Tuesday 19 March 2013 15.46 EDT
Source: The Guardian
London Cycling Campaign proposes plans to cut height of lorries and to extend side windows of the cabs
It is one of the most terrifying moments for any novice urban cyclist: the first time a huge, high-sided construction truck lumbers alongside, the driver invisible within their lofty cab. Now a leading cycling group hopes it has come up with a solution – the cyclist-friendly lorry.
The draft design, to be unveiled on Wednesdayby the London Cycling Campaign (LCC), reduces the overall height of the lorry, especially the driving position, and greatly extends the side windows of the cab, stretching them as close to road level as possible. While drivers of the traditional lorry have to rely on mirrors and sensors to spot cyclists or pedestrians close to the front offside of the vehicle, if they can detect them at all, the new design all but eliminates this blind spot.
It is undoubtedly a big issue, especially in London, where lorries form about 5% of vehicle traffic but are responsible for about half of all cyclist deaths, with a preponderance of these involving construction lorries, often turning left into a cyclist. In 2011, of the 16 cyclist deaths in London, nine involved lorries, of which seven were construction vehicles.
If elements of the LCC’s design look familiar that’s because they’re already in use – many domestic rubbish lorries already feature low-silled glass doors, allowing the drivers to look out for both refuse staff collecting bins and other pedestrians. This demonstrated how construction companies could change if they wanted to, said Mike Cavenett from the LCC.
“We’re very much not saying this is pie in the sky stuff,” he said. “A lot of it does exist already. For example, on our truck with the front all we’ve done is taken something from an existing design and put it onto the construction lorry.”
A study released last month by Transport for London said construction trucks were disproportionately involved in cyclist accidents and recommended measures such as giving drivers delivering goods to building sites more realistic time slots to avoid them being tempted into recklessness.
The new design of lorry would involve more such changes in industry practice, said Cavenett.
“What the construction industry says is that they like high clearance on their lorries because they think of them as off road machines for when they go on building sites,” he said. “But there’s always a compromise between lorry’s capabilities and their safety on the roads, and we’re saying that balance has gone too far the first way. Also, construction sites are changing and they tend to be less like an off-road environment.
“Drivers are worried about getting stuck. But you have to adjust the way you drive to the vehicle you’re driving. If you’re driving one of these lorries you just have to drive it in a more skilled way. It’s all about a balance.”
Redesigning lorries for an entire industry is certainly a long-term plan, and might seem highly ambitious. But the LCC has form when it comes to taking on dangerous lorries, for example successfully campaigning for rules which mean freight companies cannot get TfL contracts unless their lorries have the latest safety equipment and drivers are trained to look out for cyclists.
Nigel Jackson, the chief executive of the Mineral Products Association, said: “MPA is happy to consider any innovation in vehicle design which could help reduce the risk of collision between lorries and any vulnerable road user.”
In the meantime, Cavenett and other experts reiterate the advice for cyclists faced by a lorry: keep either well ahead or well behind, and never, ever, overtake them on the inside.
He said: “That very high driving position is fantastic when you’re driving at high speed and want to be able to see ahead of you, but not when you’re in a city. As a cyclist you can often be close to one of these things and you can’t see the driver at all. You’re acutely aware that they can’t see you.”