels should the side of the vehicle come into contact with them. Extended view mirrors are designed to prevent collisions from occurring by improving the driver’s field of view and reducing blind spots.
However, as mentioned, certain HGVs, including construction vehicles, are currently exempt from the national regulations requiring side guards. Older HGVs are currently exempt from national regulations requiring mirrors. These exemptions would not be allowed within the area controlled by the proposed ban, and lorries would have to be equipped with side guards, Class V side close proximity mirrors, and Class VI front projection mirrors.
Exemptions from these requirements are expected to be in line with Government requirements that come into force in October 2014 under new vehicle type-approval regulations. Examples of vehicles that cannot fit the required mirrors, as referenced in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) testing manual, include:
Johnston Sweepers 5000 series
Mercedes Chassis Cab Vario with two-wheel drive, and all Sprinters
Mitsubushi Fuso Canter
Isuzu N Series (any Isuzu up to 7500kg)
Renault Mascott and Maxity
Volkswagen LT and Crafter.
Only an "extremely small" number of vehicles will be exempt from side guard requirements in line with the Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) standards set by the DfT for new HGVs. These would include gulley emptiers, where the fitting of a lateral protection device would prevent the use of the suction tube.
The vehicles most likely to be affected by the Safer Lorries Scheme (ie those currently exempt from the side guard regulations) are refuse disposal vehicles and construction vehicles, such as tipper trucks, skip carriers and cement mixers. Vehicles that are currently exempt from national legislation for minimum safety equipment can, however, be retrofitted in order to comply with the requirements of the scheme. According to TfL, side guards can be fitted from approximately £500 and extended view mirrors can be fitted for around £300 per mirror.
The number of HGVs that would be required to fit this equipment as a result of the Safer Lorries Scheme is estimated at between 2500 and 7400 for side guards, and between 1250 and 18,500 for mirrors. A survey of companies with non-compliant vehicles found that 64% would fit side guards and 73% would fit extended view mirrors if the scheme were to be introduced. Just under a quarter (23%) said that they would rearrange operations so that only compliant vehicles operate in the London area.
The ban will also apply to foreign-registered HGVs. A sample of vehicles taken from LEZ camera monitoring suggests, however, that they account for only 2% of journeys in the zone. Of this relatively small proportion, an even smaller proportion could be expected to be construction vehicles, as it is not cost effective to drive these vehicles long distances.