This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 105.
One of the displays at the Societies’ Fair on Parker’s Piece during the first week of the university term was a huge cement lorry from the Mineral Products Association (MPA). They were using the event to raise awareness of the visibility of cyclists to the drivers of such big vehicles, and vice-versa. We were told that 12 cyclists were killed last year in collisions with these vehicles and they were looking at improved mirrors and use of camera technology that might reduce the problem.
We were invited into the cab, which starts with a climb of four large steps up a ladder on the side of the vehicle. Sitting in the driver’s position, with an eyeline of between 2.5 and 3 metres above ground level, the distant view is commanding but more importantly the ground immediately in front of the vehicle is not directly visible. One of the pictures accompanying this article shows a big mat in front of the truck, none of which is directly visible to the driver.
Looking to the left, the nearside of the vehicle is a long way from the driver’s seat. Beyond the left window are three mirrors. At the top a curved mirror reflects the view of the ground in a position cyclists might expect to find themselves in a cycle lane. On the right two more conventional mirrors reflect the view from the nearside of the lorry. The bottom of these two is curved to give a view of the ground area near the back of the cab. A new mirror is positioned at the top front of the windscreen, again on the nearside of the vehicle. This is a convex mirror and gives a very distorted view of the area immediately in front of and to the side of the vehicle.
The two men who showed us all this explained to us how these mirrors are required to be fitted to all new vehicles. They went on to show us their new camera system. Four cameras are fitted, one on each cab door facing to the rear, one at the bottom middle of the windscreen facing to the front, and one on the back of the truck. They are on 24/7 and start recording when they detect movement – so they also perform a security function. They show an image in the screen at the top of the windscreen during daylight, but at night this screen turns off when the truck is moving at more than 20mph – to avoid driver distraction.
We were told that some truck types are more likely to be involved in fatal collisions than others, with tipper trucks among the most deadly. Since adding cameras to the trucks no MPA members have been involved in fatal collisions. I also heard of a scheme called ‘Exchanging Places’ in which lorry drivers and cyclists swap places to get a feeling of each others perspective.
It was very pleasing to see this kind of effort being made by the construction industry and members of the MPA do seem to be taking a lead here. However, we were concerned that the way the system was described could give the impression that cyclists were at fault, putting themselves in danger.
It was informative to see how many things a driver has available to show whether there is anything in the path of the truck – four mirrors and now a screen linked to nearside cameras. This is seriously upping the ante in the technology and ‘safety equipment’ stakes. Questions remain about whether all this will make a long-term difference and what pressure it will put on the driver as video evidence may make them more accountable.