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28 October 2014

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A safety blind spot?

BBC London reporter Sarah Harris has first hand experience of the safety risk that left-hand drive lorries can pose for motorists.

Being a reporter at BBC London has led me into some tricky situations but for sheer terror it was an accident on the M1 where my life actually flashed before me.

Travelling south with my young daughter in the middle lane, I  was sure I had cleared a huge HGV with German plates. Suddenly there was a jolt as the driver pulled out into the rear side of my small car.

The weight of the lorry was no contest for my lightweight two door hatchback and my car was flipped into the path of the Lorry that had pulled into us. We were dragged forwards for what seemed like forever but was in reality only a matter of seconds.

When the driver noticed us and slammed on the brakes we were sent into a spin, pushed into the central reservation and back out again. I had no control of the car and it was in the lap of the gods what happened next.

Increasing problem

Thankfully we ended up facing the right way on the hard-shoulder but when the police came they told us that this was the 19th accident where a foreign lorry had pulled out into a car that week. No further action was taken.

When I started to investigate I found that four other members of staff here at BBC London had experienced the same problem.

Chief Inspector Nigel Brown who is in charge of traffic police for that particular part of the M1 told me it was an increasing problem for his officers and he was holding a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service this week to find out ways to bring drivers to court who had not driven with care.

"The fact is if a driver is unable to see he should not be pulling out of his lane" he told me.

Not traceable

"Legislation comes into force later this year which will require anti-blind spot mirrors for all new lorries. "
Road Safety Minister Dr Stephen Ladyman

We then went out in a truck owned by Loic Paellat. He delivers furniture from his French homeland and drives a left hand drive truck with two mirrors on his far side. He told me he had an accident last year because he pulled out into cars he could not see.

His truck was only a year old with curved sides which made it difficult for him to fit an extra mirror. He is not alone.

From next year the law is being changed to make it only legal for new lorries to be made fitted with high visibility mirrors but in the meantime hundreds of others like Loic's will be on the road with little or no visibility on their far side.

Chief Inspector Nigel Brown also told me there are difficulties tracking down lorries from abroad as at the moment there is no central European set of data for registration plates so once the lorries leave the UK they are not traceable.

Take the lead

Geoff Dossetter from the Freight Transport Association said he would like to see the powers that be have more teeth to prosecute the higher than proportionate numbers of left hand drive lorries involved I accidents on the motorway.

I suggested the UK could take the lead in making sure our right hand drive lorries going abroad were fitted with high visability mirrors. At the moment there is no law demanding this.

Road Safety Minister Dr Stephen Ladyman said: "Legislation comes into force later this year which will require anti-blind spot mirrors for all new lorries.

"But we are also exploring other ways of tackling this problem. Later this month I will launch a trial of window lenses that magnify the side view for left-hand-drive trucks to see how effective they are in reducing the number of side-swiping incidents.

"As well as this the new Road Safety Act introduces tough measures to help the police clamp down on foreign drivers who break the law. These include the ability to immobilise their vehicle pending payment of a fine or court appearance."

In the meatime the advice to all motorists is to take extra care when overtaking left hand drive lorries.

It's something I am now very aware of myself as a result of what happened to me and feel safer on the motoeway now I have seen the view from the far side mirror in the cab of a foreign lorry.

last updated: 13/11/06
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