It’s been four years since Sir Peter Hendy, then Traffic Commissioner for London, challenged industry leaders to take responsibility for the risk their vehicles pose to the public, following a report showing HGVs are involved in 50% of cyclist deaths and yet make up only 4% of traffic.
It is also four years since New Civil Engineer ran my See Me Save Me campaign on its cover.
As a civil engineer, with experience of the stringent safety on site I became painfully conscious of the slack standards and systemic failure of off-site safety following the death of my sister, Eilidh.
Run down and crushed
She was run down and crushed by a fully laden tipper lorry. The justice system handed back keys to the driver, allowing him to kill pedestrian Nora Gutmann 15 months later.
My campaign called for driver training, vehicle technology and management of operations to be implemented through contract specification, audit and enforcement. Following Hendy’s letter, the Construction Logistics & Community Safety (CLOCS) group was formed, publishing a national standard in 2013. So how have we moved on?
Firstly, industry awareness has increased, with CLOCS membership growing from a handful to 400. Secondly, there is increased recognition that this is not just about cyclists – more than twice as many pedestrians are killed under HGVs. This is crucial in that the solution is not just to tell cyclists to wear high vis and helmets; it is to reduce danger at source, a particularly poignant conclusion in Eilidh’s case.
Not just a London issue
Thirdly, there is recognition that this is not just a London issue: cyclist and pedestrian fatalities are higher outside of the capital.
This was a major theme of the 4th annual CLOCS Progress Event last month where I was delighted to speak, representing Northumberland Council. Northumberland is the antithesis of London, the furthest from it and one of the most rural.
Yet one of the biggest concerns is the danger posed by HGVs, with tippers serving housing developments and quarries on the edge of small villages via narrow roads.
Action to show commitment
A second theme of the conference was a call for action to demonstrate commitment. Such accountability is essential to deter the risk of ‘CLOCS-wash’, the cynical capitalising of CLOCS branding – flashing the logo and scattering stickers – to create business benefit.
In 2015, 78% of cyclist deaths and 20% of pedestrian deaths involved an HGV. Research shows that the eyesight of a third of drivers could be sub-standard. Mobile phones are a ubiquitous distraction.
There is a severe shortage of qualified HGV drivers, now exacerbated by Brexit. Estimates state that 10% of middle-aged men have obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome with higher prevalence in those overweight. Commercial drivers have collision rates 30% to 40% higher than those of private drivers.
London needs 36,000t of goods moved every day. The government will spend £1.1bn upgrading infrastructure over the next five years. Eliminating the risk of lorry danger is good for business.
The consequences of not doing so are catastrophic and far-reaching. We must urgently apply the tools at our disposal to create change.
- Kate Cairns is an ICE Fellow and a member of ICE Council