Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Sir Alan Beith is urging fellow members of parliament to back his Road Safety Bill, the provisions of which include making it a legal requirement for lorries to be fitted with sensors to warn drivers of the presence of cyclists. The bill, which also seeks to introduce other measures to make the roads safer for vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians, received its first reading in the House of Commons yesterday, and will receive its second reading on Friday 9th September.
The MP introduced his bill after being contacted by the family of Eilidh Cairns, killed by a lorry as she rode her bike to work in London’s Notting Hill in 2009. Earlier this year, her sister Kate organised a campaign to urge members of the European Parliament to introduce laws to require safety features to be fitted to lorries throughout the European Union, an issue that will be voted on by member state transport ministers this autumn.
Presenting his bill, the Liberal Democrat MP said: “The Bill is about saving the lives of vulnerable road users, particularly cyclists but also pedestrians and others. The particular vulnerability that it deals with is caused by blind spots on heavy goods vehicles. It is a problem that is particularly acute in city traffic, especially at junctions. The problem is likely to increase as cycling becomes ever more popular as a means of getting to work in urban areas and for leisure, and as lorries get bigger.
Mr Beith described the circumstances that led to the death of Eilidh Cairns, whose parents live in his constituency, and said that “the coroner described it as a terrible, terrible tragedy that unfortunately is not an uncommon occurrence here in London where a cyclist and a large vehicle come into contact with each other, and invariably the cyclist will suffer very serious or fatal injuries.
“It’s a huge problem that I think the Government, cyclists and safer cycling groups are going to be grappling with for quite a considerable time,” he added.
Mr Beith continued: “The purpose of the Bill is to encourage the Government to grapple with that problem in order to safe lives, and using mirrors or technical means to eliminate drivers’ blind spots on HGVs is a vital weapon in doing so.
Referring to the See Me, Save Me campaign that Kate Cairns orchestrated in memory of her sister, Mr Beith told the House of Commons that with more than 400 MEPs supporting a written declaration on the issue, the European Commission was obliged to take action on the matter, “probably by revising an existing directive so that newly-registered HGVs will have effective means of eliminating blind spots, emergency braking and lane departure warning systems.”
However, he took issue with Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, who in publishing the Department for Transport’s Strategic Framework for Road Safety last week said that when it came to vehicle technology, voluntary compliance was preferable to regulation.
While Mr Beith conceded that voluntary compliance might be acceptable in some circumstances, he insisted that it wasn’t appropriate in this instance due to the seriousness of the issue and also because there was a risk that hauliers who would want to spend money on new technology would be deterred from doing so because their competitors who chose not to implement safety features would be able to undercut them.
According to Mr Beith, however, that would be a false economy, with the MP pointing out that “the costs to a haulage business of involvement in a fatal accident are substantial, including the loss of a driver’s services for a long period, the disrupting insurance, legal and other costs, and potentially compensation costs.”
Moreover, he added, “the cost to the economy is massive. According to the Department for Transport, fatal accidents cost on average more than £1,750,000. The cost of better mirrors and technical additions would be very small in comparison to the huge cost of a new HGV. Fitting such technology to older vehicles could at least be achieved on a gradual basis, at a cost of around £700 on present estimates.”
Mr Beith also passed comment on the tendency of coroner’s inquests to assign a verdict of “accidental death” to incidents in which a cyclist has been killed following a collision with a lorry.
“Coroners’ verdicts often refer to the deaths of cyclists in the circumstances I have described as accidental deaths, which is much resented by many of the families involved,” he explained.
“They feel very strongly that “accident” implies something that was beyond control or prevention. It also seems to preclude culpability where a driver has ignored the fact that he cannot see an area of road on to which his vehicle is encroaching.
“RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, is pressing for the word “accident” not to be used in future for road crashes or collisions. The case that we are putting today is that many collisions that lead to the deaths of cyclists and other vulnerable road users could be prevented. We should not miss the opportunity to call for practical measures to save lives.”
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.