A report was published yesterday by the Transport Research Laboratory, the broad thrust of which is that the construction industry, despite the fact that their vehicles have been identified time and again as the number one threat to cyclists, have failed (with a few notable exceptions) to take effective action to reduce that threat.
It is now 19 years since the British Medical Journal published a report entitled ‘Deaths of cyclists in London 1985-92: the hazards of road traffic’, which specifically addressed the problem of the disproportionate number of collisions between lorries (aka Heavy Goods Vehicles) and cyclists that resulted in a fatality. By the way, isn’t it absurd that whenever these collisions are reported in the mainstream media, the driver is always described as ‘unhurt’ – of course the bloody driver was unhurt! In the conclusion to report, there is the following:
a ban on heavy goods vehicles in urban areas should be considered.
Reading the numbers again, and some of the conclusions, some things jump out. The absolute numbers of cyclists killed by collisions with lorries hasn’t really changed that much since 1985 -1992 (the period which the report was based on), 75 deaths in 8 years, or around 9 or so a year then, 8 or so a year now. The report also notes that the higher proportion of women cyclists who die in accidents involving heavy goods vehicles in inner London cannot be explained satisfactorily. Same thing now. It is a fact that women are well over-represented in the KSI numbers where the other vehicle was a lorry.
I am sick of writing and reading about London cyclists who have been killed by a collision with a lorry. I looked on the contents page of Moving Target, and started counting the number of articles that I wrote about the issue between 2005 & 2011, and stopped counting when I reached 40. As I said in a previous post, I am delighted that the mainstream media has now picked up the story, and are demanding action. However, I think they should be going further, and demanding, like the author of the BMJ article, like the London Bicycle Messenger Association did in 2004, a ban on lorries in central London daytime.
Putting it in economic terms, why should commercial road users be putting the costs (medical attention, police investigation etc) of their business onto the rest of us? In a recent Freakonomics podcast, economist Steve Levitt said ‘there are few instances in our society where individuals are able to impose such large externalities on other individuals through their behaviour as on the roads.‘ Sure, all motorists are required by law to have 3rd party insurance, but this does not cover the costs of the emergency services etc, which are substantial, especially, as almost always happens where a fatality has resulted, there is an extensive police investigation. Relatively speaking, there is little cost to the operator, or the operator’s employer, i.e. the organisation that is paying the operator to deliver whatever load the lorry is carrying, of a fatal collision. It is therefore not very surprising that, in a business in which margins are low, competition is high, and buyers are very price sensitive, that lorries still run over cyclists, as there is almost no economic penalty for doing so.
The threat of a daytime lorry ban, almost universally dismissed as unworkable, might serve to concentrate minds, given that it would carry considerably greater costs, especially in the construction sector. I realise that there is currently a night-time ban on lorries in London, but this should be done away with. This ban dates back to 1982, and I have no idea at all why it was brought in. We want as many HGV movements at night as possible, surely?
And to those people who think that a daytime ban on HGVs is madness, I say, be reasonable, demand the impossible.