Boris 'badly informed' over lorry safety unit

Don't scrap it, say cycling organisations

Mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to scrap London's lorry safety unit has drawn heavy criticism from cycling organisations.

They point out that nine of the 15 cyclists killed in London in 2008 died in collisions with lorries, and so far in 2009, it’s eight out of 10.

The Commercial Vehicle Education Unit (CVEU) is run by the Metropolitan Police. It consists of 12 police officers who, since 2005, have completed over 3,000 roadside checks of freight vehicles, finding fault in over 70 percent of cases.

Mr Johnson wants to get rid of the unit and instead rely on the Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), a voluntary membership scheme with standards based not on physical checks but on assessment – currently carried out by the CVEU – of management systems, written policies and documented procedures.

In his new draft plan for improving cycle safety in London, the mayor says that 7,000 companies in the British capital will be encouraged to join FORS.

Opponents of the changes include the Green Party and the London Cycling Campaign. Charlie Lloyd, development officer at the LCC, said, "It's difficult to believe that our cycling mayor is disbanding the only police unit in the country that has the power to properly investigate unsafe lorry operators, and bring them up to standards set by health and safety law.”

Jenny Jones, London Assembly Member for the Green Party, said, "Not enough is being done to stop cyclists and others from going under the wheels of HGVs in London. What little has been done has mostly been carried out by the police officers in this unit. The mayor is badly informed if he thinks that the small back-street haulage firms and businesses will sign up to his voluntary scheme."

The mayor also plans to encourage companies to voluntarily install side-bars and other safety devices on construction vehicles, and, in the longer term, change the law to make that compulsory and require cycle safety awareness training as part of lorry drivers’ Certificate of Professional Competence.

Elsewhere, there is little new in the announcement, which also covers cycle superhighways, the London cycle hire scheme and trialling of mirrors for lorry drivers at traffic lights. The draft plan is perhaps more notable for what is not included – there is nothing, as UK cyclists' organisation CTC point out, on 20mph speed limits, for example.

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