Road Safety Week

Cyclists and Lorries: Prioritising Road Safety over Blame Culture

In early June, a wonderful but somewhat surprising video went viral on social media. A young girl, confidently riding a bike on an A road gives a HGV driver a thumbs up as he overtakes, praising his wide and patient manoeuvre. We describe the video as surprising as it contrasts the usual destructive media posts on HGVs and cyclists. Typically, our screens and papers are overrun with negative press describing ‘yet another’ accident between the two vehicles, and upon reading, it can be difficult to ignore the overtones demonising HGV drivers and its accompanying scaremongering discourse. Unfortunately, collisions between HGVs and cyclists do happen, but, so do many safe overtakings, and yet the video shared earlier this summer is a rarity within UK news.

Despite the prevalence of negative press on HGVs road-sharing with bikes, the reality of collisions is significantly less than suggested. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents,only 1.5% of cyclist casualties happen in collisions with HGVs, with the majority of accidents (79%) actually occurring between bikes and cars. However, due to the size and weights of heavy goods vehicles, the 1.5% of accidents which involve a HGV accounts for 16% of cyclist fatalities.Although these statistics are significantly lower than the general media suggests and whilst we are keen to tackle the media-stimulated stigma of HGV drivers, here at Barnes, we do understand that the figures of cyclist casualties and fatalities are too high, and we are certain that other road-users can agree; regardless of your vehicle type, everyone should be entitled to travel safely on Britain’s roads. The following will therefore focus upon the ways in which the industry is aiming to overcome cyclist safety issues, and largely, it seems that education is key.

In many accidents between HGVs and cyclists, it seems that limited vision (from the cab) is a contributory factor. Equally, it appears that many cyclists do not know the limitations to a cab driver’s vision, and so a number of programmes have been launched in an attempt to better this knowledge between the two parties. However, not all of these have been met with positive reactions – just last year the Department for Transport faced criticism for producing a video which cyclists labelled as ‘victim blaming’. The text depicted a cyclist being caught by a HGV as it turned left at a junction and was narrated with the caption: “Don’t get caught between a lorry and a left turn. Hang back”.

Evenly, we highlight how HGV drivers face similar accusations; an online publication produced an article on the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Exchanging Places’ programme and wrote about how it aimed to educate cyclists on the ways in which HGV drivers ‘choose’ not to see cyclists. On overview, it seems that blaming occurs on both sides, but it is imperative to consider that neither parties wish for an accident to happen, and in the event of one, there will be damage for both vehicle operators – if not physically, psychologically. Instead, we hope that attention can be shifted from this blame culture to instead fall upon the awareness of the limited perspective of both drivers and cyclists.

In some parts of the country, this education is well under way; the ‘Exchanging Places‘ programme aims to address this very matter through advanced technology, using a 360-degree film to display the reduced vision from the perspective of a lorry driver and highlighting how a cyclist could position themselves when in the presence of a heavy goods vehicle. As it stands currently, police are planning to promote the film to schools, cycle clubs, youth centres and offices.  We hope that in the future it will be made available to an even greater demographic, including haulage companies and car drivers, as every road user would benefit from understanding the ‘safe spaces’ for cyclists to position themselves in. It would increase awareness and potentially reduce cyclist casualties and fatality statistics even further.

The perspective of cyclists has not been ignored; in London, over 1500 lorry and van drivers have participated in ‘cycling training’ to better understand the dangers that bike-riders may face. The course, accredited by the Fleet Operator Recognition and founded by Transport for London, sees drivers learning for three and a half hours in a classroom before taking a bike to the road for the same time period.

Additionally, Transport for London is launching a star safety system. The board will ‘grade’ HGVs based upon how much a driver can see from the cab without the use of mirrors or cameras. These ‘safety permits’ are set to come into effect as early as next year with the view to ban ‘zero star’ rated heavy goods vehicles from Greater London by 2020. By 2024, officials plan to increase this to a minimum of three stars. If awareness can be raised of both cyclist and HGV driver perspective – or lack of (and thus extra safety cautions needed to be taken by both) – we believe that this has the potential to dramatically reduce collisions.

Largely, the statistics need to be reduced – this goes without saying – but, it is evident that many industry bodies are exerting significant effort into planning and running what we deem to be effective campaigns which we hope will be rolled out across the country. We would encourage all drivers and keen cyclists to participate in the discussed programmes and to practice and promote the safety of all road users, and hopefully, in the near future, statistics on cyclist casualties and fatalities will be dramatically reduced.

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