Road Safety Week Blog
Better design of HGVs is key to improving safety for cyclists
London’s first walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman shares his views on why getting manufacturers to improve vehicle design will help prevent cyclist casualties.
Cycling in London is booming. For a decade it’s been our fastest growing type of transport, now topping 700,000 daily journeys. That’s about 20 per cent of the journeys on the whole Tube network each day. While this is great news for air quality and people’s health, there remains a pressing problem. Cyclists, along with pedestrians and motorcyclists, are significantly overrepresented among road casualties.
The long term trend shows our cycling safety programme is working, with casualties having reduced by a third against our baseline of 2005-09. In 2017 this continued, with fewer cyclists injured overall compared to 2016. However the number killed increased from eight to 10 and so far this year 12 people riding their bicycles have died on London’s roads. Simply bringing down the rate at which cyclists are killed isn’t good enough – we need to eliminate tragedies on our road full stop. Pedestrian casualties also increased in 2017 with a concerning rise in deaths involving HGVs. Motorcyclists remain very vulnerable, making up only one per cent of road users but a quarter of those killed and seriously injured. There remains much work to do.
The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is taking a stand against road danger by committing to Vision Zero and setting the goal that by 2041 no-one will be killed or seriously injured on London’s transport network. There are many aspects to the programme which will achieve this and it will require sustained commitment and investment.
One of the less-known elements of this work is probably one of the most significant. The new Direct Vision Standard, coming to London from October 2019, will directly tackle road danger and will have impacts beyond the UK. It focuses on HGVs which are consistently involved in collisions and deaths related to blind spots.
The concept is simple. If an HGV driver can see the area around their vehicle clearly and directly, they have a better chance of avoiding a collision than if they see indirectly or not at all.
Our world-leading research shows the extent of blind spots and the difference between types of HGV cabs and also proves that seeing a hazard directly, rather than indirectly via a mirror or camera, improves reaction times for drivers. At 15mph we found drivers of direct vision cabs could reduce their stopping distance by nearly five metres. If you’re on a bike or standing near a truck, that five metres is incredibly important.
This isn’t just good for vulnerable road users. I’ve been driven in different types of HGVs and heard from drivers how direct vision cabs reduce the stress and overload they feel when driving on London’s roads. It’s a better and safer experience for all.
Armed with this evidence, and working alongside vehicle manufacturers, the freight industry and vulnerable road user groups, we’ve developed the world’s first Direct Vision Standard. It rates HGVs from zero star (lowest) to five star (highest), based on how much a driver can see directly through their windows.
From October 2019 we will issue a new safety permit for any HGV over 12 tonnes operating in London. It will ban zero star HGVs unless they prove they have a safe system fitted. This will have an immediate impact on around a third of all HGVs operating in London.
Over time we’ll increase the rating threshold, as manufacturers make more direct vision vehicles available. By 2024 we’ll require a minimum of three star. In parallel we will update the safe system, incorporating the latest technologies and improvements.
This work is already resonating with operators and manufacturers and we’re seeing the benefits on London’s streets. Companies are already choosing direct vision lorries as they replace their fleets. And each new direct vision vehicle means one less dangerous truck on our roads.
While we do all we can in London, the way to get universal improvement is to change vehicles at the point of manufacture. Lorries don’t just service London and most of those operating in the UK are manufactured in Europe. The supply chains they serve stretch across national borders. In or out of the EU, that fact won’t change. That’s why I’ve been spending more time in Brussels than I would have thought I would coming into this job.
Our work with the European Commission has meant they adopted London’s Direct Vision Standard into their consultation on new EU regulations. This sounds dry and technical and, to be honest, it is. However, it’s a major step forward. Our work in London can only go so far. We’re collaborating with vulnerable road user groups in London and cities and organisations across Europe, to raise the ambition of the regulations for the whole continent.
This would make direct vision compulsory in the design of any new HGVs being manufactured in Europe. The European Commission proposes this from 2026 but I’m pushing for it to be sooner – we can’t afford to wait and we know the solutions already exist.
There’s still a way to go before the changes are approved – but it’s testament to London’s efforts that our standards should be setting international vehicle design for years to come.
In the meantime we are focussed on final preparations for next year’s permit scheme. Watch out for a consultation in January with our final proposals for the safe system and how the scheme operates. We’ll want your views, and your support.