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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.

HGV Cab Cameras and Media Perception: Is This The Turning Point?

This year, Highways England have harnessed HGVs to help tackle dangerous driving on our roads. Using secret wide angle cameras in unmarked lorries’ dashboards, the inconspicuous trucks have been capturing video records of unsafe driving behaviour.

 

The move follows the success of a trial last year, which saw over 4,000 dangerous drivers caught. By allowing unsuspecting law breakers to be followed by the cab and have their behaviour recorded, police forces could then pull over the offenders and deal with the situation – be it a warning, or a prosecution.

 

What was promising and encouraging to see is the mainstream media’s reaction to these announcements. Rather than berate the ‘spying’ HGVs, the reaction to the police and Highway England’s efforts to increase road safety through immediate intervention has been, on the whole, positive. Although the phrase ‘spy camera’ has a somewhat antagonistic feel, national news outlets reporting about the HGV cameras in a favourable manner.

 

With the exception of a few pieces implying that the new camera systems are an underhand enemy to be loathed, the majority focus instead on what is most important – the driving crimes which are being caught. These cameras aren’t just there to catch out drivers going slightly over the speed limit: they have caught drivers using their mobile phones at the wheel – the dangers of which have never been more prominent than in recent years – a driver writing on a notepad, one eating a meal and even another brushing their teeth!

 

So why is reaction so important? Historically, reporting on HGVs has taken the same one-sided route – sensationalistic pieces reporting lorries’ near misses and irresponsible driving. Although, of course, such behaviour from professional drivers is absolutely abhorrent and should be disciplined appropriately – the issue lies within the bias of reporting and how this influences public perception.

 

If the only stories the public read about the professional driving industry in consumer media outlets involve the few extreme cases of poor and dangerous driving, an assumption will grow about the whole of the driving industry. This can lead to misconceptions and seriously tarnish the reputation of the majority of the safe, skilful HGV drivers whose dedicated work allows the UK’s businesses to thrive. Without HGVs, the country and its economy would come to a standstill – an aspect which is never mentioned in stories reporting on dangerous HGV driving.

 

So the positive reaction to the HGV in-cab cameras is a step in the right direction – at the least, it gives another perspective to HGV stories. Although we are, of course, not there yet in a balanced and fair narrative on lorries in consumer media, we can take hope from the start of this movement and continue to raise the profile of the industry ourselves through our highest quality Barnes professional standards.

Beating the Winter Blues

The decorations go up, the glasses get re-filled and the out of office goes on – there’s nothing like a festive break, is there? That is, of course, for those who work office jobs where the whole business can shut down for a week or two and get picked back up again in January. For drivers, the reality can be a little different – whether it’s delivering stock for post-Christmas sales or vital machinery parts for businesses, the world of logistics keeps turning and the roads keep calling, and drivers are often on the road when others are tucked up at home in front of the fire.

 

It is, admittedly, something which can cause drivers to experience some melancholy – which is why, following our previous discussions on mental health and summer driving attitude, we have decided to extend the conversation to a time when many people can often feel at their lowest. A study from the Samaritans in 2014 found that almost half of men felt depressed or sad around Christmas, and with logistics and driving still male-dominated industries (something that we most certainly hope will, and actively work towards, changing), it felt appropriate to look at how those who work in the professional driving sector might be able to help tackle swings of low mood in the run up, and during, the festive period.

 

The first step we would look to take would be one of practicality – countless studies have shown that eating the right foods and treating the body with the respect it deserves has a huge impact on serotonin levels, helping to battle low moods. This doesn’t mean you have to forego the classic Christmas delicacies – the high levels of zinc in walnuts can help in alleviating feelings of anxiety and depression; and sumptuous flavanol-rich dark chocolate helps to regulate mood.

 

Now, we move towards actions which help to engage others – use the time you have, whether it be on or off the road, to bring the merriment to you wherever you are. Make every moment count and ensure time off is filled with activities – drinks at the local with friends, parties hosted with family or, quite simply, sitting down with loved ones to watch a favourite film. There’s no value that can be put on restive quality time. This should not be limited to time away from work – connect with colleagues and other regular road acquaintances and organise some festive fun. Anything as small as organising a round of bacon butties will perk up spirits all round. And the best part of stepping up and leading the charge? You never know how much you might be helping others who are feeling low by reaching out and making that first move.

 

Our final piece of advice begins to move away from the functional and towards the mental – driving over the Christmas period requires a shift in approach and thinking. Embrace the season – avoiding the revelry of December is nearing the impossible, and attempting this will only leave one in misery; so play your family’s favourite festive songs in the cab and take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on one’s blessings. As we speak of reflection, it is worth noting that the increasingly popular act of Mindfulness (the practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment) may be a useful tool to master – the quiet roads and the beauty of Britain in its wintery glory provide the perfect backdrop to take some time to contemplate and appreciate the state of now. The most important matter to focus on? The visualisation of being back home – after all, as much as we may not be overjoyed working over December, we must focus on the fact that it is all temporary, and soon we will back home in front of the warmth of the fire, with the decorations glittering and our glasses full – Merry Christmas!

TELEMATICS- THE FUTURE OF DRIVING

 

Telematics is fast becoming the ‘must have’ technology for the fleet industry with research showing that almost nine out of 10 fleets, with more than 500 employees, have introduced telematics. One things for sure, it will become a fundamental part of our fleet management lives over the next few years.

So why the surgence in telematics within the logistics company?

Telematics can help tackle four of the biggest issues facing fleets: cost control; risk management; carbon reduction; and fleet productivity.  Here’s a breakdown of the benefits….

  1. Helps to reduce insurance cost

When a company installs GPS tracking devices in its vehicles, insurance companies give discounts on premiums. Therefore, by equipping all vehicles with GPS tracking devices, the companies tremendously reduce the insurance premiums that they pay every month.

  1. Helps them to locate their vehicles at any given time

Being able to know the location of vehicles at all times helps a transportation company to communicate more effectively with its drivers and customer. By seeing the location of all company vehicles on a map, the company can communicate to its customers the exact time the goods being transported to them will arrive.

  1. Helps to improve safety

The safety of both driver and goods on transit has been greatly improved by this. When drivers run into problems the company will know within a short time and can help solve or report the problem. This way, the drivers can get the help they need when they are in trouble. If there is a problem with a vehicle, another vehicle can be sent immediately to the exact location of the vehicle that has problems. This has helped to minimize delays that can eat up the profits of these companies.

  1. Has helped companies to manage maintenance

Telematics create alerts based on mileage, engine use or time. This helps to develop an advanced vehicle maintenance schedule. Vehicles that are properly maintained and serviced will rarely develop mechanical problems that can delay the movement of goods.

  1. Has helped companies earn the trust of customers

GPS fleet tracking has enabled transportation companies to earn the trust of their customers. This is because a company that has GPS tracking systems on its vehicles is able to tell a customer the specific location of goods being transported at any given time. Also, a customer whose goods are being transported can know when his goods are going to reach the desired destination.

Although not the be all and end all, telematics stands out as being the single most cost effective answer to help deliver logistic goals whilst assisting with driver safety and is certainly something that is worth another look into.

THE GOVERNMENT CRACKS DOWN ON DISTRACTED DRIVING

There has been a significant rise in the number of people using applications like Snapchat to record their latest rendition of Adele while driving; using Pokémon Go at a low speed in an attempt to ‘walk their eggs’ or posting status updates on Facebook, all from behind the wheel.

With a growing number of apps and distractions, It’s no wonder the Government has cracked down on the laws regarding the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. But what changes have actually been made to the laws, how do these new laws affect HGV/LGV drivers and when are the laws in effect from?

The previous restrictions on driving while using your mobile phone including texting, making calls, taking photos/videos could have seen you get 3 penalty points on your license and fined up to £100 with the maximum fine being £1000. For those driving large goods vehicles the stakes are higher and so, the fine could be up to £2500.

So, how common is it for people in the UK to use their handheld mobile while driving? According to a recent survey carried out by the RAC, a third of drivers admit to having used their mobile while driving and 14% admitting to taking photos and videos with their phone:

 

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These statistics are worrying, and do beg the question – how many incidents have occurred due to drivers using their phone while driving?

‘In 2013 the use of a mobile at the wheel was a factor in 22 fatal accidents and this is likely to be underreporting of the true figure.’ The RAC

With this set to rise each year, it’s become apparent why the government wants to clamp down on this particular law, especially when there are so many applications and devices to distract drivers.

The new penalties for using your phone while driving will include receiving a minimum of six points on your licence and a hefty £200 fine. Twice as many points and twice the charge as the current penalties for offending.

A higher fine up to £1,000 and a six-month driving ban could apply to more experienced or professional drivers including those operating HGV/LGV’s.

The Department of Transport has said the new laws are set to come into effect in the first half of 2017.

What are your thoughts on the new penalties? Do you think they are fair, too severe or not strict enough? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!