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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.

How Have Consumer Habits Changed Logistics?

Our previous blog post explored the rising costs placed on HGV drivers and their employers despite the obvious increase in demand for the services they provide. So not to stray too far from the financial topic on which the piece was centred, the definition of ‘demand’ was brief, and so we felt it necessary to produce a subsequent post that offered greater clarity by exploring such ‘demand’ at a deeper level.

Our lives are heavily influenced by logistics; food, technology, furniture, clothing, vehicles and their structural makeup (fabric, screws, wiring) are firstly manufactured and then passed along the supply chain until it eventually reaches the intended customer. This process has a substantial reliance on freight drivers and without their input, it would not be possible for each of us to have either the basics nor the luxuries that we desire. The supply chain process in many ways falls victim to a ‘behind-the-scenes’ effect; although it is an integral part of procedure, it is all arranged, organised and utilised away from the customer. Unless the end-user is there to sign for a parcel as it arrives, there will often be no interaction with drivers, and so a driver’s contribution (as well as that from other logistical employees) to almost all owned items is largely unknown and unacknowledged. Whilst modest drivers may not fare this a problem, the issue lies in the growing demand for deliveries and its accompanying complaint: ‘there are too many lorries on UK roads’.

A significant aspect of the increased product demand lies in the companies who offer next-day (and in some cases, same-day) delivery, a service that has come to be not only utilised by customers but expected; Amazon have revealed that 100 million people are signed up to their Prime service – a stand out feature of which is next day delivery. It stimulates concerns within us and others within the logistics industry that this want for immediate delivery will only increase in the coming years, and as an industry already in great need of new drivers and with the costs discussed in the previous blog deterring potential new talent, it seems absurd that the very idea of next-day delivery can even be offered to consumers. Supply Chain Digital claims that as a result of the demand, retailer and supply chains alike are being forced to be more agile so as to retain customer satisfaction, but as with most issues in the logistics industry, the idea of increasing ‘agility’ lacks simplicity, as a recent survey by road safety charity Brake revealed that many road users felt unsafe on UK motorways due to the increase in HGV traffic.

Given the size of lorries and the speed at which all road users travel at on the motorway, fears can be appreciated, however, it brings to attention that better education is needed, as research proves road safety levels to be quite the contrary to the given worries. The volume of HGV traffic on motorways has only risen marginally, increasing by 2.6% over the last 11 years, whilst figures recorded over the past six years show a decrease in motorway fatalities and injuries involving a HGV. As Christopher Snelling, head of UK policy at FTA so accurately highlights in reference to these findings: “The driver perceptions Brake has focused on are not reflective of reality”.

It brings to light a vital question; how can supply chains offer greater agility (often through delivery options, thus affecting HGV drivers) when the very presence of lorries making such deliveries are continuously being demonised by both the press and public? So whilst consumer habits are changing the logistics industry, it seems that the public do not understand how; if they did, surely there would be a greater level of knowledge for why there is significant HGV traffic on motorways (we say ‘significant’ with caution – it is significant in the eyes of the public, but not in terms of statistics). To resolve the problem, we believe that education is imperative. If consumers understand where their products are coming from and the intricacies involved in bringing products to their doorsteps, would there be such a demand, such a demonization and would there be more support in reducing the associated costs of HGV driving? We can only hope so.

Let us know your thoughts on how consumer behaviour has affected your experiences by dropping us a tweet.

 

Cab-e-oke: The Benefits of Listening to Music

In recent months, we have discussed in length the pressures that many in the HGV driving industry face. Like many other lines of employment, there are increasing expectations for drivers to meet deadlines, reach targets and work long hours, all with the added challenge of uncontrollable variables acting against them: traffic, road works, delays. Whilst we continue to investigate and propose solutions to such issues, here at Barnes, this month we have been reflecting on the more personal, everyday mental health needs of many drivers and how something as seemingly simple as listening to music can help.

Like most drivers, HGV operators regularly enjoy the company of music during the course of their journey. Following discussions with our teams, we found their beliefs on the benefits of listening to music whilst driving reflect that of research; in short: it lifts mood and improves mental health. An extension to our previous comments on mental health – in December, we explored ways in which to overcome the ‘winter blues’ after discovering the shocking statistics surrounding depression and sadness in men at Christmas time – we find it imperative to reiterate that mental health issues can be present throughout the entire year, whilst also reinforcing a key fact: mental health is not untreatable, and there are many methods that experts advise individuals to try in an effort to aid their recovery. We hope that the following not only promotes the benefits of consuming music, but that it also reduces the ‘taboo’ of speaking out about mental health.

Firstly, it is imperative to support the above views with scientific evidence. MIND, the mental health charity, reported a study which concluded that listening to music encourages the release of dopamines in individuals, otherwise known as the ‘feel-good hormone’, finding a 9% increase in dopamine levels whilst listening to music. Additionally, experts encourage individuals to reveal the inner singer from within them, as singing loudly requires greater energy, which generates a greater mental release, slower breathing, and increased muscular activity, which in turn, reduces stress and encourages relaxation.

It should be noted that whilst we encourage all motorists to enjoy the health benefits of listening to music whilst driving, we actively discourage using phones, iPods and auxiliary cords whilst driving to change and search for music. Therefore, in a bid to remain safe on our roads, we strongly recommend that all motorists craft driving playlists prior to beginning journeys. By preparing a playlist pre-journey, the benefits can still be enjoyed, and individual responsibility to maximise road safety is also achieved.

Finally, whilst we by no means assert that music is a permanent cure for mental health issues, we appreciate the positive effects that individuals have experienced. We are optimistic that our drivers and fellow road users will find the above information useful, and may also reap the benefits. At Barnes, we are keen to remain active in supporting conversations surrounding mental health and the support available, and we hope that other industry professionals will also continue to champion this cause.

Do you have a playlist recommendation for ideal on-the-road listening? Let us know what your cab-e-oke playlist looks like by sending us a tweet!

A Look Back on Road Safety Week

Last week was one of the biggest events in the transport calendar: Road Safety Week. Having commenced on the 20th November, the week, ran by the charity Brake, focused on highlighting the dire need to tackle the serious issue of speeding. Despite an increase in the associated fines and the shockingly high statistics surrounding fatal speed-related accidents, many road users persist in breaking the law, but Brake have pinpointed a simple fact in their vital slogan: Speed Down, Save Lives. Reducing the speed at which a vehicle is operating can often make the difference between life and death in the event of a road traffic accident.

Throughout the week, the organisation centred their efforts around emphasising the dangers of speeding on rural roads and built up areas where pedestrians and cyclists are more likely to be at risk. The initiative, which was promoted within schools, organisations and communities, cannot be echoed enough, so here at Barnes, we are seizing the opportunity to push the message out to our fellow road users and members of the freight and transport industry. In this latest discussion we shall consider the importance of speed limits, how speeding affects our roads and how we can all, as responsible road users, resolve the ever-prevalent problem of speeding together.

Speed limits, contrary to what some believe, are here to make our roads safer for everyone. They are proposed based on a number of factors (risk, danger and environment) and account for elements such as housing, schools and road layout. In April, the Government raised speeding fines in a bid to deter drivers from the temptation of breaking the law. Offenders can now expect a minimum of 3 points on their license (for minor offences – the number of points issued correlates to the severity of the speeding offence) and a fine of around 50% of their weekly income, although this can be increased to 150%. These penalties are larger still for new drivers. But, even with such severe consequences for drivers, why is speeding still a major issue?

There are risks associated with all road vehicles; this is to be expected. Newer vehicles, for example, can accelerate more quickly than aged vehicles, whilst older cars are somewhat less reliable. However, driving behaviour is a large associating factor when it comes to speeding. Speeding is choice that drivers make, a selfish one at that. The statistics gathered by Break speak for themselves, speeding is undeniably dangerous:

  • Breaking the speed limit or travelling too fast for conditions is recorded by police at crash scenes as a contributory factor in one in four (23%) fatal crashes in Great Britain.
  • Drivers with one speeding violation annually are twice as likely to crash as those with none.
  • A recent Brake survey found that four in 10 (40%) UK drivers admitted they sometimes drive at 30mph in 20mph zones.

So how can this problem be overcome? Largely it comes with awareness. The saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ can be called upon here – often those who speed are ignorant to the potential dangers have been fortunate enough to not suffer the consequences – yet. Campaigners adopt a variety of awareness methods, from visual scare tactics to demonstrate the extreme realities of speeding accidents, to cognitive approaches that rather than using horrific aesthetics promote a ‘look twice’ method, where the audience have to re-watch the ad to see the underlying message – THINK!’s latest ‘Pink Kitten’ campaign is a fantastic example of this. Brake’s Road Safety Week is a credit to the UK’s highways in the work it conducts to overcome the problem. From social media campaigns to donations, action packs, virtual games and merchandise, the charity exerts every effort possible into truly making a difference, both during the marked week and throughout the rest of the year. Here at Barnes, we believe that they make a significant difference.

As a company who have over 100 drivers on the road each day, safety is absolutely paramount, to both our drivers and other road users. We will continue to promote the road values we hold and encourage all drivers to put safety first in the hope that we can make our roads a safer place. With hard work and determination, we are confident that speeding and the consequences it stimulates can become an issue of the past.

Are We Still in the Driver’s Seat when it comes to Autonomous Vehicles?

When it comes to the subject of self-driving vehicles, the conversation is often a heated one. Regular debates are held between those who work in the transport sector, discussing whether autonomous vehicles will have a positive or negative impact upon the logistics industry; a conversation which is to be continued within the following paragraphs.

 

Whilst self-driving cars are a somewhat common news piece, self-driving trucks have not been featured as frequently. However, with the Government announcing this week the trial of semi-autonomous lorries, and a date for these plans now announced, our news feeds have been inundated with the details surrounding such an operation, and so, at Barnes Logistics, we felt the need to delve further into this topic.

 

Previously, and arguably unsurprisingly, plans to test autonomous HGVs had been suspended after a lack of commitment from many major European manufacturers. Their concern was not without valid cause; is platooning and synchronised braking really the safest addition to our roads? But, despite the initial reluctance from manufacturers, the Government has since revealed plans to trial the feasibility of autonomous HGVs on Britain’s roads.

 

By 2025, sales of driverless cars are anticipated to hit record highs; it is predicted that global sales will exceed 10m. With such high expectations of self-driving cars, it is interesting to consider whether autonomous trucks will boast a similar success. At Barnes Logistics, we have been scrutinising the issues which surround driverless vehicles, and how such potential complications may effect the logistics industry, presenting a vital question: are they a help or a hindrance?

 

Before assuming the overall safety of these vehicles however, there are many significant factors to take into consideration. This includes how the environment may be affected, (which in its own right is a topic of concern and has been discussed at length in our recent blog on vehicles and pollution), whilst other factors that will undoubtedly effect the success of driverless trucks include weather conditions and unforeseeable, and unpreventable road events, such as sudden accidents.

 

Firstly, we explore how driverless trucks would operate. The Government proposes to implement a ‘platooning’ technique, whereby the trucks drive in groups, just 4 metres apart from one another, with synchronised breaking and steering. Then, as a lorry needs to exit the motorway, a driver will take over control again, whilst the remaining HGVs continue to synchronise. It is thought to be a ‘state-of-the-art’ system, driven by smart technology. It is considered to improve road safety through reducing driving reaction time to zero seconds, providing an immediate reaction to potential trouble on the road. The Government also reports that the system is an inexpensive alternative to current HGVs, as the constant speed at which the trucks drive lowers fuel consumption and C02 emissions.

 

However, despite the apparent advantages, in cost reduction and fuel efficiency, there are many potential problems that driverless trucks could cause the logistics industry. The Financial Times has raised a series of issues which may prove problematic. Of upmost importance is the potential for accidents: whilst road safety is considered to be improved through the use of quicker reaction times, it should be noted that often, accidents can be prevented through simple communication between vehicles and pedestrians. Decisions at cross roads are often made through one driver letting another pull out first, and pedestrians are able to cross roads after being waved across by drivers. Human interaction on the road is a complex system which no computer can replicate.

 

Additionally, there is the safety risk that HGV platoons pose to other road users without taking any HGV accidents into consideration. The driverless technology will allow the lorries to travel far closer together – and although this will increase efficiency due to lower air resistance, it also means that road signs may be blocked from view for car drivers. Road-side warnings advise of upcoming traffic jams, accidents and adverse weather conditions – if car drivers cannot see these due to being blocked by a small convoy of lorries, the end results could be disastrous.

 

Finally, one of the most significant potential problems for the sector, is of course, the issue of employment. The logistics industry provides vital jobs for thousands looking for an occupation with flexibility and freedom. Although each HGV in a platoon will have a driver at the wheel ready to take over, will the idea of simply sitting behind semi-autonomous vehicles deter potential new young drivers from the industry? In a sector which is attempting to encourage more interest from the next generation into the driving occupation, this news does not bode well.

 

Overall, it is difficult to predict how successfully driverless trucks will integrate into logistics. For all the benefits they offer, we believe that there is the potential for many mistakes, which could prove costly and (potentially) lethal. HGVs have been human operated since they joined our roads, and naturally, this allows for a significant level of control over technology. Along with the potential for devastation and uncertainty for professional drivers, it seems to be a backwards step for logistics.