At the end of last year, a strong warning was sent out to cyclists on the use of headphones. This followed a coroner deciding that a mother caused her own death when the music she was listening to meant she failed to hear an oncoming lorry.
As reported by The Telegraph, Emily Norton, 38, was thought to have been listening to music on her iPhone before entering a roundabout without looking right. This occurred at the same time as a DAF lorry was exiting the roundabout.
An inquest heard that the lorry driver did not stop and said he hadn’t “felt, heard or saw” the cyclist before the accident.
Such fatalities represent the dangerous nature of cyclists and HGVs sharing the roads: cyclists are significantly smaller and less protected than large vehicles. Transport for London calculates that a cyclist is 78 times more likely to be killed in an accident involving a HGV than in one involving a car.
The London Assembly said HGVs were involved in 22.5% of pedestrian fatalities and 58% of cyclist fatalities on London’s roads in 2014 and 2015, despite only accounting for 4% of the miles driven in the capital.
Yet often HGV and refuse collection vehicle (RCV) drivers will say that cyclist behaviour is to blame – many fail to wear high-visibility clothes, helmets and break basic road rules, such as jumping red lights. There have been reports of cyclists even holding onto wing mirrors of large vehicles while waiting for traffic lights to change.
The issue came to light specifically in the UK waste sector after a provoking opinion piece from Jacqueline O’Donovan, MD of O’Donovan Waste Disposal. In an RWW online article, she said that the blame game between cyclists and the transport industries needs to stop. The article followed the launch of a Change.org petition calling for cyclists to hold insurance and pay road tax, which reached more than 30,000 signatures.
O’Donovan states: “Cycling groups are spending too much time pointing the finger and not enough time on the issues that really matter when it comes to road safety. Instead of pointing out flaws in the way HGV operators manage their fleets, cycling groups should be educating their members like our industry does its drivers.”
The waste management company said it is taking the necessary steps to help with the health and safety of cyclists, leading on one of the CLOCS (Construction Logistics and Community Safety) work streams in the design of four new lorry cab designs. O’Donovan launched its Training Plus programme, as well as creating ‘Waste Essentials’ – said to be the first course designed and implemented by a waste management company and tailored to the exact training needs of drivers working in construction waste.
At the end of September, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced TfL’s Direct Vision Standard, which will use a star rating from nought to five to rate construction and other HGVs based on the level of vision the driver has directly from the cab.
Under the new plans, which still need to be consulted on, certain HGVs could be banned from London’s streets entirely by January 2020. Only vehicles meeting three stars and above – the ‘good rating’ in the new Direct Vision Standard – would be allowed on London’s roads by 2024. The mayor believes such measures could remove 35,000 of the zero-star-rated, so-called ‘off-road’, HGVs currently operating on London’s roads. Such lorries used in the construction industry are built to an off-road specification, according to London Cycling Campaign, which “puts the driver high up with no view of the road or the people immediately beside and in front of the vehicle”.
“I’m not prepared to stand by and let dangerous lorries continue to cause further heartbreak and tragedy on London’s roads,” says Khan. “The evidence is clear – HGVs have been directly involved in over half of cycling fatalities over the last two years, and we must take bold action to make our roads safer for both cyclists and pedestrians.”
As expected, such strong measures provoked strong reactions, particularly in the waste sector.
“I have said all along that Khan’s proposed plans for a direct vision rating system from nought to five stars by 2020 is far too ambitious,” says O’Donovan. “Manufacturers are not ready yet, and ultimately, the impact this will have is that larger PLCs, who can afford to upgrade their fleets at the drop of a hat, will win all the work and push the independent companies out of the running. How does Khan expect his 50,000 new homes to be built without the construction industry and their lorries?”
Cycling UK’s senior road safety and legal campaigner, Duncan Dollimore believes the waste sector has been progressive when it comes to direct vision.
“The RCV industry has rather led the way in terms of safer HGVS,” he tells RWW. “Specifically the low entry panoramic vision refuse vehicles, which became common in the refuse industry. Manufacturers such as Dennis Eagle and Mercedes have adapted their Elite and Econic range vehicles, so that we now have low entry direct vision vehicles being used for urban construction vehicles.”
Elsewhere, waste management company Biffa has installed CCTV across its fleet of 50 waste collection vehicles operating in Crawley, South Bucks and Epping Forest, to improve health and safety. The latest technology allows recorded footage to be transmitted via the vehicles’ routers to the Wi-Fi network when they are in the range of depot.
The firm is also trialling a 360-degree video camera and Cy-clear safe cyclist system, specifying that all new collection vehicles over 3.5 tonnes must be fitted with these cameras.
David Maidman is the operations director for Biffa’s municipal division, which deploys around 1,400 vehicles, ranging from 26-tonne RCVs to light vans, to service 40 local authority contracts in England, Scotland and Wales.
“I am a keen cyclist, like many people in the waste industry, and I know there’s much debate and discussion about reducing road-user risk. I’m certain many, like Biffa, are working hard and investing a lot in raising safety standards.
“But from what I see on many roads, I personally feel there is a growing case for mandatory cyclist insurance, greater emphasis on cycling competency and safety training, and enforcing the use of protective equipment such as helmets.”
Maidman adds: “The frequent, and often tragic, conflict between hard-skinned vehicles and soft-skinned cyclists is well-documented, particularly on inner city and urban roads.
“We constantly review the emerging technologies and vehicle safety aids, and are close to completing trials and evaluation of the Cy-Clear safety system. Biffa is in frequent dialogue with vehicle manufacturers who now have greater safety requirements. These are being driven by new legislation and by proposed changes through schemes such as the Fleet Operator Recognition System in London, which should benefit all road users.”
According to a government safety campaign launched in September, a third of all crashes happen between cyclists and HGVs when a lorry is turning left – the blind spot for larger vehicles.
The THINK! Campaign launched by road safety minister Andrew Jones and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) encouraged cyclists to indeed ‘hang back’ – suggesting staying behind and waiting for vehicles to turn left before approaching. An alleged £300m investment from the government over the next four years has been earmarked for
Many waste companies operating vehicle fleets continue to add audible warning systems. This acts as a ‘belt and braces’ approach to inform cyclists that the vehicle is turning left – both visually from the indicators and audibly from the sound. However, drivers can often be found frustrated if they encounter cyclists wearing headphones so they can’t hear such alerts.
O’Donovan urges cyclists and vulnerable road users to “limit headphones to one ear, so they can hear the audible warnings when a lorry is turning”.
Commenting on the Emily Norton case, Cycling UK’s Dollimore, says: “Our view is that wearing headphones is inadvisable, particularly if listening at high volumes or with headphones that completely shut out sound, but the idea that headphone-wearing cyclists are any more of a problem than headphone-wearing pedestrians is not borne out by any evidence we have seen.”
Grundon Waste Management believes that it is going too far to expect cyclists to pay insurance for using public roads and that no charge should be applied to them.
The company sends its drivers on a safe urban driver training course, part of which includes spending time as a cyclist in an urban environment.
“This helps our drivers to gain a greater understanding of what life is like on the road from a cyclist’s perspective,” Neil Grundon, deputy chairman of Grundon Waste Management, tells RWW.
Investment has been made by the firm into on-board safety features on its vehicles, such as cameras, sidescan warning sensors, side underruns, audible warning alarms and additional mirrors.
“Sharing the road with an LGV can be very intimidating, so cyclists need to remain alert to their surroundings and respectful of other road users,” adds Grundon. “Both cyclists and LGV drivers need to display safe behaviour and respect for each other at all times if we are to stop incidents occurring.”
The discussion between cyclists and transport/waste industries will no doubt continue as new technologies are embraced and education and investment are led by the government. Both are a necessity: cycling enables people to travel without leaving a carbon footprint while exercising.
Meanwhile, transporting goods is essential to keep the country building houses and schools while removing waste and keeping the economy running. The challenge will be trying to find a balance to enable each party to continue without major disruption.
May Clay is a freelance correspondent magazine.