Excellent article (news) in The Guardian today as a study by a team at Loughborough has concluded that to increase safety for cyclists lorries should have longer cabs, rounded noses and expanded glazed areas to increase visibility.
Revamping lorry designs to overhaul blind spots in current models could save the lives of hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians every year, according to a new report by Loughborough University.
Lorries are responsible for over half of all cyclist deaths in London, a third across the UK as a whole, 43% of cycling fatalities in Belgium and 38% in the Netherlands.
In all, about 1,000 people die annually in Europe’s road traffic accidents, but a ‘direct vision’ design concept could slash those figures by increasing the field of vision for drivers in front – and to the sides – of their lorries, the paper claims.
“Blind spots can be a significant factor in fatal accidents with lorries,” said Dr Steve Summerskill, one of the report’s co-authors. “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.”
The proposed new lorry model would have an 80cm longer cab with a rounded nose, smaller dashboard, expanded glazed areas and a slightly lower driver position, panoramically expanding the range of sight from behind a lorry cab’s wheel.
By contrast, truck drivers today sit in a position high above their engines in brick-shaped lorry cabs that leave them unable to see much of the movement around their vehicles.
The paper analysed 704 accidents involving heavy goods vehicles and found that 31% of road fatalities were caused by drivers pulling away, 19% were caused by left turns, 7% by right turns, and 25% from drivers reversing.
Surprisingly, vehicles changing lanes were responsible for half of all accidents, but no fatalities.
The analysis indicates that “critical blind spots” in current models cannot be compensated for by the use of lorry driver’s mirrors, because of the time lapse between checking them, making observations through the window, and then pulling away from a junction.
“If this time period is four seconds, this is enough time for a cyclist to undertake the HGV, with the driver being unaware of his or her presence,” the paper says.
Such weaknesses have been highlighted in other research but European rules have still tended to prioritise drivers’ ‘indirect vision’ – or the line of sight they get from mirrors – over their blind spots.
The EU’s existing law on lorry weights and dimensions compounds this by forcing a design with particularly large blind spots, according to Transport and Environment (T&E), a green think tank which co-funded the report.
“Not only drivers, but politicians too need vision,” said William Todts, a senior policy officer for T&E. “It’s incomprehensible that we allow huge 36 tonne 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 now have an opportunity to make direct vision compulsory in new lorry designs and save hundreds of lives.”
The research was also funded by Transport for London, as a way of improving the safety and efficiency of freight transit.