Earlier this year the European Commission made a sensible proposal to give European lorries a facelift to allow safer and more fuel efficient lorry design. It would give lorries a short, curvy nose and much bigger windscreens, so drivers can actually see cyclists. The better driver vision would help avoid accidents, but if they do happen, the impact of frontal crashes would be greatly reduced by the deflecting shape and the softer front. Safety groups, cities, hauliers and even environmental groups hailed the proposal as a clear win-win for the economy, road safety and the environment.
But when the Commission’s win-win announcement was made, there was one interested party that remained surprisingly quiet – the lorry-makers. Since then, slowly but surely, like a HGV winding its way up the A20, the manufacturers have begun to make some noise. Some said extra design space would not be useful, despite others quietly welcoming it. The only thing that they do seem to agree on, however, is that no single manufacturer should be able to benefit from the law-changes before everyone else does. So, they agreed that there should be a 15 year ‘lead time’ for these safety changes; “to ensure competitive neutrality”.
Lead time, as you will know, is usually given to allow industry to adapt to things they are obliged to do. Now, apparently, manufacturers want lead time for something they are allowed to do. They would, of course, be completely free to just continue selling current models if they want to. This whole disruptive delay to make sure that if one lorry-maker can’t prosper, then none of them should, would almost be rather amusing if it wasn’t for the seriousness of the consequences.
But the stakes are incredibly high. If one lorry maker were to come forward with a radically improved cab design, others may follow. Upsetting the competitive equilibrium could be the starting point of a virtuous circle of increased competition and accelerated improvements to safety, fuel economy and emissions. Moreover, if life-saving cabs are on the market, London could start discouraging dangerous brick-shaped cabs, just like it plans to impose penalties on lorries without mirrors.
The proposal on lorry dimensions now moves to a vote in the European Parliament, where politicians will no doubt be faced with the lobbying efforts of lorry-makers. It is up to the UK and its representatives in Brussels to take a firm stance and ensure, for all our sakes, that safer, smarter and greener lorries are on our roads as soon as possible.