Four cyclists were killed by lorries in London in the first two months of this year. These tragedies are, sadly, far from unprecedented in the capital, a product of the city’s twin construction and cycling booms, and infrastructure which forces cyclists and lorries to share the roads.
Although lorries are only four per cent of London traffic, they are responsible for more than half the cycling fatalities in the capital.
The principal problem is lorries’ extensive blind spots. Contrary to popular belief, cyclists can find themselves out of sight through no fault of their own, according to the London Cycling Campaign’s (LCC) Rosie Downes.
“There’s considerable evidence that many fatalities are not caused by cyclists undertaking lorries, but by drivers manoeuvring their lorry into a position that puts the cyclist at risk,” she says.
“It’s essential people know how to not put themselves at risk unnecessarily and also to know how to stay out of danger when lorry drivers put them in a dangerous position. However, while education is important, reducing the danger at its source should be our major priority.”
Large tipper trucks are a big part of the problem: designed to spend a fraction of their lives in off-road conditions on building sites, they lack the side bars that prevent cyclists being dragged under the wheels. At the same time many operators, especially smaller subcontractors working on narrower margins, do not even install mirrors to reduce vehicle blind spots.
From September, lorries without basic safety equipment – side guards and mirrors – will be banned from London’s streets, or face a maximum £1000 fine.
However, the fundamental problem remains that lorries are poorly designed for city streets with high cabs and little direct vision of the road.
Jacqueline O’Donovan, who runs Donovan Waste disposal, points out that where buses today are worlds apart from their 1970s ancestors, lorry design has barely changed in 40 years. She says retrofitting vehicles with mirrors, cameras and sensors to compensate for blind spots comes with its own problems.
She says: “I think as an industry as a whole we are putting bits on, retrofitting to the vehicle… we have got to be careful we aren’t overloading the driver because that could be a contributory factor in reducing concentration.”
However, O’Donovan admits that lorry manufacturers see the problem of cyclist safety as an urban planning issue, rather than one which requires investment in better vehicle designs.
That said, this month in London major lorry companies including Mercedes Benz, DAF Trucks, Scania, Volvo and MAN showed off their new, cycle-friendly lorries. One particularly striking model is the Mercedes Econic, with its lower cab and full-length glass doors. If only for the sake of good PR, or energy efficiency savings, updated lorry design makes more and more business sense.
Driver training and road design are other key parts of the puzzle, including junctions that encourage fast turns, and cycle infrastructure that puts cyclists directly into lorries’ blind spots. Until we have addressed these there is no guarantee cyclists are safe in our cities.
London cyclist deaths caused by lorries in January and February 2015
29-year-old Stephanie Turner was killed following a collision with a tipper truck at the junction of Amhurst Park and Seven Sisters Road, in Hackney on January 20.
Also in Hackney, 34-year-old Akis Kollaros, member of London Dynamo cycle club, was crushed by a left turning tipper truck on Homerton High Street on February 2.
Frederica Baldassa was killed by a Greggs delivery truck at the junction of Vernon Place and Bloomsbury Square on February 6.
Claire Hitier-Abadie, was killed by a left turning Crossrail construction lorry in Victoria on Friday February 20