Mayor promises autumn plan for safer lorries

Mercedes Econic direct vision lorry. Credit S& B Commercials -Mercedes-Benz
As Mayor Sadiq Khan commits to quickly increase the number of direct vision lorries in London and promises a plan to do so by this autumn, the momentum to move to safer lorries, protect pedestrians and save cyclists' lives is growing, but needs to be a national not London-centric initiative.

A typical London cycling death 

Earlier this year Cycling UK asked members to take action for safer lorries and support our calls for a ban on unsafe lorries that do not meet direct vision standards by 2025. We also set out our proposed roadmap for direct vision lorries showing how public bodies can use procurement, planning and other powers in the interim to encourage the transition to safer lorries on our streets.

In the run up to the London Mayoral elections in May, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon was the first candidate to back Cycling UK’s roadmap for direct vision lorries. This style of lorry gives drivers a lower seating position, surrounds them with larger glass windows rather than metal, reduces blind spots and provides an improved panoramic view particularly of cyclists alongside and pedestrians in front of their cabs.

From a cycling safety perspective, their introduction is a vital step forward for the freight industry in an urban environment, given that ‘left hook’ collisions, where lorries turn left across the path of cyclists they can’t see, has been described as "the typical London cycling death". 

Slipstreaming the Pidgeon

London Mayor Sadiq Khan in his election campaign soon followed in Pidgeon’s slipstream while discussing direct vision lorries in an interview with Chris Boardman. During the course of the interview he asked "can we roll these out", and following pressure from Cycling UK during a Mayoral candidate hustings subsequently committed, if elected, to using his powers to make sure that direct vision lorries become the norm on London’s streets as soon as possible.  

Last week, Cycling UK reported on the peculiar difficulties politicians experience with the concept of timescales, where in respect of pledges to undertake the promised review of motoring offences and penalties, words and phrases such as soon, shortly, as soon as possible, and commence before the end of the year, appear to have a definition peculiar to politics. Anxious to avoid similar drift on direct vision and lorry safety, Cycling UK's priority has been to tie Khan to a timetable.

Now London Assembly member and Chair of the Assembly Transport Committee Pidgeon’s persistence has procured a written answer from the new Mayor which, refreshingly, is clear and unambiguous. Confirming that he intends to "quickly increase" the number of direct vision lorries in London, Khan also clarified that he had asked Transport for London (TfL) to develop a plan to do this by this autumn.

Eliminating lorry left hooks

Whilst the momentum for the move to direct vision lorries emanated from London, where 56 of 99 cyclists fatalities between January 2008 and July 2015 involved lorries, cyclists' safety around lorries is a national not London issue, which can be exacerbated locally wherever major projects such as HS2 substantially increase the volume of construction traffic.

Public bodies and organisations receiving public funding, outside the capital and nationally, need to follow London's lead and use their procurement and commercial powers to require their contractors to use direct vision lorries within their fleets."

Duncan Dollimore
Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer, Cycling UK

Accordingly, public bodies and organisations receiving public funding, outside the capital and nationally, need to follow London's lead and use their procurement and commercial powers to require their contractors to use direct vision lorries within their fleets, contracts and supply chain. This will set the country on the path to eliminate lorry left hooks throughout the country whether you live in Liverpool, Leeds and Leith, and not just London.

Cycling UK has been liaising with publicly funded national organisations willing to commence the journey along the direct vision roadmap, and we hope to publicise their commitments later this summer.

We are also speaking to representatives from other cities, some of whom are preparing for city and regional devolution next year, which will provide them with the powers over transport which has allowed TfL to progress lorry safety initiatives specifically within London, such as the London Safer Lorry Scheme.

Keep on pecking

At last it seems that there is both political and commercial interest in what is the major task of transferring lorry fleets from a design which is inherently unsafe for vulnerable road users in urban environments, to a safer design more suited to modern cities. 

No doubt continued campaign pressure will be required to make sure the impetus is sustained, and hopefully Pigeon will keep on pecking politicians about their promises.​