A cyclist pedals past a truck in London. Stefah Wermuth/Reuters

A new proposal will make roads safer by banning low-visibility trucks in 2020.

Anyone who commutes by bike in a city knows it’s an experience that edges on panic-inducing, never more so than when navigating past a brick-shaped truck.

In London, the statistics back up that fear. Large trucks were connected to 58 percent of cycling deaths in 2014 and 2015, and 22.5 percent of pedestrian fatalities. In a decision immediately embraced by cycling advocates, mayor Sadiq Khan announced a plan to ban tens of thousands of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) from the road by 2020.

This is not, however, a unilateral ruling against trucks, which play a vital role in construction and the transport of consumer goods throughout the city. Rather, Kahn’s proposal will use driver visibility as the litmus in deciding which trucks are allowed to remain on the road.

Over the next four years, Transport for London (TFL) will assess all trucks operating in the capital city according to the visibility standards outlined in a report by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which are determined by the size of a truck’s blind spot. A grade of zero stars denotes poor visibility; vehicles with that rating will be banned immediately in January 2020. By 2024, only trucks with good visibility—three stars and above—will be allowed in the city.

According to The Guardian, around 35,000 zero-star trucks are currently trundling throughout London. Over the past three years, they have played a role in 70 percent of truck-related cyclist fatalities. “I’m not prepared to stand by and let dangerous lorries continue to cause further heartbreak and tragedies on London’s roads,” Kahn said in The Guardian.

A memorial for a cyclist who was struck and killed by a truck in London. (Matt Dunham/AP)

According to the TRL report, trucks turning left pose the greatest threat to cyclists, who are often invisible to drivers in those circumstances. While safety campaigns warn cyclists to avoid trucks’ blind spots, which can extend five meters along the side of a vehicle, problems arise when those low-visibility areas overlap with bike lanes. Mirrors, Fast Company adds, are irrelevant here: trucks are already required to have as many as six, but their presence does not guarantee that drivers use them.

The former London mayor Boris Johnson mandated that trucks operating in certian parts of the city be equipped with guards that prevent cyclists from being pulled underneath the vehicles, but Kahn’s proposal is the first to ban trucks on the basis of low visibility. However, organizations like the Brussels-based Transport & Environment have long been advocating for an overhaul in truck design. T&E worked with the European Commission to propose that trucks be built with a longer, more aerodynamic cab, and equipped with more windows to boost visibility. While the European Parliament passed the law mandating these new norms in April of this year, the rules won’t come into effect until 2022, giving manufacturers more time to come into compliance with the new designs.

Predictably, freight advocates like the Road Haulage Association are none too pleased with Kahn’s proposal. In The Guardian, the RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said that without large trucks, “the capital’s business would grind to a standstill.” Pushing for more debate around the issue, Burnett added: “We’re not convinced these measures are the solution.”

But cyclists feel otherwise. The London-based blogger Sara Bradbury recently took to the streets of Soho to question cyclists and pedestrians about the new regulations; one bike commuter told her that “HGVs are bullies—they think they rule the road. Restricting them on the roads would be much safer for all cyclists.”

But another biker pointed out that while low visibility and drivers’ imperfect use of mirrors certainly pose problems, the new proposals should also encourage cyclists to take more responsibility for their own safety. Bradbury recorded this cyclist saying: “I think the proposals are positive…however, cyclists also need to respect the rules. Vehicles don’t run red lights or zebra crossings, so why do cyclists? There is some education needed.”

H/t Fast Company

About the Author

Eillie Anzilotti
Eillie Anzilotti

Eillie Anzilotti is a former editorial fellow at CityLab.

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