Fix deadly truck blindspots, cities tell governments

The world’s first law requiring truckmakers to give lorry drivers better vision of pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists came into effect this month. Since 1 March, lorry operators in London must comply with the city’s Direct Vision Standard. Now an alliance of European cities is calling on their own governments to introduce similar, ambitious standards and stop putting lives at risk.

Large trucks are responsible for a disproportionate number of deaths and injuries among pedestrians and cyclists, largely because their cabs have blindspots that prevent drivers from seeing other road users. In 2019 the EU agreed a new vehicle safety regulation that forces truckmakers to improve visibility for drivers of new trucks. 

The EU’s requirements are set out in the revision of the General Safety Regulation, which mandates truckmakers “to enhance the direct visibility of vulnerable road users … by reducing to the greatest possible extent the blindspots in front and to the side of the driver.” The wording has left scope for disagreement on what constitutes the “greatest possible extent”.

The details are being discussed at the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and any agreement there will mean the rules apply well beyond the boundaries of the EU. But T&E fears that governments too sympathetic to truckmakers will water down the extent to which the UNECE will legislate for blindspots to be reduced.

A group of nine cities has now written to their national governments, which are represented at the UNECE, calling on them to approve an ambitious direct vision standard for truck cabs. The letter was sent by EUROCITIES and POLIS, two city-focused organisations, on behalf of Berlin, Copenhagen, Lisbon, London, Malmö, Osnabrück, Paris, Stockholm and Valencia, as well as a network of Swedish cities with strong cycling cultures. 

T&E’s freight manager, James Nix, said: “The EU has done the headline work on this, establishing in law the need to reduce blindspots ‘to the greatest possible extent’, and London’s direct vision standard is an encouraging first step. But a city ban has little impact outside the urban region where it applies, and it doesn’t prevent the continuing production of sub-standard trucks. This is why the EU’s regulation needs to be fleshed out and applied in all UNECE countries.”

A regulation passed by the UNECE would apply not just in the EU, but in around 55 countries in total, including Australia, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, and European countries outside the EU, such as the UK and Turkey.

London’s direct vision standard for trucks came into effect at the start of this month, and bans lorries with the highest risk profile from entering the city. The standard was motivated by the fact that 55% of cyclist deaths involve heavy-duty vehicles, despite these vehicles making up only 4% of distance travelled in London. It requires operators of lorries over 12 tonnes to apply for a safety permit before entering and operating in most of Greater London, or face a fine. The permit is granted without a fee if the vehicle meets the minimum safety rating.

London’s mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I am proud that London is leading the way in reducing road danger, with our world-first Direct Vision Standard now in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week across all the roads in our city. But more can and should be done to make lorries safer across the continent, which is why we urge national governments to follow London’s lead and eliminate deadly HGV blindspots by introducing a Direct Vision Standard as soon as possible.”