Don't just train people to avoid lorry danger - minimise it, says CTC
The Commons Transport Select Committee called last week for a one-off hearing on cycle safety following the recent spate of six cyclist fatalities within 13 days in London, plus three more elsewhere in Britain. It brings the total of cyclist deaths in London so far this year to 14, equalling the number for the whole of 2012.
The oral evidence session will take place next Monday (2 Dec 2013). It follows on from the Committee’s 2012 inquiry on the Government’s Road Safety Strategy, to which CTC presented both written and oral evidence. CTC President Jon Snow also appeared at the inquiry, making a passionate call for “leadership”, a point taken up by the Committee as its headline recommendation.
In the aftermath of these recent fatalities, CTC has highlighted a basic principle of risk management, namely that the primary solutions involve seeking to eliminate the source of risk, or reducing it as far as possible. Only when you have reduced risk as far as practically possible do you then consider training people to avoid that risk.
With the Government preparing a Green Paper on driver training and testing, we would like cycle awareness – and preferably actual cycle training – to be an integral part of driver training, particularly for bus and goods vehicle drivers.
The roles of education and enforcement
That is not in any way to belittle the importance of training and awareness campaigns, for lorry drivers and cyclists alike, backed up by proper traffic law enforcement, targeted at the offences which cause the greatest risk. Indeed, these are probably the best available solutions in the short term.
CTC’s campaigning prompted the Government to adopt the Bikeability national cycle training scheme, which has replaced the old Cycle Proficiency scheme. We would like to see cycle training on the curriculum in all secondary as well as primary schools, with funding available to make it more widely available to adults too. Moreover, CTC’s Road Justice campaign strongly supports increased priority for roads policing. We are concerned that cuts to roads policing may explain the recent increase in the risk of cycling, reversing a previous trend of steadily increased cycle use and improved safety for cyclists.
CTC very much welcomes the efforts of some councils and freight industry operators to offer cycle training for their lorry drivers, as well as raising awareness among cyclists of the risks of riding on the left hand side of lorries. With the Government preparing to publish a Green Paper on driver training and testing, we would like cycle awareness – and preferably actual cycle training – to be an integral part of driver training, particularly for bus and goods vehicle drivers.
However, Mayor Boris Johnson’s grossly insensitive “finger-pointing” remarks, apparently blaming cyclists for their own deaths, have not helped resolve the issue. We should not be arguing over whether responsibility lies with drivers or with cyclists. Lorries are three times more likely than buses to kill a cyclist per urban mile travelled. The problem is fundamentally the design of lorries.
Real 'big win' solutions
The real solutions then, in accordance with the principles of risk management, are:
- Redesign busy roads and junctions, to minimise conflict between cycles and motor vehicles;
- Redesign lorry cabs, lowering the height of the driver’s cab and increasing the area of window in front of and to the side of the driver, so they are able to see cyclists and pedestrians near them as easily as bus drivers can.
- Reducing the number of lorries on the busiest roads at the busiest times.
During yesterday’s Parliamentary debate (26 Nov 2013), Brentford and Isleworth MP Mary Macleod (Con) rightly called for more spending on junction improvements, for safety equipment (e.g. cameras and sensors) to be fitted onto lorries, for more cycle and lorry driver training, and for stronger police enforcement of traffic rules for all road users.
Sarah Wollaston MP (Con, Totnes, and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group) also joined in the debate. She echoed a key recommendation of the All Party Group’s ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report, calling for consistent long-term spending of at least £10 per person for the whole country, not just a handful of cities.
The role of Government
In response, cycling and road safety minister Robert Goodwill MP set out what the Government is already doing on cycling and cycle safety, emphasising that the Government’s forthcoming Cycling Delivery Plan is being drawn up in conjunction with stakeholders, including CTC.
[We had] a really useful discussion of the barriers to safe lorry cab designs, and how these might be overcome. Yet the one organisation that could do most to address these issues – i.e. the Government – wasn’t there.
Freight operator Cemex organised a very useful and well-attended seminar on cycle/lorry safety last week. It included an excellent presentation from Loughborough University on the difficulties for drivers in seeing cyclists, pedestrians, or even cars, in their so-called 'blind-spot'.
The researchers said a lorry driver would need at least 5 seconds to check all of their mirrors properly – by which time, something could have changed in the area covered by the first mirror.
This led to a really useful discussion of the practical and regulatory barriers to safe lorry cab designs, and how these might be overcome.
Yet the one organisation that could do most to address these issues – namely the Government – wasn’t there.
CTC has written to the Minister urging him to take action on lorry safety, and we await his response. If some good is to come of this horrific spate of cyclist fatalities, it will be because the Government finally joins Transport for London and some of the more responsible freight industry bodies in realising that sitting on their hands, or blaming cyclists themselves, is not going to save lives. Safe roads and junctions, safer lorries, or simply fewer lorries, are the real solutions.