MP pushes to make fitting sensors to lorries legal requirement

Eilidh Cairns' parents constituents of MP urging safety measures with private members bill

by Simon_MacMichael   May 19, 2011  

Cement lorry in London © Simon MacMichael.jpg

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.”
 

4 user comments

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Could I suggest something simpler? A prominent sign on the dashboard of every lorry saying "London - you will encounter cyclists everywhere - watch out for them! Kill one and you may end up in prison for 14 years. Kapiche?"

posted by londonplayer [671 posts]
19th May 2011 - 11:49

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While I applaud the sentiment behind these actions I have grave concerns about the way our society and we as members of it, use technology. In my opinion once you give someone a gadget to look after some aspect of their lives (be it social or during work activity) they become totally reliant on it and their own "function" in that aspect is moved a long way down the personal task list. Lorry design to eliminate blind spost as much as possible is a good move. BUT - drivers MUST be made aware of their responsibility to themselves and other road users. Cyclists as well are desperately in need of the eductaion required to prevent them putting themselves in to dangerous situations while riding in other road traffic. Aren't there statistics that show that a high proportion of Lorry/cyclist fatalities are caused at left hand junctions where the cyclist moves up along side the lorry and is then crushed as the lorry turns. In that instance is the lorry driver WHOLELy responsible in that instance or is that a case where both parties must shoulder the blame, though obviously the rider will have paid the greater price?

Instead of money for some sort of technological repsonce how about a long running national TV campaign to show the dangers of this situation, adverts in general/womens magazines and newspaper, and compulsion for the bike industry to produce and supply with EVERY bike sold a booklet on best practise for cycling in urban traffic?

A beeper will, IMHO, do nothing but lift the responsibility off the driver to pay due care and attention.

And by the way I have commuted by foot and bike for 29 of my 32 working life, I am a dedicated cyclist and despair at the behaviour of some road users. From ALL groups. Pedestrians and cyclists need protection as the most vulnerable users, but that should not mean that we are no longer responsible for our own actions too.

Here endeth the sermon.

Oh and by the way I do not work for, own, have shares in any motorised road transport business.

bikeandy61's picture

posted by bikeandy61 [386 posts]
19th May 2011 - 12:58

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Articulated HGVs are not fit for use in built-up areas full stop, and should be replaced with smaller vehicles working from out-of-town hubs. If a big HGV does need access (for major building works for example) then close the road accordingly.

By all means, let them put sensors on smaller vehicles like the cement lorry pictured, but the time has come to rid our towns of these behemoths.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
19th May 2011 - 13:56

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Yes there should be more awareness in the trucking sector of the risk these large vehicles pose to cyclists. I have to say that articulated trucks are not so often involved in deaths of cyclists. Tipper trucks and waste handling vehicles seem to be amongst the worst offenders. I'm wary of the alarms in the cabs. Devices like these tend to de-skill drivers and lead to complacency. That said, some trucking and construction firms are already fitting this type of technology anyway and I think that on balance, these systems are for the good. I imagine that the installation cost is partly offset by redced insurance premiums - so everybody wins in the end. They should be made compulsory.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
19th May 2011 - 15:56

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