Emily Thornberry demands 'blind-spot' mirrors for HGV/lorries
4.10.07 by Buffalo Bill
Inside Out, the current affairs magazine programme of BBC London, last night aired a 10 minute segment featuring the dynamic chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, Emily Thornberry MP.
Ms Thornberry is a keen cyclist, as well as a parliamentarian, and spoke out in March of this year, after the deaths by lorry of two female cyclists in Islington. At that time she said: lorries have too many blind spots and we must campaign to make drivers more aware. Unless she had unprecedented access to police reports, she made this statement before the exact nature of the circumstances which led to the death of the two women was known. But in any case, as a general statement, she is right – there are blind spots, and lorry drivers ought to be more aware.
Last night she made good on the first part of her statement of intent. She interviewed 5 people with the intention of establishing that there was a blind-spot, that it led to cyclists being killed by left-turns and that not enough was being done to equip lorry drivers with mirrors to eliminate the blind-spot, and that furthermore the UK government is obstructing moves by the European Parliament to hasten the retofitting of ‘blind-spot’ mirrors to older lorries. (For more on this issue see here.)
With the help of Charlie Lloyd, the LCC’s expert on HGVs, she established the nature of the ‘blind-spot’. Basically the ‘blind-spot’ is on the left and to the front of the driver’s cab, exactly where a cyclist is most likely to be. (For an explanation of the ‘blind-spot’ and how the various mirrors work see here). As should be well known by all but the most casual reader of Moving Target, collisions with left-turning lorries are responsible for around 25% of all London cycling fatalities. (For more comprehensive statistics see here.)
However, it was when she was interviewing the partner of Emma Foa, the cyclist who was killed by a lorry last year, that I felt she came a little unstuck. Emma Foa’s death was not caused by a ‘blind-spot’ – it was caused by driver inattention. In court, the prosecution said that Ms Foa would have been visible, and was stationary for 37 seconds. This was established by CCTV, and measurements taken of the relative positions of the vehicle’s mirrors and the cyclist. But this is quibbling.
We then met my old friend Cynthia Barlow, whose cycling daughter was killed by a concrete mixer lorry some years ago. Cynthia was radicalised by the trial and acquittal of the driver, who claimed that, despite having overtaken the cyclist immediately before turning left across her, he had not seen the cyclist because she was in the ‘blind-spot’. He also said that he had not been trained in the proper use of the various mirrors attached to his cab.
Cynthia forced the owners of the lorry (which had been involved in another collision with a cyclist) to reconsider their safety policy, and now Cemex are an example of best practice in the construction industry, at least according to what was shown on the programme.
Ms Thornberry was given a tour of a concrete lorry, fitted with the four mirrors (conventional, near/far, proximity and ‘blind-spot), a warning sign on the rear left of the vehicle warning cyclists of the dangers of passing on the left and a huge sign on the kerb-side side-guard which says KEEP CLEAR. This lorry was also fitted with proximity alarms that are armed when the indicator is on, and when triggered by motion sensors give an audible alarm both outside the vehicle AND inside the cab. It wasn’t made clear in the film, but I think that Cemex also train their drivers in the use of all this safety equipment, and specifically refer to the dangers of a collision with a cyclist when turning left. John Wilkinson of Cemex looked proud of his company’s obvious commitment to improving the safety of their lorries, and so he should be.
Ms Thornberry also told us that there 200 000 construction lorries on the road in the UK (which is, incidentally the number of regular cyclists in the capital). She said that she had contacted 10 firms selected at random from the London phone-book, and that, when questioned, none of them had plans to retro-fit the ‘blind-spot’ mirrors.
She went to interview the Road Safety Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick MP, who looked very uncomfortable when being asked why the UK Govt was opposing the retro-fit. According to the Euro Parl, the mirrors cost £100 to fit, and up to 100 lives could be saved if their proposals were adopted. He didn’t have an answer. Ms Thornberry also linked the awarding of Olympic contracts to commitments to retro-fit. Given that we, the London and U.K. tax-payer are about to blow around £10bn on 2012, this was hardly an outrageous suggestion, but Mr Fitzpatrick seemed determined to make a prat of himself, as well as his government and was non-committal, if not dismissive.
Of course, fitting these mirrors isn’t going to stop lorries from killing cyclists. But as Charlie says elsewhere the most important action to reduce the menace of lorries is for drivers to be made responsible for their actions and to be prosecuted. Drivers of lorries that have killed cyclists routinely use the ‘blind-spot’ defense in court. I say they do, clearly it’s not the drivers, but the lawyers. With CCTV evidence, it can sometimes be shown that in fact, had they looked, they would have seen. But often they are able to use this defense and get off.
Fitting these mirrors will eliminate this defense, and perhaps force the operators, who employ the drivers, to adopt the approach of Cemex, which is to provide their drivers with correct equipment and training to do their job without endangering the public.
Overall, the programme was a big step forwards. The government needs to be put under pressure to put the owners and operators of lorries under pressure (if you see what I mean) to get their drivers to stop squashing cyclists. Ms Thornberry did exactly that.