Mayor’s “deep concern” at UK government opposition to safer lorry proposals as he joins forces with other European cities

29 January 2014

The Mayors of London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Madrid, leaders of 130 other European cities, haulage industry associations, transport unions, accident victims, safety campaigners and Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman joined forces in Brussels today (29 January) to press for much tighter EU rules on lorry safety.

London has been working to amend an EU directive to require new lorries to have safer cabs, improving drivers’ sightlines and reducing dangerous blindspots. The amendments, to be voted on in the European Parliament next month, would also require safer cab fronts to reduce the damage caused by impacts with cyclists and pedestrians.

The Mayor, Boris Johnson, said he was “deeply concerned” that the British Government appears to oppose any amendments to require improved safety on lorry cabs.

In Brussels today (Wednesday 29 Jan), the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, along with Mr Boardman, road accident victims, representatives of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Madrid and 130 other European cities, called on MEPs, national governments and the Commission to back the amendments.

London has been working with other cities and campaigners, including the pressure group Transport & Environment, to lobby MEPs to introduce stronger safety requirements. Amendments tabled by Brian Simpson MEP, chair of the European Parliament’s transport committee, would require lorry cabs to be produced with far better driver sightlines, including larger side windows and a lower front windscreen. Currently many lorries suffer from blind spots, meaning that drivers cannot see cyclists and pedestrians close to their vehicles, with sometimes tragic consequences.

The amendments will be debated in the European Parliament on 11 February. The vote is finely balanced but London is hopeful that they will pass. However, they must then be considered by the Council of Ministers, representing EU national governments.

The British Government has briefed MEPs on the transport committee that it would oppose any mandatory requirements for cabs to have a new profile.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for the EU to remove some of the blockages which prevent us from making lorries safer in our cities. If these amendments, supported by dozens of cities across Europe, can succeed, we can save literally hundreds of lives across the EU in years to come. I am deeply concerned at the position of the British Government and urge them to embrace this vital issue.”

Of the 16 cyclist deaths in London in 2011, nine involved HGVs. Of these nine, seven were construction lorries. The EU’s lorry weights and dimensions directive is coming up for revision this year for the first time in many years. However, the proposals produced by the EU Commission are not ambitious enough – and, crucially, do not make many safety improvements mandatory.

Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman, said: “HGVs are involved in more than 50% of cycling fatalities on our roads despite making up less than 5% of the traffic. One of the largest reasons for this disproportionate statistic is the poor visibility afforded to the drivers by current cab designs and it would be ludicrous for us to know this and do nothing about it. The measures that we are urging the EU to take today will demonstrably improve the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists, making these environmentally friendly forms of transport more appealing. By adopting these recommendations the EU could play an important role in changing our transport habits to benefit us all. It would be criminal for us to know how to save lives and then choose not to take action." 

Cynthia Barlow OBE, of the Roadpeace road safety campaign, whose own daughter, Alex, was killed by a lorry, said: “Roadpeace takes the road Danger Reduction approach stating that the vehicle which poses the highest risk to others is the one best placed to manage the risk. The traditional 'blind spot didn't see them' approach is absolutely unacceptable. Through this Directive we can, and must, stop killing and maiming people on our roads.”

Morten Kabell, technical and environmental mayor of Copenhagen, said: “If we want to solve cities’ problems with pollution and become carbon neutral, it is essential that more people bike to work and education in our cities. In order to make more people bike we need to make them feel safe. The City of Copenhagen will support an EU initiative to prevent fatal accidents betweeen cyclists and turning lorries by enforcing a safer design.”

Kate Cairns, See Me Save Me Campaign, said 'It is exactly five years since we lost my sister, Eilidh Cairns, after she was run down from behind by a tipper lorry. The driver didn't see her. The See Me Save Me campaign calls for mandatory elimination of lorry blind spots. In Feb 2010 the campaign lobbied over 400 MEPs who sign up to support such legislation. It's a painfully slow process with much tragedy in the meantime but I am encouraged by this momentum and welcome this opportunity to join forces and continue the fight to reduce such violent death and injury on our roads.'

William Todts, campaigner for cleaner lorries at Transport & Environment, said "This is a unique opportunity to end 20 years of stalled lorry fuel-economy. An update to the lorry dimensions law would allow for more streamlined designs, which would cut fuel bills for hauliers by €1500(£1250) per year. Cleaner, safer lorries are good for road safety, the economy and the environment."