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Croydon trials electronic cycle alert system for bin lorries - that only works if the cyclist is tagged

Controversial scheme only protects cyclists who tag their bikes and helmets

A number of bin lorries in Croydon have been fitted with electronic alerts that tell the driver a cyclist is present - but only if they have fitted a corresponding device to their bike or helmet.

The controversial scheme, Cycle Alert, is being trialled on four refuse lorries, but Croydon Cycle Campaign say HGV drivers will be lulled into a false sense of security, while it will be impossible to tag enough of the area’s cyclists.

Manufacturers of the £400 device are hoping to roll it out nationally after piloting, and cyclists in the area are being encouraged to pick up a free electronic tag from cycle shops in the borough, which will sound an alert in the lorry’s cab if they come within 2.5m.

An LED display shows the driver the position of the cyclist.

Danni Lapham of Cycle Alert told the Croydon Advertiser: "We believe the benefits for operators and for cyclists' safety will outweigh the costs."

The company has not yet decided whether or how much cyclists will have to pay for their equipment in the future.

Councillor Kathy Bee said: "The success of the scheme is dependent on the extent the technology is taken up and the way in which the scheme is promoted.

"It has also got to be really easy for people to get hold of the equipment."

But Kristian Gregory of the Cycling Campaign said: "We are seriously concerned about the effect Cycle Alert will have on road safety.

"We are concerned that tagging a high enough percentage of cyclists will not be viable, and that HGV drivers will be given a false sense of security by the device, when an untagged cyclist may be nearby."

Mr Gregory added: "We believe safety devices should only need fitting to the lorry itself.

"This will be safer for cyclists and also pedestrians who are also at high risk from lorries with blind spots.

"Safer lorry cab designs are also needed to eliminate blind spots.

The plans come soon after analysis that found that Croydon has topped the list of the most dangerous boroughs in London since 2010 when it comes to read deaths, along with Enfield recording 33 deaths in the time period.

In Croydon those killed ranged in age from 14 to 88, and 304 people were injured in the town centre, according to Department for Transport figures.

Last year we reported how the London Borough of Croydon sought £2.8 million for funding for cycling from Transport for London (TfL) between 2006/07 and 2008/09.

The borough received £1.8 million of that, but had spent only £1.4 million.

Earlier this month we reported how a former government transport minister, Lord Attlee, called on the government to research and set out minimum standards for HGV blind spot safety devices.

Emphasising that zero cyclist casualties should be the target, he also proposed a ‘tag-and-beacon system’ like Cycle Alert, which would warn drivers of nearby cyclists.

Attlee said that while TfL had made imaginative use of a traffic regulation order concerning mirrors and sideguards, this wasn’t enough. “Mirrors work only if drivers invariably use them and if cyclists do not enter the truck’s blind spot or danger areas in an inadvisable way.”

He therefore proposed a system where lorries are fitted with infrared emitters, while bikes are fitted with detectors that alert the lorry driver when a cyclist is nearby. “This is known as a tag-and-beacon system, and a very similar system has already been marketed which uses RFID (radio frequency identification).”

Attlee did however concede that there were difficulties in implementing such a system.

“These systems do have the difficulty that the cycles would have to be fitted with a tag, which could be a problem, but that has to be balanced against the technical advantages. It would be necessary to fit only certain types of high-risk HGVs, in particular construction vehicles. My understanding is that the concept would work, but the difficulty is in its implementation.”

Attlee also called for independent assessment of the wide range of HGV blind spot safety technology now available.

“Products said to be designed to save lives should be independently evaluated and compared. The operators of HGVs would then have all the facts they need to make informed choices and know that the safety equipment they are investing in offers value for money and is effective. I am sad to say that this is not the case.

“Unlike every other safety device in the workplace, those being sold to HGV operators do not have to meet stringent performance criteria or undergo rigorous testing. A robust and consistent process needs to be established independently to evaluate HGV safety products against the functional and performance criteria set.”

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.

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