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Cycle Safety

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Siobhann Tighe | 09:48 AM, Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Siobhann-on-bike.jpgI haven't been on my bike since last June's tube strike. It was so stressful, the traffic so relentless, and other cyclists so unpredictable that my lovely red bike has been sitting in the kitchen ever since with its tyres slowly deflating. So I had mixed feelings when I borrowed a colleague's bike to go to Wembley Park in North London to record an item about cyclists keeping safe when confronted with large vehicles turning left. A whole multitude of thoughts buzzed through my mind. How do I get there? How will I carry the bike down stairs to the underground? How do I record my piece and cycle at the same time? But the most important thing was: Whatever you do, don't lose Jon's bike or get it stolen!

I was heading to the site of a building materials company called Cemex to test out equipment which lets truck drivers know that cyclists are nearby. These new devices were installed some time after a Cemex readymix truck struck a cyclist in London in 2000, and she died. She was called Alex and was only 26 years old. Her mum Cynthia Barlow said, "Her life was just beginning when it was taken from her". When Alex was hit she was cycling alongside the vehicle. The driver turned right at a junction in order to turn sharp left, and as a result he cut across her path. Her grieving mother bought shares in Cemex so she could go to its AGM, and then she began working with the company to educate its drivers and find ways to prevent further road-deaths.

So, on an industrial park in Wembley, so close to the Stadium and its arch that I felt I could touch it, I cycled past a Cemex truck, on its nearside. In a safe and staged situation I was imitating a very dangerous scenario for a cyclist. As I did so, a robotic voice shouted out, "Caution! Truck turning left!" Inside the lorry, a high pitched alarm went off telling the driver I was passing, and a set of four mirrors, including a front blind-spot mirror, allowed him to see me more clearly. Later I asked the lorry driver, Jason, whether he could ever imagine driving without these new devices. "I wouldn't like to drive a truck without them. They're another aid. Anything that will help me avoid an accident which could lead to someone's death I'm more than willing to try."

Siobhann Tighe is a reporter and producer on You and Yours
You & Yours is on BBC Radio 4 at 1200 weekdays. Listen to today's episode on the Radio 4 web site.


  • Comment number 1.

    I arrived at the scene shortly after the cement truck had killed Cynthia's daughter, and the Police were reversing the vehicle back along the path it had taken - and measuring details. The truck had turned from the right hand lane of a 1-way street, and the Police retracing Alex's tracks, showed that she had been riding prominently and clear of the gutter. The driver was illegally taking a short cut down a narrow lane and to avoid slowing down and the problem of making the tight turn at a slow speed across a busy flow of traffic, turend across her path. The same truck had been involved in 2 other KSI incidents and the City of London Police were getting seriously concerned over the disportionate loevel of cyclist fatalities arising from collisions with construction HGV's - essentially HGV's are less than 5% of vehicle count in the city but the cause of almost all the cyclist deaths.

    A key detail is that it is NOT cyclists riding up the nearside but HGV's turning in a moving traffic situation as they may overtake a bike and then slow to turn, and not account for the fact that the cyclist keeps moving, often at 15-20mph, or faster.

    A key safety factor which was picked up the the Oxcam survey of 5000 cyclists is eye contact (which should be the only contact between a cyclist and the driver of a motor vehicle) An interesting detail which has not really been properly followed up is that the Oxcam study found that women reported a 'Lot's Wife' problem that they found it harder to look behind when riding a bike - proved by the higher level of incidents involving female riders where rearward observation was a causal factor. Hence the major promotion of practising the backward look (the lifesaver in motorcycle training)

    A campaign to promote eye contact opens up a key avenue to non verbal communication between ALL road users, and an assurance that the driver has seen you AND has negotiated how you will interact safely with them on the. Suckling Tankers have a very good rear panel message which shows a cartoon driver's face lookng back through rear view mirror and there is a clear benefit to drivers and cyclists in remaining in a position to see those mirrors.

    A further detail to question and a point made in Robin Webbs memorial video to another daughter killed by an HGV whilst cycling in Lambeth, is to ask whay the HGV drive has to sit up in a driving position which delivers such poor connection with other road users. We have many examples of HGV drivers wiping out all those in the cars their trucks run over and walking away unscathed. Driving cabs do not HAVE to be so remote - big cranes, airport tractors all have walk-in cabs and a low cab can deliver a major fuel economy for a truck that has a reduced height when empty. The old Scammell Scarab tractors that used to deliver all the freight from rail depots to local destinations were 'human scale', and had the same 'eye level' for the truck driver, cyclist and pedestrian. Note too that on a per vhicle per year 'hit rate' the biggest offenders for pedestrian & cycle crashes are actually buses BUT because buses have a light and resilient flat skin to bounce off, and a set of clear -see-through doors to show that critical space at the front nearside corner the dangerous run-over sequences we have with HGV's are less likely to happen. This does prompt a question that since most HGV's are not normally required (or permitted to carry passengers, there is no need for a droplight window in the nearside door and that blind spot at the front corner could be eliominated by glazing the lower part of the nearside door, and the front corner panel - but that means radical 'product' changes, especially if trucks are redesigned to put the driver back at street level - and it would certainly focus the minds of those who might consider bullying their way in traffic when any collision will hurt them as much as the car occupants in any vehicle that gets hit.

    To say that HSE has not looked at the road as the workplace is a bit unfair. Recognising that 10% of workplace deaths and serious injuries happen in this area (or a third of KSI reports for road crashes)that did have a group chaired by Royal Mail to review the ways to deal with this. It concluded that drivers who cover over 25,000 miles per year are at as great a risk as deep mine workers of being involved ina fatal or serious crash. There is thus a clear case for an employer (and employee) to discharge their duty of care under H&S legislation by using safer means of travelling than driving - especially where the driving adds to their working day. There are many examples of where a worked has travelled to do a full days work and added a further 6 or more hours of tiring and stress-filled driving which has resulted in the deaths of other road users (Dumfries - kitchen fitter - jailed, West Bromwich - businessman etc).

    Moving around with trucks on site requires a work method plan, and a risk assessment (Construction Design & Managemnt (CDM) regs) yet no requirement exists for this beyond the site gates. The nature of construction work, especially removing waste, delivering materials and especially delivering fresh concrete for a continuous pour process, becomes extremely pressurised in confined city centre sites where no space is available for parking and storage (the waste of the now abandoned 'sidings' potential of the abandoned Moorgate branch or the capacity of the Regents Canal/Post Office Railway offer the option of shipping materials in or out by rail (using the District and Circle lines at night and abandoned sidings which were once used for storing trains or delivering freight). Sadly there remain many small companies who sub contract and compete for business on prices per load, or penalties for time. Some are so dreadful that they have had contracts summarily terminated, but they are still in business - finding fresh work for those who hire on price alone.

    Very tellingly the need for CDM extending beyond the site gate was show by 2 practically identical cyclist crushings (both female) at Camley Street during the CTRL (HS1) works, once is unfortunate twice within a couple of years seems to be almost criminally careless.


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