Dismay at coroner's verdict keeps HGVs at the top of cycling's safety agenda
Coroner returns accidental death verdict on young women cyclists killed by cement mixer
A London coroner has ruled that the death of a young woman cyclist beneath the wheels of a left-turning cement mixer lorry earlier this year was accidental, a decision that has already been condemened by road safety campaigners.
Rebecca Goosen a 26 year old trainee architect died when she was trapped on the inside of acement mixer that was turning left at the junction of Old Street and Goswell Road on April 9 this year. In his evidence to the Saint Pancras Coroner's Court the driver, Vladas Urbanas, said that he checked his mirror before beginning to turn but he didn't see Ms Goosen because she was in a blind spot:
“I checked my mirror and it was clear. When I started turning I didn’t hear anything then I felt my truck jump and I felt in my heart something had happened so I stopped,” he said.
The St Pancras Coroner, Dr Andrew Reid, recorded a verdict of accidental death after accepting the evidence of collisions investigator Mark Crouch who told the inquest that it was, “entirely possible” that the cyclist was either partly or completely obscured to the driver, despite the vehicle being fitted with “all the appropriate safety measures”.
The court was told that the lorry that killed Ms Goosen was fitted with a system that gave cyclists a verbal warning if they attempted to pass on the inside – the system was activated whenever the driver used the left turn indicator.
Commenting on the coroner's verdict safety campaigner Cynthia Barlow of Roadpeace told the Islington Tribune that:
“His ruling shows a too-ready acceptance of the existence of blindspots as something that cannot be avoided. There is no such thing as a blindspot. There are difficult-to-see spots, but there are measures that can be taken to make drivers aware of vehicles on their inside.
“Clearly, such measures would have saved this young girl’s life.”
Ms Barlow's own daughter was killed in a collision with a cement mixer nine years ago, in a bid to improve the safety of such vehicles she bought shares in Cemex, the company that owned the lorry which killed her daughter resulting in Cemex fitting additional safety equipment including extra mirrors and a sensor that warns the driver about vehicles on the inside. Ms Barlow told the Tribune she was “extremely disappointed” that the coroner did not question whether such devices should be more widely used.
Eight cyclists have been killed in London this year in incidents involving HGVs, women cyclists seem to be particularly vulnerable. Given their numbers HGVs account for a disproportionate number of London's serious cycling casualties and constuction lorries make up a disproportionate number of those HGVs. Construction vehicles are currently exempt from the requirement to fit sidebars to prevent people being dragged beneath their wheel in the event of a collision.
The Mayor of London and TfL said in their draft Cycle Safety Strategy last week that they would call on the Government to end that exemption. TfL has also handed out 20,000 fresnel lenses to HGV operators to help eliminate lorry blindspots there will also be a trial of Trixi mirrors along the route of the new cycle super highways – these attach to traffic lights as a further aid to all-round vision for HGV drivers.
As reported last week TFL and the Mayor also want cycle safety awareness training to be a mandatory part of HGV drivers ‘Certificate of Professional Competence’ (CPC) periodic training requirement.
While driver and cyclist awareness campaigns and the distribution of Fresnel lenses will help to make incidents such as the one the claimed Rebecca Goosen's life rarer, any change to the regulations regarding HGVs will need to be made at a national level by the Department for Transport (DfT). We asked the DfT what its position was regarding HGVs and cyclist's safety and on the changes to regulations and driver training called for in the Mayor's draft Safety Strategy. A DfT spokesperson told road.cc:
“We are taking forward several measures to improve safety for cyclists including distributing Fresnel lenses – which improve vision in drivers’ blind spots - to hauliers. We also encourage the use of ‘forward stop’ lines at traffic lights to allow cyclists to get a head start on heavier traffic.
“Side guards are already fitted on most goods vehicles and trailers and independent research shows that this legislation has saved the lives of around 12 cyclists per year. However, for practical reasons, some types of vehicle are exempted from the legislation, including vehicles equipped with a tipping body as used on construction sites and vehicles with side guards built in to the bodywork.
“Driver CPC was introduced in September this year to ensure that HGV drivers have the best possible professional preparation and the syllabus contains specific road safety training.
“We will consider the Mayor’s letter and respond in due course.”