Lorry danger to cyclists raised in House of Lords

By Richard Peace | Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11.15am

The risk posed to cyclists by heavy goods vehicles on the streets of London has come under scrutiny in the House of Lords.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Transport Minister Lord Adonis what the Government's plans were to reduce the number of deaths caused by large turning vehicles.

She acknowledged that the London authorities' campaign of handing out wide-angle view Fresnel mirrors was a step in the right direction.

But the baroness expressed concern that some classes of lorries are exempt from laws that mean they must have safety features such as side bars to prevent cyclists being pulled under the wheels.

Baroness Gardner asked Lord Adonis: "As we can expect many more heavy construction vehicles to be in London in preparation for the coming Olympics, what does he think can be done to change this exemption so that heavy goods vehicles of all types have protection bars?"

Apparently this subject will be examined in a soon-to-be-released government report, though no concrete plans were outlined in response to the Baroness's queries.

Lord Adonis revealed that a further two new government studies were underway, one looking at road safety and cycling issues (due 2010), and an evaluation of the 12 new cycling demonstration towns and cities (due 2012).

Lord Howarth of Newport appeared to blame cyclists when he said: "... There would be many fewer accidents to both cyclists and pedestrians if that significant proportion of cyclists who routinely flout the Highway Code and the law were instead to observe the rules. When will the Government and the police take effective action to end this cycling anarchy?'

In the same debate, Lord Mawhinney questioned whether London mayor Boris Johnson would fulfill his promise to remove bendy buses from the streets of the capital.

Asked about "lorry loopholes" by BikeRadar, a spokesman for the London Cycling Campaign said: "LCC has lobbied hard on the issue of mirrors. Loopholes we are looking for the authorities to close are the lack of compulsory 'front' mirrors on HGVs – many lorries have a blind spot directly in front of them so they can run straight over a cyclist without seeing him or her – and the fact that some 100,000 older lorries aren't covered by the laws that make fitting new improved rear view mirrors compulsory on newer vehicles."

Looking to the future, the spokesman added: "Ultimately we would like to see a redesign of cabs on urban use lorries – lower down and with greater visibility. Currently buses have better visibility than most lorries."

Richard Brookes, partner at Withy King solicitors, clarified the legal position to BikeRadar: "By 31 March, operators of goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes will have to comply with a 2007 European Directive that has now been incorporated in UK legislation. That means that those vehicles, subject to some exceptions, will have to ensure that they have wide angle and close proximity mirrors on their passenger side."

He added: "It was really good to see members of the House of Lords so concerned about cyclists' safety. But cyclists can't rest on their laurels because there was a noisy number of Lords who castigated cyclists who, in their words, routinely flout the Highway Code."

Richard said that, should any cyclist be involved in an incident with a lorry not legally required to have the 'new improved' mirrors, they could still have a good case against the driver. 

Applying the logic of contributory negligence that came up in a recent court case –  ie. cyclists may be held liable if not wearing helmet that might have prevented their injuries – it could equally be argued that lorry drivers should all be equipped with modern viewing mirror systems, as they should be aware of their importance for safe driving.

Despite these concerns, cycling accidents in London appear to have gone down in marked correlation to the rise in cycling numbers. In 2005, 20 cyclists were killed and 338 injured on London's roads. In 2006, 18 were killed and 349 injured, and 2007 saw 14 deaths and 253 injuries. More than half of those killed were involved in accidents with lorries. Cycle deaths since the Nineties are down 19 per cent despite a 91 per cent increase in cycling.  

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