The European Parliament has overwhelmingly voted through legislation aimed at making lorries safer around cyclists and pedestrians, although it may be several years until any changes come into effect at national level. Some 606 MEPs voted for the proposals, with just 54 voting against them and 12 abstentions.
They also rejected plans to make it easier for heavier and longer lorries, known as "mega trucks," to operate across national borders within the European Union, reports the website EurActiv.
News of the vote yesterday has been welcomed by cycling organisations and road safety campaigners both in the UK and across the continent, who have urged member states to embrace the law in full.
New rules on lorry design will see current limits on the length of lorries be relaxed, provided that makers of the vehicles build more aerodynamic cabs that have larger windows to the front and side, increasing the driver’s field of vision and reducing blind spots.
The current “brick-shaped” cab of a typical lorry results from current rules governing the weight and length of such vehicles, with manufacturers adopting that design because it allows for more space for freight behind.
New vehicles, such as the concept from Man pictured above, would also have a crumple zone and a rounder front, which is said to reduce the severity of injuries to vulnerable road users, partly because the design means a cyclist or pedestrian involved in a collision is deflected away from the lorry rather than being dragged beneath it.
British road safety campaigners including See Me Save Me, set up by Kate Cairns after her sister Eilidh was killed by a lorry at Notting Hill Gate in London in February 2009 and now co-ordinated by RoadPeace, has been among organisations lobbying for the new rules.
Among MEPs who pushed for the changes was the West Midlands Liberal Democrat Phil Bennion, who said: “Today's huge majority for change is a victory for all the campaigners who have worked so hard to bring about these life-saving changes to lorry design.
"This vote shows that when individuals engage with MEPs and the European Parliament, they can affect the outcome and bring about positive change,” he added.
While it will be up to individual member states to implement the legislation, the design could become mandatory for new vehicles throughout the European Union (EU) by 2022.
MEPs will now liaise with the Council of Europe, which represents the member states, about the implementation of the revised directive, including the timescale.
Jeannot Mersch, president of the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims, urged national governments not to waste time in putting the new rules into effect, according to a Press Association report on BT.com.
He said: "With today's vote the European Parliament has taken citizens' safety to heart. Thousands of lives are sadly lost and many more victims are severely injured in lorry crashes every year.
"Rounded, streamlined lorry cabs could help avoid hundreds of these deaths and injuries. The EU governments have a moral obligation to embrace this hugely beneficial decision. Weakening, delaying or blocking this decision would be unforgivable."
The European Cyclists’ Federation also urged national governments to embrace the legislation.
Its road safety policy advisor, Ceri Woolsgrove, said:“This is an excellent opportunity to make lorries safer, especially with regards to direct vision, in other words what the driver can actually see around the cab.
“We call upon the member states in the Council to back this approach by the European Parliament to make these relatively dangerous vehicles safer for those it shares the roads with.”
Among others welcoming the news was London’s cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan. Lorries make up 4 per cent of the city’s traffic, but are involved in around half of all cyclist fatalities there.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels in January, he said that Mayor of London Boris Johnson had expressed his concern to the government and transport minister Stephen Hammond about its opposition to the new rules because it wants to curb the impact on the UK of regulations emanating from the EU, EurActiv reported at the time.
Following yesterday’s vote, he said: "Inadequate HGV designs are a major factor in the deaths and injuries of pedestrians and cyclists.
"This is a very important day for cyclists and pedestrians across Europe and I'm glad that we have been able to play a part in bringing it about."
British Cycling's policy adviser, Chris Boardman, added: "This is another step towards creating an environment on the roads that accommodates the needs and safety of cyclists.
"Lorries are involved in almost one in five cycle fatalities in Britain and part of the problem is dangerous cab designs.
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.