Cycle safety – defending the driver

Recent Government statistics have revealed that cyclists are roughly 11 times more likely to be killed in a road accident than drivers. Between 2011 and 2012 fatalities fell for all of the main road user groups except for cyclists, which rose by 10 per cent.

The recent spate of cycling deaths in London are a vivid reminder of the dangers that cyclists face on a daily basis. The media has been quick to assign blame; the haulage industry often the target. However, the situation is far more complex than the propagated battle between cyclists and HGVs.

The Cycling Commissioner for London, Andrew Gillingham, has recently warned that whilst improving infrastructure should be the main focus “even the world’s best cycling infrastructure doesn’t immunise you against harm”. Such statements have not stopped the Mayor of London promising to spend £1bn on improving London’s infrastructure.

For some however the solution is more straightforward – educate the cyclists and HGV drivers. At a recent road safety campaign launch Sir Dave Brailsford, Head of Team GB’s cycling team, invited cyclists to sit inside the cabin of an HGV in order to highlight the limited views afforded to drivers leading one cyclist to comment that they “found the view from a truck cab an interesting perspective and it will keep me safer on the roads”. For Brailsford the message is simple; that “more and more people are getting interested in cycling and it is important that we increase awareness of the challenges faced when we are sharing the roads together”.

Whilst key figures in the cycling world, such as Team GB Cyclist and British Cycling’s Policy Advisor Chris Boardman, have called for more radical measures such a rush-hour ban on HGVs in the Capital, citing the success of a similar ban in Paris, it is clear that “the case is finely balanced. Two of this year’s 14 deaths in London could have been prevented by such a ban (the other 12 happened outside the rush hour, or did not involve lorries)” (Andrew Gillingham). Consideration must be given to the impact that such a ban would have on the inhabitants of urban areas, businesses and the wider economy. Supermarkets and the construction industry rely on day-time deliveries to supply them with the materials they need to operate, indeed as Kate Gibbs of the Road Haulage Association points out, “lorries have to get in and out of construction sites. Shops have to have goods on their shelves [and a rush-hour ban] would add to the congestion that London roads are already facing”.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has acknowledged the need for cyclists to take steps to improve road safety by ensuring they are alert as possible on the roads, stating that he is “absolutely terrified to see [cyclists wearing headphones] bowling along unable to hear the traffic. You’ve got to be able to hear that car behind you or about to come out of the road in front of you”.

While the majority of media coverage of the recent tragedies rightly focusses on those who have lost their lives, it is important that we do not lose sight of the difficulties which HGV drivers face, or over-simplify what is often a complex and challenging situation. HGV drivers are already under immense pressure to navigate congested roads and in extremely large vehicles which will inherently have blind spots. Unlike your average car driver, following a fatal collision, HGV drivers will often be arrested and taken to a local police station to be interviewed under caution when that driver may well still be in a state of shock. In addition, whilst they have the right to obtain legal advice it may not be the legal advisor that they would wish to have consulted as this may be facilitated by their company and the insurer of the vehicle.

Lorry drivers are often arrested because there is the perception that it is automatically their fault, particularly where a cyclist is involved as they are seen as a vulnerable road user when sometimes the cyclist has created the danger to themselves. Another reason why an HGV driver may be arrested after a collision is that the accident may have occurred some distance from the driver’s home address or normal place of work, or they may be a foreign driver and, as such, may be perceived by the authorities to be a flight risk.

 The early intervention of DWF’s specialist Motor Prosecutions Unit has proven to have had an influential bearing on whether a driver is arrested, interviewed at a more appropriate time following the receipt of specialist advice and ultimately charged.

For more information, please contact specialists in DWF’s Motor Prosecutions Unit: Nina Lewis (nina.lewis@dwf.co.uk) or Lee Foulser (Lee.foulser@dwf.co.uk).

Comments are closed.