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Why London Cyclists Should Care About New HGV Safety Permits

A few days ago, Transport for London has officially opened a public consultation on the introduction of a new Safety Standard Permit for Heavy Goods Vehicles.

From now until January 24th, 2018, Londoners can make their voices on the matter heard, by visiting TfL’s website and completing the online questionnaire. The feedback received will be used to finalize the proposal, before moving on to the implementation stage.

The initiative is part of Mayor Khan’s Vision Zero approach to reducing road danger, and comes as a result of HGV’s involvement in “disproportionately high numbers of fatal collisions with cyclists (78%) and pedestrians (20%) on London’s streets”, despite the fact that HGVs make up only 4% (!!!) of the overall miles driven in the city.

As I mentioned in previous posts, cyclists are the most likely group to be injured on UK’s roads. About 100 cyclists die each year, 18000+ are injured, with 3000+ seriously injured. Due to HGV’s inordinate involvement in fatal collisions in London, this is a highly consequential matter for everyone who cycles - or wishes more people would - in the capital.

So what exactly is being proposed? Let's break it down:

 1. What are HGVs?

According to the European Commission, Heavy Duty Vehicles, or HGVs are “those with a total weight above 3,500 kg. (vehicle + load).” Due to their incredible mass and restricted driver vision, HGVs have traditionally been over-involved in fatal crashes - not just in the UK, but worldwide.

And while HGV-specific safety laws do exist, current regulatory mechanisms have so far proven ineffective in addressing the issue. For example, here’s a diagram published by the UK government in 2014 “of the daily routine checks which must be completed by HGV drivers or operators before they use their vehicles”. “Failure to comply”, the diagram says, “can lead to a prohibition, a fixed penalty and penalty points on your licence.”

2. What is a Direct Vision Standard (DVS)?

In September of 2016, Mayor Khan proposed a new, ‘Direct Vision Standard’ for HGVs. In a nutshell, the DVS would be a world-first technical standard for ranking HGVs (on a scale of 0-5 stars) based on how much a driver can see through its truck cab, without mirrors and cameras.

The more stars your HGV receives, the better suited it would be for London’s roads. Zero-star lorries would be banned from entering the city, unless they improved their safety mechanisms.

Since then, Transport for London held public consultations (similar to the one just announced) to determine ‘that in general, there is support for the principle of a Direct Vision Standard.‘

*Quick detour: the TfL’s document responding to various issues raised during DVS’ public consultation is a very interesting read, and particularly telling in terms of the public’s perception of cyclists. Here’s an excerpt:

Require tougher controls on cyclist behaviour:

Some respondents expressed concern about cyclist behaviour. We acknowledge concerns raised about cyclist behaviour, although our research shows that most cyclists ride responsibly, and that cyclists are no more likely to disobey road rules than other road users[...]We recognise that some pavement cyclists break the law (sometimes to avoid the dangers of motor traffic). However, we anticipate that providing dedicated facilities for cyclists will discourage people from riding on pavements.”

3. What is a Safety Standard Permit Scheme?

Following their consultation on DVS, Transport for London developed a proposal for a HGV safety standard permit scheme. This permit would go a step beyond just the DVS star rating, taking into account other safety measures as well. These measures have not yet been fully developed, as TfL notes:

‘The safe system could include specific industry recognised measures such as sensors, visual warnings and comprehensive driver training. The Safety Standard Permit scheme would evolve over time, taking into account advances in technology.’

4. What's the end goal here?

All of these and other measures have been introduced as part of Mayor Khan’s Vision Zero pledge. Vision Zero aims to ensure that no one will be killed in an accident which involved a London bus by 2030, and that no one would be killed or seriously injured in road traffic collisions in London by 2041.

The HGV Permit Scheme would require all Heavy Goods Vehicles over 12 tonnes to hold a Safety Permit to operate in Greater London by 2020. Only 1-5 starred vehicles would be allowed to enter the city, (zero-starred HGVs would need to make safety modifications first).

By 2024, only those rated 3 stars and above would automatically receive a safety permit; those ranked below would have to demonstrate their safety qualifications first.

Finally, while it certainly seems like a step in the right direction, this is far from a magic bullet for London’s myriad of traffic issues. This especially given the government’s stern refusal to look into introducing presumed liability, which has been implemented in all countries with both high levels of cycling and walking and low casualty rates. Still, this is an important issue, and certainly deserves your attention - and your voice.

You can find out more and fill out TfL’s online questionnaire here.

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