The trouble with trucks and cyclists...

"I saw this incident today. The poor girl was on a bike and I heard her scream as she went under the truck. I was at the lights heading towards Oxford Street on a bike just a few metres away. I called the ambulance. I'm a bit traumatised by it all to be honest... "

"..I was one of the cyclists who was with her until the ambulance arrived. It was horrendous and completely shocking."

"I felt pretty sick and shaky and had to sit down for a while after.  Massive, massive respect to two other female cyclists who spoke with and held the poor girl's hand while waiting for the ambulance. It wasn't a pretty scene but they looked very calm and composed which I hope would have been some reassurance..."

"When I was talking to the emergency services they kept asking me questions like - is she trapped above or below the knee? Can she breathe? Is she having trouble breathing?"

"...while we were there she was fully conscious - breathing and able to talk. I'll spare the details but she was trapped above the knee. Although we were trying to keep her calm, hold her hand and talk to her, we felt so helpless as there was absolutely nothing else we could do..."

So speak the witnesses to another shocking lorry-on-cyclist collision in London last week. "Veronika" was riding across the Marble Arch gyratory during the morning rush hour last Tuesday when an armoured banking truck and her bike came together.  She suffered terrible, life-changing injuries and is still in intensive care.  Those who helped her as she lay in the road spoke of the horror of their experience on the London Fixed Gear and Single Speed forum.  My personal prayers and best wishes go out to them, and of course to Veronika and her family and loved ones, and I hope that she is receiving the very best of care.


Regular readers to this blog will know that the lorry issue is an ongoing cause of mine - there can be no doubt that there is no greater risk to London's cyclists.  Things have been quiet recently; it seems, somewhat macabrely, as though there have been fewer deaths of late than is usual (as if even one is acceptable) and subsequently the heat has gone off the issue in the mainstream press and political circles somewhat.  But this is false thinking - the threat to cyclist's lives from these vehicles is not going to go away.  Last year trucks caused 69% of London cyclist deaths.  In 2008 it was 88%.

In November a new study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found that lorries were involved in 43% of all London cyclist deaths between '92 and '06.  Dr Andrei Morgan from the LSHTM's public health department said; "This unnecessary death toll cannot be ignored any longer. At a time when we are seeking to encourage more people to cycle, both for health and environmental reasons, this is not good enough."

This follows a similar study in the British Medical Journal in 1994 which looked at the cause of death of cyclists in London between 1985 and 1992 and came to the same conclusion; "In inner London, in relation to their traffic volume, HGVs are estimated to cause 30 times as many cyclists deaths as cars and five times as many as buses. Until the factors leading to this excess risk are understood, a ban on HGVs in urban areas should be considered."

Dr Morgan said: "The shocking thing is that there is no evidence of any change since this study was published, despite many changes in cycling behaviour."
Those 2 studies, which come to the same conclusion, represent 25 years of needless deaths on London's roads at the hands of Heavy Goods Vehicles.


Meanwhile Mayor Boris Johnson has made noises, kind of, perhaps, that he might consider banning retail lorries from central London on air pollution grounds and would consider building distribution centres to receive heavy goods vehicles straight from the motorway network.  That little soundite was made on the hoof at Mayor's Question Time at the end of October - nothing has been said since.

Meanwhile, the firm which employed killer lorry driver Dennis Putz - the drink driving criminal who had some 20 previous driving convictions when he ran down cyclist Catriona Patel whilst under the influence of alcohol and whilst using his mobile phone - has been involved in another fatal collision.  This time it's a passenger in a cab which was struck by a Thames Materials truck after it smashed through the central reservation on the A4.  The driver is being questioned on suspicion of death by dangerous driving, driving while unfit and possession of a controlled substance.  This is the same firm - with whose 32-tonne trucks we 'share the road' - who the Traffic Commissioner tried to shut down in 2002 so concerned were they with the volume of convictions and inspection failures that the firm carried.  The order was overturned on appeal due to faulty paperwork, and the firm's trucks have gone on to kill since then.

And let us not forget, as has been highlighted here before, the inherent criminality of the road haulage industry here in London; 70% of ALL the lorries inspected by the Met Police Commercial Vehicles Inspection Unit since 2005 have been found to have some form of illegal defect; overloading, underinflated tyres, faulty tachographs, drivers exceeding their legal hour limit, drivers being illegal workers or unlicensed, doors held together with wire coat hangers as they speed down narrow residential streets; that sort of thing.  Something worth remembering, methinks, next time someone tries to tell you how essential to the city's economy all those trucks full of plastic spoons and bottled water are.
The message to cyclists to keep well away from trucks has been communicated clearly for some time now, yet it doesn't seem to be having an effect on the relentless death and serious injury rates.  When you're up against a 32-tonne truck driven by a drunk criminal on a mobile there's only so much you can do to protect yourself anyway.  What is to be done? What indeed.
Back over at the London Fixed Gear and Single Speed Forum those lovely fixed gear riders are helping lorry safety campaigners get a motion passed at the EU enforcing stricter design standards be implemented on all new heavy goods vehicles.  It's a very big ask, but one worth asking.  If you did one thing useful today it would be to read this and help them with their letter campaign.
In the meantime, the Police who are investigating Veronika's collision on Marble Arch are seeking witnesses.  If you were near the junction of Bayswater and Edgeware Road at about 08.50 last Tuesday the 7th December please call the dedicated witness line on 020 8941 9011.
I do not believe we should have to share the road with criminal drivers and criminal companies and I do believe that more should be done about this issue as a matter of absolute urgency.  Until then, dear readers, if you are at a junction in front of a truck position yourself as far forward as possible and establish eye contact with the driver to ensure they are aware of your presence.  If you are approaching a truck from behind (stationary or otherwise) do not undertake it on the left and avoid overtaking on the right unless you have a clear view and are able to make eye contact with the driver in his mirrors (ring your bell if necessary)  If you are in any doubt whatsoever, wait at the back of the vehicle, keeping well clear, even if it means stopping other cyclists in turn passing you.  Ride safe, readers.


Kevin Campbell said...


ndru said...

Good post Mark. I've been pondering for quite a while on how to get the lorries off the road and I must say that each options created equal number of problems as it has solved. And yet I do think it's imperative to get lorries off the streets of London.
Reading about stuff like this makes me really glad that my commute route spares me the encounters with lorries and some such by leading via segregated cycle tracks.
I think this also puts an end to a myth stating that it's only training that we need to make everyone safe. It seems training without enforcement is moot. And is definitely not the best way to deal with the problem. Safe cycle tracks anyone?

Rupert said...

ndru: "Safe cycle tracks anyone?"

Oh, absolutely. The thing is, we've got a wonderful set of such tracks all over London. They're called roads. A main reason they're not safe is the bloody great lorries driving down them.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks for stopping by with your thoughts, Gents. I agree, @Ndru that decent quality Dutch style infrastructure could help to limit the exposure of cyclists to these kinds of vehicles, so long as they navigated through junctions properly. This could also help to improve subjective safety which in turn will encourage cycling - there can be no doubt that the reason most people don't ride a bike is because they are afraid of the sort of thing I talk about above.

However, @Rupert is also correct - there will never be Dutch style infrastructure everywhere (and neither is this desirable / nescesary) however not all cyclist's deaths have happened on major roads. As the crash on the A4 highlights this is an issue that doesn't just effect cyclists - trucks are as much a menace to cars and pedestrians as they are to us, and indeed they are also amongst the worse polluters on our roads. As such it is highly desirable to ensure that they aren't in the city in the first place, especially around the morning rush hour.

A good place to start would be to amend the London Lorry Control Scheme to allow trucks to drive later in to the night but not in the AM peak which is when the majority of these incidents happen. When I raised this with Ken Livingstone recently he explained that the 'lorry ban' is administered by the Boroughs and would have to be ratified by each and everyone one of them in turn; essentially someone needs to dedicate their time to it as doing this would be a big project.

However, getting anything solid done on this issue is like running through treacle - progress is absurdly slow and the majority of the emphasis has been on modifying cyclist behaviour rather than that of the controllers of the biggest vehicles, something which I believe is not especially effective. But something really must be done, the whole issue is just to awful to be ignored in the hope that it might go away.

Anonymous said...

Good advice, Mark.

I never, ever over or under-take trucks or buses or any other vehicle where the driver cannot see me.

This is the reason we need quality, separated infrastructure, like the Dutch. Such conflicts almost never occur as the cyclists are positioned well ahead of motorised traffic at intersections. They can't not see them.


Paul Martin
Brisbane, Australia

ndru said...

@Ruppert - yes they are wonderful except they are not - because they are meant for and filled with cars. Allocating these fantastic roads to bicycles would turn them into cycle tracks, would it not? Are we still discussing whether there's need for good cycle infrastructure? Please.

christhebull said...

What we have here is a problem of poor education, hazardous road junctions (Marble Arch would confuse the average provincial driver, so expecting cyclists to navigate it is a sick joke)

Cycle infrastructure, where provided, encourages cyclists to undertake and motorists to overtake to close, but unfortunately London's streets are so narrow, proper cycle paths are impossible. Of course, this also makes it impossible to do things like put taxi ranks in the middle of the road, or even park perpendicular to the kerb... Except, of course, in the numerous locations where that does happen.

Add non enforcement of ASL zones and motorist red light jumping, and we can see that we really do have a cycling revulsion on the streets of London.

ibikelondon said...

The cycling revulsion is certainly one way to put it, Chris. That the Mayor's office spends so much money on promoting cycling (essentially just to help relieve congestion on the Tube) without spending the money to provide safe cycling conditions says it all really.

And the consequences of that are just too shocking to even contemplate, as I think the above illustrates...

Anonymous said...

Good post but kind of muddles the issues as it sounds like the woman who was tragically hit at Marble Arch was not hit by a "HGV" but by a rather small van (a "banking" van?). Those vehicles are not that large, and I don't think they would classify as a type that would fit into a ban.

Although banning HGVs is a start, its not a great solution for cyclists. (Although cleaning up a system where criminal companies and criminal drivers operate is worth doing, of course!) Good luck to you pursuing it through all London councils.

A better solution is not to share the road, but to have separate cycle paths. That is worth the time and effort.

ibikelondon said...

As I understand it the vehicle involved was a Brinks-style truck (as oppose to the little Securicor transits you see filling up cash machines) Essentially an armoured vault on wheels that looks something like this:

The problem with the existing ban, let alone any future ones, is that there are SO MANY special allowances for the likes of construction vehicles or specialist trucks. And of course the construction trucks are the biggest killers...

I think we need to do both, as I've clearly stated here before in my pieces about separated paths, but the problem is that no one is doing either whilst simultaneously encouraging more and more cyclist on to the road. It's not a great situation, for sure.

Jim said...

Great post Mark. The issue of infrastructure (i.e. 'vehicular' versus segregated cycling) is obviously important but not particularly specific to the HGV problem. From my experience as a cyclist in London and a little time spent looking into the matter after the Caitriona Patel case, it seems to me that there is a culture of excessive risk-taking in the HGV industry and a very lax approach to enforcement on the part of the regulatory authorities. The result is that whereas we would hope that HGV drivers would be the best and most careful drivers around given the risks involved, it seems they are often the worst and most reckless. In an era where businesses in most other sectors have been obliged to become obsessive about high standards of health and safety, it is amazing that a company like Thames Materials is still allowed to ply its trade. I think we need a targeted campaign to highlight this double standard, explain the risks it poses to *everyone* (cyclist, pedestrians, other motorists) and, most importantly, show how the authorities are systematically failing to address it. I would hope that the London Cyclist Campaign are planning something along these lines but so far I haven't seen much evidence of it. I'm going to be sending some Freedom of Information Requests to the Transport Commissioners and VOSA regarding any interactions they have had with Thames Materials in recent years, but would welcome any thoughts for how else to move forward.

ibikelondon said...

Hi Jim, I agree that the issue here is not so much the segregation issue but that of allowing criminal operators on to our roads (be they A-roads or quiet back streets). I agree that in this day of health and safety overload it's astonishing that the haulage industry has got off so lightly.

Do let me know how you get on with your FOI requests, I'd be very interested to hear what you discover as would be the people at RoadPeace etc. You can contact me via the 'About Me' section of my blog.

In fairness to the LCC they do have a dedicated 'No More Lethal Lorries' campaign which is headed up by Charlie Lloyd who is extremely knowledgable on the subject (and an ex-HGV driver to boot). Their campaign site is here...

..though I do worry it doesn't go far enough (ie calling for an outright ban) Thems the breaks when you have to have a working relationship with the likes of TfL and the Mayor I suppose, but still, really not good enough but much better than nothing.

Jim said...

Thanks Mark. I'm aware of LCC's 'no more lethal lorries' campaign, but as you say I don't think it goes far enough and specifically doesn't seem to be about identifying any failings in the legal/regulatory apparatus. Will let you know if I get anywhere with the FOIs!

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