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By Selim Korycki

A report from Transport for London's 'Safety and Sustainability Panel' on 'Cycle Safety' was published last week. In the backwards world of road traffic speak, the 'Safety' in the title actually refers to fatal danger from lorries (Heavy Goods Vehicles, also known as Large Goods Vehicle) to people cycling.

I would have missed it, had I not seen a tweet from Boriswatch: “next time Boris tries to pretend [London Assembly Member] Jenny Jones is just being silly about rates of cycling KSIs, that paper suggests TfL believe her.” This is a reference to claims that Jenny Jones made last year that the risk of injury & death whilst cycling in London had gone up under Mayor Boris Johnson's tenure. These claims were disputed by the Mayor at the time.

I would recommend that every London MP is sent a copy, or is emailed link to the report. There isn't a lot in it that is new in terms of numbers collated or trends identified, but the report is an excellent primer for anyone that isn't familiar with the topic. I don't want to reproduce too much here, as the report is relatively short, and can be read in a few minutes, unlike more technical reports.

I tweeted a couple of the salient statistics, HGV making up 6% of traffic during the morning peak, and 5% during the rest of the day, yet were involved in 53% of cycle fatalities between 2008 & 2012. These numbers won't surprise anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the statistics on cycling fatalities in London. HGVs were identified as the number one danger to London's cyclists nearly 20 years ago, in a British Medical Journal report that I have been linking to for at least 8 years.

Also not new is the identification in the report of lorries working for builders, mainly skip or tipper lorries, being more likely than other lorries to kill cyclists. 7 out of 9 fatalities in 2011, where the collision was between a large goods vehicle and a cyclist, involved a construction lorry. In 2004 the HGV working group set up by the Mayor of London's office identified construction lorries as over-represented in cyclist fatalities.

What is new is language like this:

This research identified a systemic failing in road safety cultures within the construction sector, a lack of ownership of road risk throughout the supply chain and an imbalance between work place safety and road safety.

This is pretty strong language for an official report. There is a list of some things that need to be done, and in what looks very much like a 'to do' list for the Mayor & TfL the report suggests that

urgent attention is given to: greater enforcement of operator, vehicle and driver non-compliance of existing regulations;

I was a little bit disappointed to find that a conditional ban on HGVs was way down the same list at 'g' or 7. At least it's on the list for urgent attention. On the other hand, I take the fact that enforcement is right at the top of the list as an indication that, as I have said before, the construction hauliers do not regard compliance with regulations as anything like as important as they should do. The rules & regulations, after all, are there to keep road haulage operations safe for other road users like children, old people, people cycling, people walking, as well as people driving other motor vehicles.

I understand the pressures that the hauliers are under. I have worked in the transport sector most of my adult life. I know the margins are low, that there is constant pressure from customers to shave time & money, and that everywhere you turn someone is trying to fine you for something or other. However, Operation Mermaid, which is run by the Vehicle Operator Services Agency and police forces all over the U.K. and is virtually a random road-side MOT for HGVs, routinely show contravention rates of over 50%, which shows that there are a lot of illegal lorries out on the road.

I have some sympathy with the drivers. I am sure, as The Lorry Lawyer says, that no driver sets out to kill someone. However, the hauliers keep droning on about how professional they are, and blaming cyclists for not being sufficiently trained, or not wearing helmets etc etc.

(For an example of how the haulage industry thinks about it, have a look at the survey that was commissioned by Commercial Motor from ComRes on 'cycle safety' – do have a look at ComRes' numbers as well. The slant of the questions, offering cycle helmets, training etc as options for clearly indicates to me that the haulage industry thinks it can evade increased regulation & enforcement by blaming cyclist behaviour for the fatalities.)

The evidence from Operation Mermaid, which has been going on for years and years, suggests that hauliers routinely send out onto the roads vehicles which are not compliant with current legislation. Is this pattern of behaviour, of sending out poorly managed heavy machinery to interact with the public, consistent with claims of professionalism? Obviously, I don't think so. I would suggest that, along with greater levels of enforcement, a strategy of making the hauliers employers take responsibility for their contractor's safety record has been shown to be fruitful, taking as an example the Olympic site in east London, during the construction of which the danger from the lorries going to and from the site was taken very seriously by the builders.

At the end of the report there is a section on the Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety Project. The principle aim appears to be to get the construction industry to accept that the high cab tipper lorry is not fit to be driven around London, and to buy a design of tipper lorry which doesn't have any blind-spots at the front, rather like a conventional bus or a modern design of refuse lorry. Yes, we know it will be expensive to replace the current fleet of tipper lorries. It will be very, very expensive.

But how much does it cost when someone is killed or seriously injured by a lorry whilst cycling? I don't know, I'd be interested to see some estimates, but I bet it's a lot more than the cost of a new tipper lorry.

In closing, I don't want to overplay the dangers of riding a bike in London. If you cycle regularly, even in London, all the evidence that you will live longer than someone who does not cycle, even if you don't wear a helmet, hi-visibility clothing, and you sport high-heels and use a set of noise-cancelling head-phones playing Public Enemy's back catalogue. Cycling in London can be unpleasant, very occasionally wet & cold, but fatal & serious injuries are rare.

 

“..these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I'm determined to bring about. No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power – on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling – boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes and reinforcing my view that the bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours.”

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, 2009 on the launch of his Cycle Superhighways

ibikelondon has collected this and other quotes from Boris about the Cycle Superhighways, and also about the cyclist lorry problem. Read the whole post, and go along to the flash-ride tonight if you can.

I would counsel, always in the aftermath of a fatal collision, that the incident itself is not prejudged. Most sensible people were sickened by all the revolting innuendo about whether the cyclist in question was carrying shopping, whether she was wearing a helmet etc.

It is therefore wise to stick to the known facts. Women on bicycles are over-represented in fatal collisions with lorries in London. This is not a new trend. Lorries, usually construction lorries, (aka Heavy Goods Vehicles, and also called Large Goods Vehicles in the European Union), are involved of majority of collisions in which cyclists are killed. This is not a problem unique to London. In Berlin, an average of 10 cyclists are killed every year by lorries.

The junction at which the lorry (not a construction vehicle) collided with the cyclist is wide, and heavily traffic-ed, with high volumes of large goods vehicles. It has been the scene of many serious collisions, as the City of London's own map shows. I went along to a Critical Mass years ago in the mid 90s which went to the spot where a friend was killed, on the junction of Mansell Street and Aldgate High Street. This is about 20 metres from where the collision occured last Friday.

I know that there is a lot of talk about how the re-design of this junction is in hand. Don't think that just because the authorities say they are doing something about it that a little (or ideally, a lot) of encouragement from the public to get on with it won't go amiss. The only reason that the media now cover lorry deaths is because people spent time making a fuss, lighting candles and painting the roads.

 

 

I was delighted, overjoyed to see what seemed like immediate action after the publication of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report, ‘Get Britain Cycling’.  In the wake of the report’s publication, the Roads Minister appeared to signal national government’s willingness to tackle the HGV problem saying that the government could not let lorries continue to run over cyclists.

The action was a sweep of HGVs by the Met Police’s lorry unit, checking for vehicle defects and illegal driving, as reported by the Standard, which also published an editorial calling for more action to protect cyclist from lorries.

Keen students of the HGV / cyclist issue will remember that Jenny Jones MLA and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London had the following exchange in October 2009:

Jenny Jones: Could you confirm the number of HGVs stopped by police in London for each year since 2000, the proportion that were found to be driving illegally, any breakdown of offences and the proportion that were stopped by specialist traffic police?

Answer from the Mayor: The MPS did not, until 2008, keep a record of the number of HGVs that were stopped. In 2008/09 3,000 vehicles were stopped (all types including lightweight vans). Of these 1329 were ‘trucks’ over 7.5 tonnes [note: vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are defined as HGVs]. Proportion found to be driving illegally: Offences were found in an average 80% of these vehicles.

At the time Boris suggested that the high proportion of offences found was down to diligent police-work, but however you dice the numbers, that is a lot of illegal lorries.  As was pointed out by nearly everyone with access to the numbers, lorries are 5% of traffic, and yet are responsible for over 50% of cycle fatalities in London, and in some years, closer to 100%.  Lorry drivers that have run over cyclists have been driving vehicles subsequently  found to have illegal defects, such as the Hanson HGV driver than ran over Lisa Pontecorvo, who had removed the mirror that might have, had he been looking in it, allowed him to see her.

And, by the way, despite the EU directive requiring that all HGVs / lorries registered since 2000 retro-fit the so-called ‘blind-spot’ mirror, there are still a lot of tipper trucks driving around without the mirrors fitted.  Whether this is because they were registered before 2000 or because they are simply breaching the law, I don’t know, but I saw 6 out of 8 tippers without the other morning.  I know that isn’t a sufficiently rigorous study, but they were all around Old Street and Clerkenwell Road in the morning, i.e. likely to be using one of London’s busiest cycling streets in the morning peak.  If the Mayor brings in a modified lorry ban, these vehicles would no longer be permitted.

I say all this to demonstrate how important it is that the law is enforced on the roads.  Manifest failures to enforce the law on the roads lead to public outrage, such as in the case of Stephen Perrin.  As has been widely reported all over the cycling web, the CPS and police failed to take any action after being presented with Mr Perrin’s video, which clearly shows an unprovoked and violent assault by a driver.

Almost every cyclist I know has either been subject to an identical or worse assault, or has witnessed one.  It is this wide-spread experience of violent behaviour on the roads, and the total failure to use legal remedies on this driver,  that lead to the hounding of the driver and his family.  I have to say that I have little sympathy for the driver, even if resorting to illegal and violent threats is inexcusable.   He should have been subject to exemplary punishment for his behaviour, precisely because it is so common, so that all road users were reminded that being on the road does not mean that the normal rules of common decency and behaviour are not totally abrogated, as many people appear to believe.

As I said elsewhere, the current penalty for running over a cyclist, either killing or inflicting what the police chillingly call ‘life-changing injuries’, is currently very slight.  Even where the police are able to prove negligence by the driver, the driver often receives a trivial administrative penalty and small fine.  The police are often hampered in these cases because the key witness is frequently deceased.  Generally the only person who sees what happens is the cyclist.  The driver wasn’t looking, (not didn’t see didn’t look) and by-standers only turn to look after the noise of the collision draws their attention.  But even so, the sentences seem extremely light.

To me, and to most cyclists, the sentences, often contextualised by the magistrate with the words ‘momentary inattention’ or some similar formulation, are a manifest failure of justice.

To tie red-light jumping by cyclists to lorries running over cyclists compounds that sense of injustice. This is what a policeman did at an operation to catch RLJing cyclists on City Road last week.  I totally accept that some members of the public view RLJing as a major problem requiring the urgent attention of the police.  I also totally accept that if you break the law, you should be prepared for the consequences.  I am not seeking to excuse cyclists that jump red lights, or argue that they should be shown leniency.  But I am saying that issuing a fixed penalty notice to a cyclist for jumping a red light with the words “we’re doing this because a cyclist got run over by a lorry last week” is grossly stupid and displays a near total ignorance of the reality of collisions between cyclists and lorries.

In numerous cases, too many to list (if you’re looking for examples, surf the contents page of Moving Target, and click on the ‘HGV’ section), the collision happened as both vehicles pulled away from a green light, i.e. the cyclist had waited for a red light to turn green, as required by law.  Reports suggest that this is exactly what Dr Giles did, to quote the most recent example.  Sebastian Lukomski definitely did.  They rarely, so rarely that it has happened perhaps once or twice in the last 20 years in London, are the result of the cyclist having run a light.

And don’t think that this ignorant policeman is an isolated example.  Policemen and women have often said something like ‘we have to scrape you off the road’ to me when chastising me for running a light, or riding the wrong way up a one way. (I used to be a bicycle messenger.  I got paid to get there quickly; obeying the law was discouraged by economic imperative).  I have the greatest respect for traffic police, who really do know what they are talking about, but no traffic cop has ever said this to me. It was always the police equivalent of white van man.

This ignorant behaviour extends to the higher reaches of the police force, as evidenced by the incredibly stupid use of Sebastian Lukomski’s crushed bicycle by the City Police in ‘education’ lectures given to RLJing cyclists instead of a fixed penalty.

I support the police.  I wrote to the Mayor when he tried to cut funding for lorry police. I support their initiatives to educate road users.  But when police make statements like this, they undermine respect for the badge, respect for the law and confound our already low expectations that justice will be done on the roads.