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DfT and Boris Johnson announce measures to improve safety of London cyclists around HGVs

Proposals unveiled on same day cyclist lost her life to lorry in South London

Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the Department for Transport (DfT) have today announced a series of measures designed to improve the safety of cyclists around HGVs in the capital.

The urgency of the issue of cycle safety has been underlined by news that in the 24 hours before the proposals were unveiled, two cyclists were hit by lorries in London, one killed, the other suffering serious injuries.

Under the initiative announced today, a new 16-strong industrial HGV task force made up of police and government inspectors will clamp down on dangerous operators, drivers and vehicles.

Moreover, vehicles currently exempt from safety regulations may be forced to take extra measures to protect cyclists in London.

A consultation has also been announced into whether Mr Johnson should introduce a ‘safer lorry charge’, fining the operator of any HGV which is not fitted with the basic safety equipment to protect cyclists.

Bike riders now make up almost a quarter of all rush hour traffic in the centre of London. Of the seven cyclist deaths so far this year, five have involved HGVs.

But the 12-week process in which Londoners will be asked for their views on that  proposal will not begin until early next year, after which a decision will be taken.

The proposed scheme would be similar to the London Low Emission Zone, under which operators of vehicles that don’t meet emissions standards can be fined a minimum of £200. It is enforced on most roads inside the M25.

Between 2008 and 2012, HGVs were involved in 53 per cent of London cyclist deaths despite making up only 4 per cent of the traffic.

According to the Evening Standard more than 6,000 lorries could be forced to adopt new safety measures before they enter the capital.

The Mayor of London and the DfT have now pledged to work with vehicle manufacturers and the EU to improve the visibility of cyclists from lorry cabs, including cyclists at the front and on the nearside of lorries.

They will also seek to deliver Bikeability training for cyclists and also work with the road freight industry to help further improve driver training.

Mr Johnson said: “I have long been worried that a large number of cyclist deaths involve a relatively small number of problem lorries which are not fitted with safety equipment.

“In my cycling vision in March, I said that no lorry should be allowed in London unless it is fitted with equipment to protect cyclists.

“After a lot of work behind the scenes, we have today taken the first steps to make this a reality.”

Under national legislation, many HGVs are fitted with sidebars or low skirts which protect cyclists from being dragged underneath the vehicle and crushed.

However, construction lorries, tipper trucks, waste vehicles, cement mixers and certain other forms of HGV are exempt from these and other safety requirements, because it is argued that it would make it harder for them to be driven off-road.

The five point plan is as follows:

• DfT and TfL to establish new industrial HGV task force to take direct action against dangerous HGV drivers, vehicles and operators
• DfT to review exemptions to current HGV regulations
• An appeal to the European Union to speed up its review on the design of HGVs to increase drivers’ visibility of vulnerable road users
• DfT and the Driving Standards Agency issuing a call for evidence about how driver training could change
• The consultation on the safer lorry charge.

Road safety minister Stephen Hammond said: “The government is committed to improving the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users. Today’s announcement of a dedicated Industrial HGV task force will target the small minority of large goods vehicle operators who are unaware of, or just wilfully non-compliant with, safety regulations for HGVs and their drivers.

“I have also committed to review vehicle regulations to ensure there are no unjustified exemptions from safety standards and, together with the Mayor, will press the EU to improve vehicle safety designs as soon as possible.”

But the plans do not go so far as to ban HGVs from the city centre during the daytime as in Paris and Dublin, something the Mayor has been urged to consider by cycling campaign groups.

Sustrans’ London Director, German Dector-Vega, said: “With the consultation not beginning until 2014, it could be years until this initiative becomes reality – we need urgent action now to prevent further deaths.

“Working with industry, the government should start to investigate banning HGVs in city centres during peak times and on busy cycling routes, as is the norm in places like Germany.

“Like freight and deliveries, cycling is also a vital function of the city but lives are more valuable than any load.”

British Cycling’s Director of Policy and Legal Affairs, Martin Gibbs, said: “In Paris, there are strict controls on HGV deliveries - this effectively stops them from using the road. The most restrictive times are for the largest and most polluting vehicles which are kept away from roads during peak hours.

“The Government... should also stop the longer HGVs trial which has allowed 1,000 vehicles on the streets which are almost 20 metres long.

“Long lorries are dangerous for cycling because they increase the driver’s blind spot which is especially dangerous to people on bikes and pedestrians when pulling away at junctions and when turning.”

In 2011, there were no cycling fatalities in Paris, compared to 16 in London in the same period.

While the figures are not directly comparable – those from the British capital relate to an area around twice the size of the ones from the French one –  the majority of deaths of cyclists in the former do take place within a relatively small area encompassing Central and Inner London.

The plans announced today have not been welcomed by groups representing HGV operators and drivers, however.

The Freight Transport Association’s Karen Dee told the Evening Standard: “The FTA views the Mayor’s decision as unprecedented and authoritarian that will create confused standards, leaving HGV operators not knowing what they are trying to achieve.

“Improving road safety is a priority for our members and many lorry operators already work to the highest standards. A huge amount of investment has been made by responsible operators who have gone over and above the minimum legal requirements to ensure that safety equipment is fitted to their vehicles. There are better ways of achieving safe roads.”

As news of the initiative was being announced, it emerged that a female cyclist aged in her 30s was killed this morning following a collision with an HGV near West Dulwich railway station.

The incident took place shortly before 9.30am on Thurlow Park Road (which forms part of the South Circular Road) opposite the junction with Gallery Road.

Yesterday evening a male cyclist aged in his mid-20s was taken to hospital after being involved in a collision with a lorry at the junction of Tooley Street and Tower Bridge Road in Southwark.

The cyclist’s condition was described today as “serious but stable,” with the Metropolitan Police adding that its collisions investigation unit is appealing for information from witnesses and can be contacted on 020 8285 1574.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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