44 tonne articulated trucks and towns don’t mix

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 53.

At the Cycling Campaign meeting in March we were pleased to welcome Robin Webb to talk on this subject and show a short film he has made.

Sadly the reason for his strong interest is that his 21-year-old daughter was crushed by a left turning lorry in London. As a Civil Engineer he was amazed at the lack of understanding of the problems by all the authorities involved, and has set out to try to educate those involved and get changes made.

Turning circle of an articulated lorry graphically illustrated in Robin Webb’s film.
Image as described adjacent

He used diagrams to explain that with large modern vehicles, even those with extra mirrors, there is normally a blind spot on the left hand side adjacent to the cab. This is just the location likely to be occupied by a cyclist also waiting at a junction. With these large vehicles, unlike buses or local delivery vehicles, the cab is so high that cyclists and pedestrians are below the level of the windows and hence cannot even be seen directly. When the vehicle moves off the trailer may encroach into the space occupied by the cyclist. Modern trailers should be equipped with ‘underrun’ protectors at the side, but these are really only of use to prevent cars from being crushed and afford little or no protection for vulnerable road users.

Robin said that he was very concerned over the attitude of the police and the coroner at his daughter’s inquest, as there was no suggestion that the driver was to blame. The Highway Code says (rule 158):

Do not overtake just before you turn left and watch out for traffic coming up on your left before you make the turn, especially if driving a large vehicle. Cyclists and motorcyclists in particular may be hidden from your view.

I was very interested in Robin’s point as I remember something that had stuck in my mind from a book I bought and read over 30 years ago, and still had on my shelves. In a legal book Road Accidents it quotes a case ‘Rex v Ball & Loughlin’ (1966) concerning an Army Ferret scout car in which the driver only has forward visibility. On the instructions of the commander who was ‘up top’, the driver proceeded at a junction and an accident ensued. The driver was convicted on the grounds that it was his responsibility to ensure the road was clear, and taking instructions from others did not absolve him of the responsibility. In the intervening years I don’t suppose the principle of the law will have changed, but I suspect the application has.

In the 1960s such large vehicles were not permitted anywhere

Given the above I cannot see how the fact that the driver of an articulated heavy goods vehicle cannot see the stationary cyclist absolves him of blame in such incidents.

Robin Webb’s film was very good and included demonstrations of the blind spots and corner cutting, as well as interviews with both police officers and local authority personnel. He said that he had difficulty persuading haulage concerns to help with the film and none would appear on camera.

Robin discussed the methods that could be used to reduce such incidents, including educating drivers and cyclists of the dangers and improving visibility from the cab, but his main thrust was preventing such large vehicles accessing town centres where there are tight junctions and many cyclists and pedestrians. In the 1960s such large vehicles were not permitted anywhere, and from the 1980s powers have been available to restrict the access of large vehicles on environmental grounds, but they are little used and poorly enforced. He was keen on trans-shipment depots; the Robert Sayle system with a warehouse at Trumpington for ‘trunk’ deliveries, and smaller lorries delivering to the City Centre store is a good example of this.

This talk and film certainly reinforces the point: don’t move up the inside of large vehicles, even if there appears to be space, unless you are absolutely sure you can get well in front without the vehicle moving.

The Campaign will work with Robin to try and get more publicity for these problems and solutions.

Jim Chisholm