The Mayor of London says lorries need to be made safer for cyclists. Alongside the Transport Minister, Boris Johnson unveiled a raft of measures designed to make it less dangerous for cyclists and Heavy Goods Vehicles to travel side-by-side in London and there could be a charge for HGVs which don’t meet the new standard.
The proposed London Safer Lorry Charge is partly modelled on the London Low Emission Zone, which charges up to £200 a day for commercial vehicles that do not meet tough emission standards. A new HGV Task Force would expand enforcement capacity against problem HGVs issuing penalties for vehicles that do not feature required safety features.
So what does all of this mean in reality?
Presently, the law allows older vehicles not to have the latest mirrors in place that improve the drivers field of vision, and also whilst many vehicles require side bars that push cyclists away from wheels if they are hit, there are exemptions to this and it is these exemptions that are now being looked at. The exemptions apply to a whole host of vehicles including construction vehicles and also waste refuse vehicles, such as that involved in the fatal collision in London yesterday.
Representing operators of heavy goods vehicles across the country means that my initial concern centres around the implications for hauliers, many of whom are already struggling to keep their heads above water. The cost of retrofitting on older vehicles could cause great difficult in an industry that is already financially struggling, and this could be a burden too far for some operators meaning that they could not continue with their work in the City. Increasingly hauliers struggle with the unique regulations of driving HGVs in the centre of London, and this is only going to further add to that confusion which in turn would lead to penalties being issued to the non-compliant. However, whilst this could spell troubling times and confusion for hauliers operating in London, there has to be a careful balance weighed up against the accidents that could be prevented if the proposals are implemented.
The Background to Concerns
When you look at the figures in London with 53% of cycling fatalities in 2011 involving HGVs despite making up just 4% of the traffic, you cannot help but understand the reason for Boris Johnson and Stephen Hammond looking at this issue so carefully. What is even more concerning, particularly for the construction industry is that vehicles servicing construction sites appear to be disproportionately responsible for cyclist deaths, as stated in a study earlier this year by Transport for London (TfL) entitled “The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London”.
The report concludes that in the construction industry there is a “lack of ownership of road risk” with many contractors stating that before a delivery vehicle passes through the site gates and once it has exited, it is not their problem. It also found that “road risk is viewed as less important than general health and safety risk on site” and criticised the construction industry’s rigid approach to time slots citing unrealistic delivery windows as a contributing factor to the high incident rate.
A number of recommendations were made in that report including doing more work on blind spots on lorries, however, there was no mention at that stage of the possible introduction of a Safer Lorry Charge zone or the possible removal of exemptions for construction vehicles from fitting sidebars.
Responsible operators using vehicles in and around London are often already taking steps above and beyond their legal requirements to make their vehicles as safe as possible for bicycles,
One example of a proactive and responsible approach being adopted by one of London’s largest construction projects is at the Crossrail project which has implemented requirements on contractors’ large delivery vehicles in a bid to improve cycle safety and to prevent death arising from HGVs involved in the project. Requirements are written into contracts and are rigidly enforced and include:
- Blind spot proximity sensors and warning alerts for cyclists;
- “Fresnel lenses” for better driver field of view;
- Side scan equipment which results in an audible tone in the cab if a cyclist is detected on the left inside of the vehicle;
- Guards to prevent cyclists from coming into contact with lorry wheels and;
- Better vehicle signage to warn cyclists and pedestrians.
HGVs not meeting the standards are turned away from sites and any costs incurred as a result are levied on the contractor. This applies both to HGVs operated directly by a contractor or those operated on their behalf by a haulier. All Principal Contractors involved in the £14bn project are committed to the strategy and share the view that ultimately this should lead to the raising of standards across the construction industry and potentially the rest of the haulage industry.
This project is a great example of ultimate best practice, however, there are many vehicle operators that have chosen to implement increased mirrors, guards and sensors to their vehicles which are operating in the City.
Aside from the obvious benefits of preserving life and reducing serious injuries, and the stress and trauma that invariably follows, measures such as these are becoming less expensive and will soon be widely regarded as ‘basic measures’ which are expected to be in place in order for an operator to demonstrate that their organisation has done all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of employees and other persons. Involvement in serious incidents not only will attract the attention of the Police and health and safety enforcement agencies, but can result in a call to appear in front of the Traffic Commissioner who can ultimately revoke an operator’s licence.
I regularly advise my clients operating HGVs to regularly review and test their health and safety systems, policies and procedures in order to ensure that they are able to demonstrate a proactive approach to the management of risk and where proposals such as those from Hammond and Johnson arise, hauliers are best advised to consider the points being made and if they could make changes to their fleet.
The other side of the coin
I have represented a HGV driver who was prosecuted following a collision with a cyclist in central London and through that case, gained a greater understanding of the difficulties that drivers encounter with cyclists in London. Whilst everybody’s safety is paramount and means of protecting the safety of others should always be looked at and improved (so far as is reasonably practicable) there comes a point where you have to ask, is it reasonably practicable to have every safety feature on the market fitted on to vehicles as they become available to the market? Where does it stop?
Due to the number of cyclists in London and heavy vehicle traffic that share the roads, London will always offer a skewed figure of cyclist/vehicle collision as compared to other cities. Again, I would stress that cyclist safety is a major area of concern and possible improvements that could be made to reduce accidents should always be looked into, however, HGV drivers often get an unfair press. There is no professional driver that would go to work with the intention of hurting anybody. Professional drivers often take huge pride in their work and looking after other road users; you only have to look at the hero lorry driver that blocked the carriageway in today’s pile up in Kent to prevent further tragedy to see an example of this. However, unfortunately collisions do happen, but people should not be too quick to lay the blame at the door of the haulier without knowing the facts. Cyclists can and sometimes do act in unpredictable ways, undertaking other vehicles, placing themselves into blind spots, rushing to get on with their journey. Whilst it is very difficult to regulate the behaviour of cyclists and the equipment that they use (for example high visibility clothing / mirrors on their bicycles etc) hauliers are regulated and because of this they often have to face regular changes and updated requirements to operate their vehicles.
HGVs in the City
London takes the opposite approach to some other major cities in northern Europe when it comes to HGV operation by restricting the largest vehicles from entering the city during the night. This forces HGVs into using the road during the rush hours when the majority of cyclists are on the road. Night time restrictions on HGVs have been in place since 1985 and are designed to limit environmental impacts and noise pollution for residents. While this is a valid reason, it means HGVs have no choice but to use the road during the day time. Perhaps the focus should be towards these rules given that cyclist traffic in London has increased rapidly since those restrictions were implemented?
In stark contrast to London, in Paris HGVs are kept away from roads during peak hours with the largest vehicles only being permitted to deliver during the hours from 10pm to 7am. These restrictions have seen haulage companies there using smaller, low emission vehicles which are often newer vehicles with better visibility and an increase in ‘consolidation depots’ where loads are shifted from larger to smaller vehicles driven by employees with experience of the city. When you look at the figures, they say it all as in 2011, there were no cycling fatalities in Paris compared to 16 fatalities in London. From 2007, Dublin also made changes to keep HGVs off the roads there when they are at their busiest, as opposed to London which forces HGVs onto the road at this very time!
I am not saying that all HGVs should be banned in London during the daytime as this is clearly unworkable in a city that has so much ongoing construction, which needs to operate during daylight hours and also the fact that London is a residential city meaning that large vehicles are needed for domestic use such as waste disposal. But what I am saying is perhaps a wider view needs to be taken in London to protect all road users, and this would go beyond fining hauliers for not having the latest safest devices on their vehicles. It is perhaps this approach that the FTA’s Karen Dee was referring to when she criticised Boris Johnson’s announcement. Nobody working in the Transport sector would criticise a fair and balanced approach to increasing vehicle safety if it was shown to save lives, however, all alternatives should be looked at rather than just opting for the change that impacts the hauliers (and their pockets). By adding sideguards to all large vehicles you are still not addressing the issue that our country’s hauliers are being forced to use London’s roads at a time when they are at their busiest.
Head of Road Haulage & Logistics, DWF