Lord Attlee in The House of Lords

On 5 March 2015 Lord Attlee presented a Short Debate in the House of Lords to ask Her Majesty’s government what steps they are taking to use, and to encourage the development of, technologies to reduce the number of collisions between heavy goods vehicles and cyclists.

Lord Attlee’s transcript is copied below (copyright the Crown).  

The main thrust of Lord Attlee’s debate focused on encouraging the DFT to take the lead in developing specification in terms of functional and performance criteria for the equipment and technology must achieve in order  to be mandated.  Lord Attlee said “… This is clearly a role for the Dft since we cannot have large metropolitan authorities each having their own systems and standards… [the Dft] and not Tfl should ensure that there is an assessment and approval organisation and mechanism in place.”

Lord Attlee identified a vision that we don’t hear enough of from all supporters of cycle safety within the UK, that of a Zero fatality target.   We would say Vision Zero should be standard predicated policy for all movements of cycling safety.   

So …..  the call is to the Department for Transport to take action with a “… robust and consistent process established to independently to evaluate HGV safety products against the functional and performance criteria set.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to use, and to encourage the development of, technologies to reduce the number of collisions between heavy goods vehicles and cyclists.

Earl Attlee (Con):My Lords, the House will be aware that, every year in London, there are several cyclist fatalities involving HGVs and that these accidents often occur at relatively low speeds.  These are extremely distressing incidents for all concerned, not least because of the gross disparity in vulnerability. I have been first on the scene on one occasion and witnessed a near miss on another.

My noble friend the Minister, his department and Transport for London take these accidents very seriously. When one occurs, TfL does not just place another appropriately coloured sticker on the map. It takes it very personally and understands the effect on the families, friends and all concerned. The House will also recognise that, for every fatality, there are also numerous serious and life-changing injuries.

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The Metropolitan Police should be investigating each fatal accident carefully and dispassionately.  However, it is not clear to me why, on one occasion, it was appropriate for the highways engineers at TfL to be interviewed under police caution. It would be helpful if the Minister could write to me to help me understand the logic of that police action.

While the Department for Transport has been a bit slow in consulting on some obvious and desirable changes to the construction and use regulations, TfL has made imaginative use of a traffic regulation order concerning mirrors and sideguards. I expect that other noble Lords will cover this point. However, mirrors work only if drivers invariably use them and if cyclists do not enter the truck’s blind spot or danger areas in an inadvisable way. We could alter the technical requirements for the cab of an HGV but these are quite properly determined at European level.  Designs are predicated on the needs of operators using national roads and not for the peculiar problems of London.

Last week, I attended the Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety—CLOCS— conference at ExCeL. We saw some of the technological developments in better cab design, sensor technology and how freight operator recognition scheme operators can reduce risks. I am sure that all noble Lords will applaud the efforts of all those involved in the CLOCS programme.

Can my noble friend the Minister explain why the CPC regime for HGV drivers does not include a mandatory road safety objective? Furthermore, at present, a work-related, road traffic accident fatality is not reportable under RIDDOR. There does not even seem to be a need for a risk assessment for work-related driving. Why not?

While all these points and policies are helpful and interesting, they are not predicated on meeting a target of zero. By that I mean that, in some years, no cyclists in London will be killed by an HGV, irrespective of fault.

My understanding is that, despite claims to the contrary, none of the sensor systems developed thus far is good enough to be mandated. That is how I was briefed when I was in the Minister’s position and I do not think that it has changed. However, we could make the problem orders of magnitude simpler if cycles were to be fitted with transducers for truck-mounted equipment to detect. I want to emphasise that I am not applying parliamentary pressure to adopt any particular technology, nor have I been stimulated by any outside organisation. I have proposed a system whereby one or more infrared transmitters are fitted to the relevant truck. The cycle has a transducer mounted on it which retransmits the IR signal radio frequency back to the truck. This is known as a tag-and-beacon system, and a very similar system has already been marketed which uses RFID. These systems do have the difficulty that the cycles would have to be fitted with a tag, which could be a problem, but that has to be balanced against the technical advantages. It would be necessary to fit only certain types of high- risk HGVs, in particular construction vehicles. My understanding is that the concept would work, but the difficulty is in its implementation.

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I understand that in the past three years more than 20 new companies have been set up selling HGV blind spot safety technology. The technology they offer ranges from simple electromagnetic and ultrasonic sensing devices to sophisticated camera monitoring systems, radio frequency identification, short-range radar and infrared. We should applaud their work. The sales pitches of these companies make ambitious claims about being “the solution to the problem”, but static tests and live vehicle trials reveal why it is very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to make these claims themselves. During my researches this week, I have come to realise to my horror that there is no specification in terms of functional and performance criteria for what the equipment and technology must achieve in order to be mandated. This is clearly a role for the DfT since we cannot have large metropolitan authorities each having their own systems and standards. I have to ask my noble friend the Minister what he is doing about this.

Products said to be designed to save lives should be independently evaluated and compared. The operators of HGVs would then have all the facts they need to make informed choices and know that the safety equipment they are investing in offers value for money and is effective. I am sad to say that this is not the case. Unlike every other safety device in the workplace, those being sold to HGV operators do not have to meet stringent performance criteria or undergo rigorous testing. A robust and consistent process needs to be established independently to evaluate HGV safety products against the functional and performance criteria set. Does the Minister agree that his department, and not TfL, should ensure that there is an assessment and approval organisation and mechanism in place?

This is not regulation for regulation’s sake. Not only will it help HGV operators now, it will also steer the technological developments of the future so that more lives can be saved, and not just for this specific type of accident. I am passionate about road safety and I believe that we should be going for zero for this type of accident. I will happily engage with all concerned both inside and outside the House. I look forward to the Minister’s response.