Transport for London and the Metropolitan police run an "exchanging places" demonstration at cycle events, getting cyclists to sit in an HGV cab to see what an HGV driver sees. It's a shocking experience. HGV drivers have multiple mirrors to scan and still there are people-shaped blindspots (demonstrated by 'disappearing' police officers). On the one hand this reinforces the life-preservation technique of not riding into an HGV driver's blindspots but the cyclist in the HGV cab is also left to question why on earth such heavy, fast, unwieldy vehicles are allowed on the public highway with such amazingly limited vision.
It need not be like this, argues CTC's Dave Holladay. He suggests that future "exchanging places" demonstrations ought to feature a standard HGV and one of the trucks that have largely eliminated blind spots by having lower cabs and see-through doors.
The London Cycling Campaign published concept designs for construction lorries last year and there are commercially-available trucks which give the driver much greater direct visibility. The Mercedes Econic and the Dennis Eagle are trucks with high vision specified from the very beginning of the design process.
Holladay said "exchanging places" events need to provide a 'hi vis' truck next to a 'lo vis' one so cyclists and pedestrians can see the difference good design makes: "Dennis Eagle could provide an Elite cab vehicle and Mercedes could provide an Econic to show how the low cab does not compromise ground clearance. This would be a foil to having the 'bad' truck with a forest of mirrors and dire warning signs, and prompting cycle campaigners to press their local councils, employers, and suppliers to specify low cab trucks for urban use."
Transport for London has started working with six truck manufacturers, and a group of freight operators, on the design of construction lorries that would minimise the likelihood of collisions with cyclists and pedestrians.
"One of the key priorities is to develop high visibility cabs that design out blind spots," said Holladay. "It's critical there's direct vision between drivers and cyclists and pedestrians in close proximity to the vehicle cab, not secondary vision provided via mirrors or CCTV."
The TfL initiative is part of the two-year Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety project, the work of which will be profiled at an event at London's City Hall on 9th December.
Yesterday in Camden, London, a woman cyclist was hit by a tipper truck, and is reported to have life changing injuries.
There have been eight cycling fatalities in London this year, with many of the incidents involving HGVs, most of them tipper trucks. Last week an inquest was held into the death of French-born student Philippine De Gerin-Ricard who became the first person to be killed riding a Boris bike when she was hit by a truck in July.
Earlier this year, London mayor Boris Johnson announced compulsory safety measures for HGVs. Trucks must be fitted with sidebars, which stop cyclists being dragged under the wheels. Those without such sidebars risk a £200 fine. (Amazingly, tipper trucks are exempt).
HGV drivers are often found to operate outside the law. Operation Mermaid, a national roadside HGV check run by the Vehicle Operator Services Agency and the police, reports safe vehicle contravention rates of over 50+ percent.
HGVs account for five percent of traffic in London yet were involved in 53 percent of cycle fatalities between 2008 and 2012.
In Paris, there are stringent rules on when HGVs can enter the centre of the city, and are excluded during the busiest parts of the day, helping to reduce deaths and injuries for all road users (although cyclists are still killed by HGVs in Paris).
In London, it's the other way round: there are restrictions on HGVs making deliveries at night, something the Freight Transport Association has been arguing against for some time.
However, the Freight Transport Association is against safety equipment compulsion for HGVs: The FTA’s Karen Dee has said:
“Improving road safety is a priority for our members and many lorry operators already work to the highest standards. A huge amount of investment has been made by responsible operators who have gone over and above the minimum legal requirements to ensure that safety equipment is fitted to their vehicles. There are better ways of achieving safe roads.”