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Road safety: how to give drivers a better view of bikes

A new scheme in London requiring all heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) over 3.5 tonnes to be fitted with extended view mirrors and side guards is due to start in September, having completed its formal consultation last year.

The instigator for the London- wide ‘Safer Lorry Scheme’ was an official report concluding that there was a “significant and disproportionate number of cyclists and pedestrian collisions involving HGVs”.

Transport for London (TfL) found that, between 2008 and 2012, HGVs were involved in 53% of London cyclist deaths despite making up around only 4% of all traffic. Provisional data for 2013 indicates that HGVs were involved in nine out of 14 cyclist and 13 out of 65 pedestrian deaths across the capital.

The scheme will be enforced initially using the criminal process, but it is expected to move to civil enforcement at a later date. A London Council’s spokesman explains: “Enforcement under the criminal process would see the issue of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs). If the driver pays the fine, currently £50, the matter is closed. If the driver decides not to accept the FPN, he or she will receive a summons to appear in court, where there is a risk of being given a fine of up to £1,000.”

While the Safer Lorry Scheme should help, it perhaps only touches the surface of the issue. As Chris Jones, chairman of the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum explains, side under-run bars have not historically been fitted to waste vehicles because they would get ripped off when vehicles went on to landfill sites and sunk in. As more trucks now go to transfer stations than landfill sites, the fitting of such bars should not be a problem for the industry.

But Jones points out that side under-run bars are to stop cars going underneath during motorway-style collisions. “A cyclist is small enough to fit between the under-run bar and the wheels,” he says, adding that there have been a series of fatalities between motorcyclists or cyclists and refuse trucks fitted with side bar protection.

“I do believe we should be fitting equipment such as the repeating voices to tell people that we are turning left, and maybe sensors, mirrors and cameras to enable drivers to see cyclists that are in their blind spots. So the principle of the London scheme I agree with completely.

“But the side under-run bar fixes a problem that is actually not the one that they are trying to apply it to. It will prevent some cyclists from going underneath – some will be pushed away by the bars. But the idea that the side under-run bar will stop a vehicle from running over a cyclist is just flat wrong – and, unfortunately, there have been too many cyclists killed, proving that point.

“So we need to see this as part of a much larger and more adult conversation about improving the safety of collection activities in general. The cyclist issue is important, as is reversing and pedestrians, where we kill far too many each year. But you need to see it as part of a whole solution.”

His fear is that installing a solution to solve one problem could inadvertently create another. But industry investment in cyclist safety technology seems to be on the rise.

Dave Sheppard, technical support manager at Specialist Fleet Services, a municipal contract hire and fleet management provider, says: “We have seen a lot more interest, particularly in London, where TfL’s Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) has been a big influence. However, certain operators that have started installing technology in London are beginning to roll it out on fleets in other parts of the country.”

Waste management firm Veolia announced in November that it was investing £1m in improving cyclist safety by fitting audible and visual nearside warnings on its nationwide fleet of 3,125 vehicles of 3.5 tonnes and above, using Vision Techniques’ TurnAlarm system. The company also said it was providing in-cab and on-bike cycle training for all its drivers, which involves drivers getting on a bike and obtaining a ‘cyclist’s eye view’ of an HGV as part of their annual Certificate of Professional Competence training.

Cyclist’s eye view

Gavin Thoday, director of Innovative Safety Systems, which manufactures the Cyclear cyclist warning system to detect when vehicles are being undertaken by cyclists, says he has “definitely seen an increase in interest in cyclist safety technology from all our customers, both local authorities and the private sector”.

He adds: “Commonly, when a new piece of technology is introduced in any marketplace, it takes 18 months to two years for it to be adopted. However in testament to the market’s readiness for Cyclear, we had orders flooding in as soon as we had built prototypes.”

Thoday attributes demand to the increase in vehicles on the road and the popularity of cycling: “Any fatalities are unacceptable and operators are keen to prevent such accidents. TfL, FORS and Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety are driving forces behind establishing best practice for HGV/cyclist safety procedures, technologies and policies on the roads of the capital, and these will soon be expanding nationwide.”

Cyclist’s eye view_1

He already has customers in Cardiff, Southampton and Edinburgh who have fitted the technology. Towns and cities with an abundance of cyclists, such as those with universities, are expected to follow.

For Jones of WISH, the cyclist safety issue is only one part of the puzzle: “The biggest piece of the jigsaw is that the recycling effort in this country has gone up and people want more commodities collected at the doorstep. Every time we want to collect a new commodity, another truck goes down a suburban street. So the amount of road risk is itself increasing.”

A WISH working group is looking at safety devices on RCVs and plans to publish guidance by the end of this year. It is a complex piece of work due to the sheer range of vehicles involved in the industry today. So it will most likely be available on a website in a format that is readily updatable to take into account of technology and procedural changes. TfL confirms that it has also commissioned research into cyclist safety technology.

Jones says the right safety solutions will differ for different types and sizes of vehicle, and that all the technology types have their pros and cons. “360 degree cameras have been fitted to a number of vehicles. But what we have seen is a number of accidents which are related to driver overload,” he explains.

Jones points out that drivers now face so much information while in their cabs – from route devices, client screens informing them of missed bins, images from maybe six cameras along with five mirrors to cover blind spots – as well as needing to look through the windscreen: “There is a danger that they just overload, and the industry has seen a number of accidents which we can attribute directly to this.”

He believes use of intelligent head-up displays, which present on a screen in front of you a key piece of information, one at a time, could help with this. He describes this as “quite exciting but in its infancy”, with the key to success hinging on getting the software right so that the display knows what key piece of information to present.

To solve the problem of running over cyclists, Jones says that a compound solution is needed: mirrors, sensors, better design of the cab, better management of driver competency.

Cyclist’s eye view_2

In September 2014, Loughborough Design School, part of the University of Loughborough, published research on how “realistic and economical changes” to HGV cab designs could lead to tangible increases in road safety and help save the lives of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. It was funded by TfL and campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E).

The ‘direct vision’ concept that was recommended includes a slightly curved and elongated nose on the vehicle, a smaller dashboard, expanded glazed areas in the passenger doors and corner of the cab and a slightly lower cab. This is designed to give HGV drivers more direct vision and reduce blind spots.

Such redesigns may start filtering in fairly soon. The European Commission has announced that in 2016 it will review vehicle safety regulations. William Todts, senior policy officer at T&E, explains this could mean that requirements such as direct vision and lowentry cabs for smaller urban vehicles, such as those used for waste, is pushed up the agenda.

Separately, in December, EU member states agreed to a voluntary deal to end ‘brick-shaped lorries’ and introduce new truck designs in 2022. These should improve protection for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as crash performance and the driver’s field of vision. Todts says this generally applies to bigger trucks of around 40 tonnes, but that any redesign of cabs by vehicle manufacturers could be expected to filter down through to their smaller truck ranges over time.

Jones believes the ideal solution for the waste and recycling industry may be to take a step back and amend the design of collection rounds to ensure that vehicles avoid meeting cyclists at critical junctions at critical times.

“If you can use your software to route your vehicles so that you collect in a pattern which avoids the places where you generally get a concentration of cyclists at a particular part of the day, isn’t that better?” he asks. “You are more likely to save cyclists lives by not being there at that time of day than you are by fitting side under-run bars.

“But that is a lot harder to achieve.”

Road safety: how to give drivers a better view of bikes

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