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  • Reduced-blind-spot lorries to save hundreds of lives – study

    Redesigning lorry cabs to reduce blind spots could save hundreds of cyclists’ and pedestrians’ lives every year, according to a new study by a design research team. It found a ‘direct vision’ lorry concept would increase the driver’s field of view in front and to the sides of the lorry by 50% compared to today’s lorries.

    Lorries are involved in around 4,200 fatal accidents in Europe every year, according to the European Transport Safety Council. In Belgium, 43% of cycling fatalities involve lorries, while in the Netherlands it’s 38% and 33% in the UK. Lorries cause more than 50% of cyclist deaths in some cities, like London.
    The European Commission estimates that a more streamlined cab along with rear flaps could also improve fuel efficiency by up to 7-10%, saving hauliers around €3,000 per vehicle per year at today’s diesel prices. While lorries make up only 3% of vehicles, they account for 25% of road transport CO2 emissions in Europe. Their fuel efficiency has barely improved in the last 20 years.
    The Loughborough Design School paper claims that a ‘direct vision’ design concept could drastically reduce those figures by improving the field of vision for drivers. This would require a cab 80cm longer with a rounded nose, smaller dashboard, expanded glazed areas and a slightly lower driver position.
    The paper was commissioned by T&E and Transport for London, which have campaigned to abandon the outdated, brick-shaped lorry cabs that contribute to lorries’ deadly track record. Current designs require the driver to sit on top of the engine – from where much of what happens around the cab is invisible.
    ‘Blind spots can be a significant factor in fatal accidents with lorries,’ said Dr Steve Summerskill, project lead of the ‘direct vision’ concept for Loughborough Design School. ‘The study shows that the size of these blind spots can be minimised through improved cab design, the reduction of cab height and the addition of extra windows.’
    The Loughborough team analysed 704 accidents involving heavy goods vehicles and found that 31% of fatalities were caused by drivers pulling away, 19% were caused by left turns, 7% by right turns, and 25% by drivers reversing.
    T&E has cited two legal roadblocks to safer, more fuel-efficient lorries: no EU rules guiding what a lorry driver should be able to see with his own eyes (direct vision); and current rules on truck weight and dimensions that force a design with particularly large blind spots. It is argued that a multitude of mirrors, which often distort images, are no substitute for decent direct vision. 
    The analysis highlighted the time lapse between drivers checking mirrors, making observations through a window, and then pulling away. ‘If this time period is four seconds, this is enough time for a cyclist to undertake the HGV, with the driver being unaware of his or her presence,’ the paper says.
    ‘Not only drivers, but politicians too need vision,’ said William Todts, senior policy officer at T&E. ‘It’s incomprehensible that we allow huge 40-tonne mammoths on our roads without making sure the people behind the wheel actually see what’s going on. After decades of tinkering with mirrors, we need to take this once-in-a-generation opportunity and make direct vision compulsory for new lorry designs.’