Following pressure from campaigners including bereaved friends and families of accident victims and the London Cycle Campaign, the Metropolitan Police is to reconstitute its Commercial Vehicle Education Unit (CVEU) under a new name, the Commercial Vehicle Unit (CVU).
Last October, Mayor of London Boris Johnson came under heavy criticism after he announced that he had decided to disband the specialist lorry safety unit, particularly because since the start of 2009, eight cyclists, six of them women, had been killed by lorries in the capital.
That led Hackney North MP Diane Abbott to table an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for the reinstatement of the CVEU, while LCC cycling development officer Charlie Lloyd said: "It's difficult to believe that our cycling mayor is disbanding the only police unit in the country that has the power to properly investigate unsafe lorry operators, and bring them up to standards set by Health and Safety law.”
Last month, Kate Cairns, whose sister Eilidh was killed after being hit by an HGV in London in February 2009, described the mayor’s decision to disband the CVEU as “completely irresponsible,” saying that female cyclists killed by HGVs on London’s streets “are not soldiers going into battle. They are just women going to work and nobody is doing anything to stop this needless slaughter.”
The CVEU, the only unit of its type in the UK, was run by the Metropolitan Police and since 2005, some 70% of the vehicles it checked were found to be defective.
The Mayor claimed that the voluntary scheme for haulage companies, the Freight Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS), would provide sufficient protection for cyclists and other vulnerable road users, although Lloyd pointed out that the very fact that it was voluntary meant that the scheme was flawed, saying: “It's for these people that the police need expert powers to pursue them until they comply with the law."
According to the LCC, haulage industry bodies and drivers’ associations were also concerned about ““the dangers caused by irresponsible lorry operators,” who by their nature would be unlikely to embrace a voluntary scheme.
Now, the LCC reports that Metropolitan Police has secured funding to re-establish the CVEU as the CVU, in what the LCC describes as a victory for campaigners to have the it re-established, although the absence of money from TfL means that it has had to relocate from its former base in London.
The CVU will work outside the FORS, which LCC says means that Transport for London will need to find its own staff to fulfill that role, adding that the CVU model may serve as an example to other police forces throughout the UK.
The LCC and other campaigners acknowledge, however, that there is still a long way to go in improving cyclists’ safety with regards to HGVs, with Lloyd saying: "Failure to manage work-related road danger is the biggest cause of industrial death and injury in the UK.
"It's absurd there are only a handful of police in London with the skills and authority to enforce health and safety regulations."
To that end, a new Early Day Motion has been tabled in Parliament by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group which asks for lorries to be fitted with safety sensors ad compulsory training for drivers.
If you are registered to vote in the UK, you can write to your MP and ask them to support the motion if they haven’t already done so.
So far, 79 MPs have pledged their backing for the motion, and their names, together with the full text, can be found here.
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