Sensors of Crossrail lorry involved in cyclist's death not working

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Two of three sensors fitted to a lorry operated by a contractor working on the Crossrail project in London were broken at the time the vehicle struck and killed a nursing assistant in Adlgate as she cycled to work in September 2013.

The sensors, designed to detect cyclists and warn the driver of their presence, are required to be fitted to all contractors’ vehicles involved in the project under safety requirements announced by Crossrail in 2012 aimed at improving the safety of people on bikes.

The London Evening Standard’s Ross Lydall says that the fact the vehicle was working on Crossrail only came to light after the newspaper conducted several weeks’ research into the death of Maria Karsa, who lived in Islington.

The 21-year-old normally worked at Barts Hospital, but was on her way to do a shift at the Royal London, part of the same foundation, when the incident happened on the morning of 15 September. She died from her injuries in the Royal London a week later.

According to the newspaper, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) studied video evidence but decided against bringing charges against the 41-year-old driver of the lorry since it did not believe that he had failed to reach the standard of a “competent motorist.”

The Standard adds that the lorry had deviated from its approved route and that the driver was believed to have been using a hands-free mobile phone – not in itself illegal, but it can be used as evidence of driver distraction in a careless or dangerous driving charge – immediately prior to the collision.

It also points out that the sensors being faulty is not an offence, since operators fit them voluntarily to vehicles.
A spokesman for CPS London told the Standard: “After a very careful review of the evidence ... the driving was found not to have been below the standard required for a competent motorist.

“We have communicated this decision to the family and offer our sympathies to them and friends of Maria Karsa. This was a tragic collision for which no one can be held criminally liable.”

In March, City of London coroner Paul Matthews recorded a verdict of accidental death, saying that it could not be proved that the driver was speaking on the phone at the time of the collision.

A spokesman for Crossrail added: “We remain deeply saddened by the accident that caused the death of Maria Karsa. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.

“Tragic incidents such as this demonstrate the importance of continuing to focus on safety standards. We are continually looking for ways to improve HGV safety and have recently introduced tougher measures.”

Speaking about the incident that resulted in Ms Karsa’s death, Donnachadh McCarthy, co-founder of the direct action group Stop Killing Cyclists, told the Standard: “This alarming news about faulty sensors on a truck working for the Mayor’s own Crossrail project highlights the wider failure of the Mayor to crack down on the shocking estimated 30 per cent of London’s trucks that are believed to be faulty.”

In February 2012, Crossrail, the largest current transport infrastructure project in Europe, said it would require vehicles operated by contractors and sub-contractors to be fitted with side proximity sensors, Fresnel lenses and side under-run guards.

It also said that it was working with Transport for London to fit Trixi mirrors at all junctions leading in to sites where works are being carried out, with Crossrail stations being built at locations including Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon and Liverpool Street in Central London.

At the time, Andy Mitchell, Crossrail Programme Director, said: “Crossrail sets high standards for lorries operating on the project and views the safety of all road users, including cyclists, as a significant priority.

“Crossrail requires all lorries working on the Crossrail project to be fitted with additional safety features to protect cyclists.

“HGVs that do not comply with our increased requirements will be refused entry to Crossrail worksites and turned away incurring financial cost to individual contractors.

“As our contractors often work on multiple construction projects, these new safety measures will help improve lorry safety across the construction industry, delivering benefits for cyclists across London.”

It is not known whether Crossrail performs physical checks on lorries to ensure that safety features such as sensors, where fitted, are actually working.

Crossrail is scheduled to be fully operational by 2018 and will run from Reading and Heathrow Terminal 4 in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

Involving 21.5km of railway tunnels under Central London, the size of the project, and the challenges involved, are much greater than those seen in other recent civil engineering projects in the capital such as the construction of the Shard or the Olympic Park.

Crossrail also said that it was training providing drivers with cyclist awareness training, with 2,000 undergoing it at the time of the announcement in February 2012.