Leading UK academics have presented revolutionary, but achievable, changes to lorry designs which could save the lives of countless pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
As part of Transport for London's (TfL's) work to lead the way to improve safety for all road users, the Loughborough Design School, a school of the University of Loughborough, was commissioned to show that realistic and economical changes to HGV cab designs can lead to tangible increases in the road safety of the roads for all.
The project was joint funded by TfL and Transport & Environment (T&E), a campaign group arguing for smarter, greener transport in Europe.
The average cyclist is invisible to the eye of an HGV driver up to 1.9m from the base of the cab.
These blind spots are the result of an outdated cab design. Reducing these areas reduces the risk to road users.
Over the past few decades, there has been little improvement to the amount of direct vision to HGV drivers. Attempted solutions to address blind spot issues have previously been to increase the size and number of mirrors, however, it is increased direct vision that holds the key to improved road safety.
Using recently proposed changes to the length of HGVs by the EU Commission, Loughborough Design School demonstrated the improvements possible to an expert panel in Brussels earlier this month. The achievable changes can result in significant improvements to the amount of direct vision in an HGV that a driver has of their surroundings, and in particular to the vital areas close to the cab.
The 'direct vision concept' that Loughborough have recommended would include a slightly curved and elongated nose on the vehicle, a smaller dashboard, expanded glazed areas in the passenger doors and corner of the cab and a slightly lower cab. An improved HGV drivers cab with more direct vision and an increased aerodynamic front provides better safety and reduced costs to the operator.
The appetite for these changes exists across the industry from hauliers and trade unions, to cities and safety groups. Poor driver vision and lorry blind spots are a major cause of fatal accidents involving HGVs. Between 2008 and 2013, large commercial vehicles were involved in 55 per cent of London cyclist deaths, despite making up only 4 per cent of the traffic.
The relatively small changes in design that the University of Loughborough have recommended will dramatically increase the drivers' direct vision in critical areas, potentially saving hundreds of lives.
Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL, said: `We are committed to improving road safety for everyone. We have led the way with the proposed Safer Lorry Scheme and the introduction of the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety programme, all of which will improve the safety of the roads beyond our capital.
`From walkmans to iPhones, technology has moved on leaps and bounds since the 1980s, but HGV drivers are still in cabs that have seen very little improvement in direct vision for decades. Thanks to our funding, a leading UK academic institution has demonstrated to Europe how the vehicle manufacturing industry can continue to progress. Improved and increased direct vision will benefit all. Safety will be improved, efficiencies will be made and lives will be saved.`
William Todts, senior policy officer of T&E, said: `Not only drivers, but politicians too need vision. It simply makes no sense to allow gigantic 40ton mammoths on our roads without making sure the people behind the wheel actually see what's going on. After decades of tinkering with mirrors, we need improved direct vision for new lorry designs to save hundreds of lives and to make roads a safer place for all.`
Dr. Steve Summerskill, project lead of 'Direct Vision' concept for Loughborough Design School, said: `Blind spots can be a significant factor in fatal accidents with lorries.The study shows that the size of these blind spots can be minimised through improved cab design, the reduction of cab height and the addition of extra windows.`
One of TfL's top priorities is to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on London's roads, with a target of a 40 per cent reduction by 2020. Recently, the Mayor and TfL published six commitments which, working with a range of partners, are guiding initiatives to deliver this. In particular, action is being taken to prioritise the safety of the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
TfL has been leading the way in improving road safety in relation to the construction industry and ensuring that all operators are working at a level playing field.
Launched in 2013 as an industry response to a TfL commissioned report, the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety (CLOCS) programme has brought together developers, construction companies, operators, vehicle manufacturers and regulatory bodies to ensure a road safety culture is embedded across the construction industry.
Significant achievements have already been made through CLOCS, including the first national standard designed to help reduce collisions between trucks and all vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists - The Standard for construction logistics: Managing work related road risk. Further information about CLOCS is available at: www.clocs.org.uk
The six key commitments are:
1. To lead the way in achieving a 40 per cent reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the capital's roads by 2020 - with a longer term ambition of freeing London's roads from death and serious injury;
2. To prioritise safety of the most vulnerable groups - pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists - which make up 80 per cent of serious and fatal collisions;
3. To provide substantial funding for road safety, invested in the most effective and innovative schemes;
4. To increase efforts with the police and enforcement agencies in tackling illegal, dangerous and careless road user behaviour that puts people at risk;
5. To campaign for changes in national and EU law to make roads, vehicles and drivers safer;
6. To work in partnership with boroughs and London's road safety stakeholders to spread best practice and share data and information.