The Metropolitan Police has released a video showing a cyclist and a lorry driver taking part in one of its Exchanging Places events, aimed at fostering better understanding between the two types of road user.
The scheme, which last month won a Prince Michael International Road Safety Award, has been running since 2007 but the impetus for making the video is the deaths in the first half of November of six cyclists in London, all of them killed in collisions with lorries.
In the short film, cyclist Christopher and tipper truck driver Darren, accompanied by Sergeant Simon Castle from the Metropolitan Police’s Cycle Task Force, gain an appreciation of how things are from the other’s perspective.
Christopher, who cycles daily, says: “London traffic for me is the most intense traffic. I am extremely careful around trucks – it’s not a good mix, it’s not a good match.”
Darren, who’s been driving tipper lorries for about a decade, comments: “The limitations I have driving the lorry around London is that I’m very high up and the cyclists are very low down, and there’s lots of blind spots around the vehicle.”
Once Christopher is in the cab, and with Sergeant Castle moving around the vehicle with a bicycle, Derek explains when the cyclist can and can’t be seen.
With the camera also showing the driver’s point of view, it’s quite an eye-opener to learn just how easy it is for a bike rider to disappear from sight.
“In the moment it takes for him to look to his right to see if there’s any traffic, by the time he’s looked back, a cyclist could have come up along the side of the truck and be hidden,” says Christopher. “If you’re in that place, you’re in trouble.”
“My recommendation would be to a cyclist, number one, try to avoid at all costs going up the side of an HGV at lights, try and avoid coming up the inside of a lorry at these traffic lights especially if the lorry’s turning left,” adds Darren.
Later, Christopher says: “Having had this day, there’s certain things I could do which would be really easy. I definitely will be wearing a visible top – a truck driver’s going to pick you up, they know you’re there, you’re in a much better position.”
Darren reflects: “I’ve gained from this experience that you have to have a bit of teamwork, you have to have a bit of eye contact, you have to have a bit of hand manoeuvres between the cyclist and the lorry driver. You’ve both got to look out for each other.”
That sense of working together is something picked up on by Christopher, too, who says: ““It’s a team effort and that’s really clear to me now.”
Sergeant Castle explains the thinking behind the initiative: “The number one cause of serious crashes in London involving cyclists involves HGVs, heavy goods vehicles, and we know why – the lorry driver can’t see the cyclist, and the cyclist isn’t aware of what the lorry driver can and can’t see.
“What we do is we get the cyclists to sit in the cab of the lorry and explain how these crashes tend to happen and crucially, how to avoid them.”
While riding a bike along the road with Christopher and Derek, he points out: “The more space the lorry has left you, the more likely it is he’s going to turn left. The more tempting it looks, the more dangerous it is.”
A scheme that aims to enable lorry drivers and bike riders to get an insight into the other’s experience forms can only form part of trying to make conditions safer for cyclists when sharing the road with large vehicles.
Safety equipment such as mirrors, sensors and side guards, along with improvements to infrastructure such as early start traffic lights or proper provision for cyclists at junctions and enforcement of Advanced Stop Lines, are just some of the other measures that can reduce the danger.
But given that in some instances lorry drivers have been found guilty of causing deaths of cyclists in London, and that a recent Metropolitan Police road safety operation saw 15 out of 70 lorry drivers fined for a variety of offences, it’s perhaps wishful thinking when Sergeant Castle says: “My key message is that these crashes are avoidable.”
He adds: “We’re not talking about massive changes to the way we ride our bikes, we’re talking about a few sensible precautions.”
Forthcoming Exchanging Places events are scheduled for Wednesday 11 December from 0730-1000 at Factory Road E16 at the junction with North Woolwich Road, and on Friday 20 December from 0730-1000 at Kings Mews, Holborn, WC1.
Another London cyclist who has taken part in a similar scheme is road.cc’s own Sarah Barth, who attended one last year. Here’s what she had to say:
The opportunity to sit in the cab of an HGV is one of the most significant things I've done to improve my safety on the streets of London.
The cab is filled with mirrors, so it is possible to see the sides of the lorries from most angles, but it's not always easy.
A cyclist is just about visible coming up on the left -- but the improvement once you add a high-viz jacket is astonishing. If you've any sense though, you'd ride up the right, or go nowhere near.
There clearly are blind spots, and these are different on different vehicles, so you come away with the impression that the safest place to be is well out of the way.
And the safety features only work if the driver is using them - one can only imagine the dangers posed by a tired or distracted driver.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.