Cyclists and HGVs

Cyclists and HGVs

By in BikeShed

The enormous growth in the number of cyclists in the UK has been nothing short of a revolution. There have been benefits as a result, including a cleaner environment and better levels of fitness, but the increased use of bicycles on the road has also meant an increase in the conflict between cyclists and other road users. The conflict between bicycles and HGVs has been perhaps the most controversial and certainly the most tragic.

In 2011 HGVs amounted to only 4% of the traffic on London’s roads yet were involved in 53% of all cycle fatalities. The relative size of bicycles compared to HGVs means the potential for serious injury and loss of life in a collision between the two is significant. Transport for London calculated that a cyclist is 78 times more likely to be killed in an accident involving a HGV than one involving a car. HGVs seem to pose an ever increasing risk to the nation’s cyclists.

The issue came to a head in November last year when no less than 6 cyclists were killed in London in a two week period. They were all involved in accidents with HGVs. This tragic loss of life prompted an urgent debate on how we can improve our dreadful record of HGV related cycling deaths.

Can London learn from the policies adopted in other capital cities? Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman certainly thinks so. He has pointed to the example of Paris and Dublin who have both decided that the only way of preventing HGV related cycling accidents is to limit HGV access to off-peak hours. The principle being that if you limit the opportunities for collisions between HGVs and cyclists you limit the number of injuries and deaths. In Paris, larger commercial vehicles can only enter the city between 10pm and 7am. That wasn’t popular amoung the business community but it almost certainly contributed to Paris having no cycling deaths at all in 2011. By contrast, in London 16 cyclists lost their lives that year.

In Dublin, similar restrictions on HGVs have also reduced cycling related injury and has also resulted in an approximate 20% increase in the number of people cycling in the city.

Can such restrictions on HGV use be introduced in this country ? It seems unlikely but that doesn’t mean to say that other steps cannot be taken to promote cycle safety and to reduce HGV related cycling deaths.

Better training and awareness for HGV drivers is an obvious starting point. Visual aids and multi-mirrored vehicles can also help as can reversing cameras and barriers that prevent cyclists coming into contact with the wheels of an HGV.

Perhaps we can learn from the innovative approach to HGV/Cycle safety taken by Ealing Council in London. They recently trialled a new cyclist detection system for lorries which could help reduce blind spot danger to cyclists. This so called “Cycle Safety Shield” features Mobileye technology including a 360 degree view of the HGV and an alarm that triggers if the driver accelerates or brakes heavily, or crosses a white line at over 30mph without indicating. The system also warns cyclists, via a voice recording and a flashing sign on the side of the vehicle, if the driver is indicating to turn left.

Safety Shield Systems, who developed the product in the US, claim that the system trains drivers that multiple cyclists can be surrounding their vehicles in city environments and boast of a 60% improvement in driver behaviour.

The problem is the cost of implementation, currently at least
£4000 for each vehicle, means that it may not be taken up to any significant extent. There is also the issue of whether the technology can be applied to older commercial vehicles.

Although they are usually blameless victims of such accidents there are precautions that cyclists can take to reduce the risk of injury in the presence of HGVs. Cyclists are advised to:

  1.  Avoid riding along the inside of a large vehicle, especially near a junction;
  2.  Avoid undertaking a large vehicle waiting in a queue of stationary traffic on the approach to a junction;
  3.  Let larger vehicles pull away first if they are alongside them at a junction;
  4.  Never assume a large vehicle is going straight ahead just because it is not signalling left.

We are very unlikely, certainly in the foreseeable future, to have a Dutch style road system where cyclists and other traffic are separated. Until we do it is vital we take all the steps we can to reduce the risk to cyclists caused by coming into contact with HGVs. The number of HGV related cycling deaths is a national scandal and all interested parties; national and local government, cyclists, haulage firms, the police and safety campaigners must work together to improve the situation.