With Inner London rapidly becoming a cycling heaven and a motorised hell, a series of measures to improve cycle safety in the capital have recently been announced by London Transport Minister Stephen Hammond, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and London’s Transport Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy CBE.
And the losers in this winning bid for two wheels? The much maligned and demonised HGV driver.
Ignoring the facts that a) not every HGV driver is a menace on the road that uses his/her bulk to bully every other motorist and cyclist and drives like they own the road; and b) that not every cyclist is an angel who keeps to traffic laws and is courteous to other road users and aware of putting themselves in danger because they ride like they own the road; the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL) have announced that not only are they putting more Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and Metropolitan Police officers on traffic duty to enforce HGV standards but also are establishing “a dedicated London-based industrial HGV task force to raise awareness of safety requirements for vehicles and drivers.”
This seems to be targeting HGV drivers, especially “the minority of dangerous operators, vehicles and drivers” but apparently this will be running hand in hand with the work that the Metropolitan Police are undertaking with the help of TfL funding where they are trying to improve road safety and cycle safety in London but also looking at enforcing the misuse of advanced stop lines and to fine cyclists who jump red lights. Woopy-Doo!
At the moment, national legislation states that the majority of HGVs (that includes such lorries as those undertaking supermarket deliveries) are required by law to be fitted with safety equipment such as sidebars or low skirts to protect cyclists and other vulnerable road users and to stop them being dragged underneath the HGV should a collision occur (that probably won’t be the cyclists fault (sic).
But there are a small number of vehicle types – such as certain vehicles operating in the construction sector – that are exempt from this safety equipment legislation and therefore are precluded from fitting it. With construction traffic in London rising due to the building boom taking place, these vehicles present a risk to the many cyclists, who now make up almost a quarter of all rush hour traffic in the centre.
So, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond has announced today that the DfT will be undertaking a review of such exemptions as the requirement to be fitted with side guards as well as the way that current regulations are applied to specialised mobile equipment such as volumetric concrete mixers and mobile cranes and the way that they are enforced.
“The government is committed to improving the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users. [The] announcement of a dedicated Industrial HGV task force will target the small minority of large goods vehicle operators who are unaware of, or just wilfully non-compliant with, safety regulations for HGVs and their drivers. I have also committed to review vehicle regulations to ensure there are no unjustified exemptions from safety standards and, together with the Mayor, will press the EU to improve vehicle safety designs as soon as possible.”
Both Mr Hammond and Mr Johnson are also looking at how they can liaise with manufacturers of HGVs to possibly redesign some of their future vehicles with particular relevance to the visibility of cyclists from lorry cabs, including cyclists at the front and on the nearside of lorries, as well as asking training providers and the road freight industry to help further improve driver training.
(It is also an idea that they will be asking Bikeability trainers to ‘promote’ better cyclist awareness of lorries – as if they weren’t big enough anyway! And how many cyclists take a test before riding on the road?)
The Mayor is also thinking of asking Londoners for their views on whether he should use his powers (that’s his elected powers; not those that the Daily Mail have given him under the title Super-Boris) to levy a substantial “safer lorry charge” on any HGV which is not fitted with basic safety equipment to protect cyclists. TfL are also looking at this ‘tax on the lorry.’
Boris Johnson, commented: “I have long been worried that a large number of cyclist deaths involve a relatively small number of problem lorries which are not fitted with safety equipment. In my cycling vision in March, I said that no lorry should be allowed in London unless it is fitted with equipment to protect cyclists. After a lot of work behind the scenes, we have [now] taken the first steps to make this a reality.”
Unsurprisingly, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) isn’t best pleased, and FTA’s Director of Policy, Karen Dee said: “FTA views the Mayor’s decision as unprecedented and authoritarian and considers it to be one that will create a mess of confused standards, leaving HGV operators not knowing what they are trying to achieve.”
“Improving road safety is a priority for FTA 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 for all road users.”
The FTA also expressed surprise at the statements from Mr Hammond and Mr Johnson, especially in light of the fact that they seem to have been backed up by TfL with whom the FTA had been working closely to achieve improved road safety. In addition to the ‘ongoing’ consultations and discussions, the FTA reminded the Mayor and the Transport Minister that already HGV operators had done a lot to improve safety by installing additional equipment, training drivers and making changes to the way they operate, and that the majority of HGV operators were already working to the highest safety standards.
And as a parting shot the FTA suggested that it is the responsibility of all road users to look after their own actions, especially cyclists who, Ms Dee suggested, should be subject to tougher standards for their own behaviour should they want London declared a cyclist safe zone with bike riders having an increasing part to play in improving road safety.
“We need to see cyclists taking responsibility for their actions, obeying traffic regulations, giving space to HGVs making manoeuvres and generally riding responsibly. Unless you also improve the behaviour of cyclists, the problem will not improve in the way that everyone wants.”
As neither a cyclist nor a HGV driver, and purely as an outsider, it seems that to me that it is the minority of HGV drivers and a slightly more than a minority of cyclists that is causing a furore about it all. And the fact that drivers have to take a test to go onto the road and cyclists don’t is not only a bugbear for motorised vehicle drivers, but also a safety concern. The fact that someone can go and buy a bike, having never driven one before, get on it and cycle in London (or any other town/city) traffic amongst cars, vans, motorbikes, lorries and construction vehicles is quite frankly ridiculous.