Transport ministers demand safer trucks to cut road deaths and boost innovation

Eight governments are demanding new vehicle safety standards in order to diminish road deaths significantly. In a letter to EU internal market commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the governments, including Germany, France and Austria, call on the Commission to mandate safety measures such as direct vision to eradicate blind spots in the upcoming revision of the General Safety Regulation (GSR). Such measures would not only drastically improve truck safety but also boost the global competitiveness of European manufacturers, according to the alliance.

In 2015, 26,000 Europeans died in road accidents and even more have been severely injured. While the EU calls for road deaths to be reduced by 50 per cent by 2020, the number of fatalities has stagnated for three years. As stated in the letter to Commissioner Bieńkowska, a study by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) found that the design of trucks could significantly contribute to saving lives in Europe: 900 lives could be saved by enabling truck drivers to see their surroundings directly and trucks having better crash performance. Better truck design means, for instance, a lower seating position for the driver, so-called low-entry cabs that eliminate many blind spots, and bigger side and front windows that enable the driver to see other road users more easily when driving off or turning.

Austria’s minister for transport, Jörg Leichtfried, said: 'Truck design has huge potential for safety improvement, especially with regards to vulnerable road users. EU standards for direct vision and mandatory fitment of active safety technology such as camera systems that provide drivers with a 360° view around the vehicle could save lives. The review of the General Safety and Pedestrian Safety Regulations should therefore be a top priority for the European Commission.'

European cities have already begun to roll out local policies to support the introduction of safer lorries. London announced in September 2016 that it will be banning trucks with poor direct vision from the city centre by 2024 – marking the first direct vision standard worldwide.

The eight governments, further including Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, called on the European Commission to mandate direct vision standards in its forthcoming revision of the GSR and introduce policies to accelerate fleet renewal. To date, special truck design and trucks with sensor systems are more expensive than ‘normal’ trucks with poor vision. Higher sales volumes would thus reduce their cost significantly and make safer vehicles more accessible for hauliers and fleets.

The General Safety Regulation dates back to 2009 and is in urgent need of reform if the EU wants to consolidate European manufacturers’ leading role in safety innovation, T&E said. The Commission has repeatedly missed its deadlines to review it and thus, the letter demands the Commission review the regulation this year.

Stef Cornelis, safer and cleaner trucks officer at NGO Transport & Environment, said: 'Support for EU action on truck safety is overwhelming. We need a proposal in 2017 and we need that proposal to be ambitious. That means that safer trucks with better direct vision should hit the road well before 2028, which is the date the Commissioner has been floating.'