HGV Retrofit Technology & Safer Lorry Scheme
Can you believe that mirrors are still retrofit onto HGVs? The business of retrofitting vehicles is still a minefield to the most seasoned of fleet operators, in an industry where the legislation is constantly evolving (the latest being the introduction of the Safer Lorry Scheme in London), the providers are constantly innovating and the bar for work related road safety is constantly being challenged and raised.
There’s a lot of miscommunication out there with regards to what retrofit safety products can and can’t do. Though I don’t doubt providers’ good intentions, grandiose claims that their product can ‘eradicate all risk’ or is the one ‘silver bullet’ to all vulnerable road user woes can be at best misleading and at worst harmful.
So here to set the record straight on what is available and what it does, besides our very own Cycle Alert, we give you a lowdown on what’s on the market and what it does.
If there’s one thing the Department for Transport are clear on when it come to safety equipment it’s mirrors. Lots of mirrors.
And, as of 1 September additional Class V and VI mirrors will be required by all HGVs over 3.5 tonnes irrespective of current exemptions.
Class V and VI mirrors are designed to help prevent collisions from occurring by improving the drivers’ field of view and reducing blind spots. These mirrors may reduce a variety of collision types where HGVs experience blind spots, such as:
- HGVs turning left and colliding with pedal cyclists or pedestrians at their nearside that they failed to see
- HGVS pulling away and colliding with pedestrians, or pedal cyclists, that were not seen crossing the road directly in front of the vehicle
- HGVs approaching junctions, often roundabouts, when a pedal cyclist, motorcyclist or even a vehicle approaches from the right and is hidden in a blind spot caused by the A-pillars and/or mirror clusters
- Left hand drive HGV vehicles changing lane to the right on dual carriageways and motorways having failed to see a vehicle in a blind spot by the passenger door.
Class V mirrors give a close view of the side projection down a lorry. This is to help reduce the blind-spot down the left-hand side of the lorry.
Class VI mirrors, or front blind spot mirrors, are fitted to the front of large HGVs to eliminate the blind spot immediately in front of the vehicle. Class VI mirrors provide a wide angle of vision and, when properly adjusted, permit a clear view of the area immediately in front of the vehicle. Accidents resulting in serious injuries and death have occurred when a HGV driver has not seen a pedestrian or cyclist passing in front of his vehicle as it starts to move away from a junction.
However, one must remember that no matter how many mirrors you fit to a vehicle, the driver has only one pair of eyes. Optimising the driver’s field of vision without creating obstruction of vision or sensory overload is a delicate balancing act. There’s a great course on precisely this subject, available from Be HGV Aware; I’d throughly recommend it.
Fitting side guards to vehicles aims to reduce the extent of injuries in particular circumstances. In the UK side guards (also known as under run protection) have been a legal requirement on certain large goods vehicles and trailers since the 1980s, and compliance checks are included as part of the statutory annual roadworthiness test. However, there have historically been a number of vehicle types which are exempt from the legal requirement to have side guards fitted. That is, until now. Again when the new Safer Lorry Charge commences its operation on 1st September, TfL are clear that any vehicle of more than 3.5 tonnes (regardless of the current exemptions) must be fitted with side guards to protect cyclists from being dragged under the wheels in the event of a collision.
Side guards are intended to reduce injury and severity by preventing vulnerable road users from being run over by the HGV’s rear wheels when the side of the vehicle comes into contact with them. In general terms, side guards are lightweight structures that are intended to fill the gap between the front and rear axles of goods vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) greater than 3.5t. They can consist of rails or panels or a combination of these, but the lower surface must be at most 550mm from the ground. There’s currently a new initiative I’ve seen from CLOCS - a ‘how low can you go‘ limbo into at what height they can bring these side panels down without causing operational problems.
There are a wide range of types of side guards that can be fitted to improve safety. Types range from a single or double rail type side guard to a smooth integrated guard that covers the trailer wheels.
Transport Research Laboratory (2014) estimate that, for collisions with HGVs without side guards where the impact point is at the side of the lorry some and the vehicle manoeuvres are going ahead in a straight line, then between 50-74% of cyclist fatalities may be prevented if side guards had been present.
The disadvantages to fitting side guards are none really; besides possible damage to them when on uneven ground, but even in these instances they’re low tech and relatively simple to maintain.
HGVs are disproportionately represented in cyclist fatalities in the capital. We all know this. Of the 14 cyclist deaths in London in 2013, nine involved HGVs. Of the four cyclist fatalities in London this year, all four can be attributed to collisions with HGVs. Although the number of serious collisions involving cyclists and HGVs in 2014 decreased, it remains one of TfL’s key commitments to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured in London by 40 per cent over the next five years.
It is notable that The Safer Lorry Scheme does not account for technology. Perhaps it is too difficult to enforce, more likely is the fact that TfL have yet to draw any conclusive standard for fitment of such technology. TfL’s Safer Lorry scheme is juxtaposed with its FORS schemes. Involved in London’s most recent cyclist fatality, was a TfL FORS compliant vehicle; perhaps the absence of technology in the Safer Lorry Scheme is to some extent, an admission of the absence of evidence they have for their technologies recommendations.
Well, here is what in on the market in terms of retrofit technology. Here’s what the technology does, how it came about and what the future holds for such technology.
Reverse alarms are built for the purpose of warning other road users when the vehicle is reversing. Simples.
I have the honour of knowing the man who bought these into the UK, having witnessed their being used on vehicles back in the seventies. He’s got a great story, does Chris Hanson-Abbott of Brigade electronics, of bringing the product to the commercial vehicle market and challenging the mind set of a government that, at the time, deemed the technology all but useless. In many respects it was Chris who lay the path for UK interest in the field of blind-spot technology (interest up until this point had been pretty much confined to tech-savvy South-East Asia), which has resulted in the further development of retrofit technologies, from turning alarms (below) to our own Cycle Alert. Though widely recommended as a fleet ‘essential’, sadly there is still no legal requirement to fit them onto HGVs, and that is after 30+ years of lobbying.
Though the Safer Lorry Scheme does attempt to tackle some of the front and side blind-spot issues with its mirror legislation, it does nothing to address the lack of vision behind LGVs and HGVs, to which this technology many have a valid contribution to make. That is not to say reverse alarms have not been without controversy. There is an oft-cited gripe that these alarms do little for vulnerable road user safety but add a lot to the problem of undesirable noise pollution. However, much of the issues of noise pollution has been addressed with updated tech that allows reduced volume during unsociable hours.
Although the reverse alarm does not, in itself, create an optic, it gives the vulnerable road user maximum notice of the vehicle’s intention. In reality, it is vital that the driver leaves an adequate amount of time between engaging reverse and before beginning the manoeuvre, to allow the other road user sufficient time to remove themselves from danger.
HGV Turn Alarms
Picking up where Chris left off, is the humble turn alarm. Developed in response to the number of collisions that involve a turn at a junction, these alarms aim to give a clear audible alert to other road users as to the vehicle’s intention to manoeuvre left or right. The same alarm system can also be used to signal when the vehicle is reversing. Again, the idea is to give maximum warning to vulnerable road users in particular, in order that they have the opportunity to move a safe distance away from the vehicle.
Whilst vulnerable road users are still forced to share a space with large vehicles, HGV audible alarms can be an invaluable tool to add to the fleet operator’s toolkit, helping to make the vehicle more visible.
In the name of improving vehicle safety, we’ve actually teamed up with Amber Valley to produce our own. You can purchase an HGV turn alarm through our shop.
During the vehicle’s left/right manoeuvre the high intensity LEDs will flash whilst the built-in speaker will beep to gain attention.
In our Cycle Alert offering of both light and sound in the left/right turn alarm, we aim to reduce the risk of missing cyclists and pedestrians that may not be be momentarily distracted.
“It’s a lorry! Of course I’m visible!”
Well perhaps, but statistics say otherwise. With 77% of accidents happening at junctions, we simply have to do more to be seen. Vision Zero, as echoed recently by Lord Attlee, concerns an ideal whereby there are no fatalities by way of collision with an HGV, irrespective of blame, concentration or other.
Using a turn alarm system is a sure-fire way to increase your visibility on-road. It also plays a role in educating road users of the scale of the danger in front of them.
Arguably, these parking style sensors were a first generation solution and knee jerk response to the disproportionate number of HGVs being involved in cyclist fatalities. Since then, they have become something of a ‘tick-box’ exercise for TfL FORS compliancy, bought for as little as £75 and prone to damage and malfunction. They were designed to assist car with parking, not alert drivers to vulnerable road users.
There are real concerns about false alerts due to street furniture and the danger that such ‘beeping’ sound noises become lost as ‘white noise’. Proximity sensors detect the curb, railings, the rain, the list goes on.
In order to reduce some of these issues, they are normally only activated when the left hand indicator is activated. They’re inactive in all other circumstances. Some systems are only active under a certain speed, again not active in all other circumstances. Suppliers will not fit proximity sensors to front and right sides of vehicles as it increases driver annoyance which will lead to the danger of sabotage (a direct quote). Indeed, Crossrail have already identified many of these concerns.
For these reasons, few HGV vehicles can use such technology. Many cannot, such as dustcarts, street cleaners, postal delivery, food delivery vans, buses etc. All of the above vehicles have been involved in fatalities.
Put simply, these sensors “beep’ at things - so many things in fact, that the driver cannot attempt to distinguish a cyclist from a heavy raindrop using these sensors. It is hoped that we stop pretending these have anything to do with protecting vulnerable road users and we cease to market them as such. Many forward-thinking providers have already taken their proximity sensor options off the shelf for this reason; technology has moved on.
Purpose: Theft and Insurance
Fitting video cameras to lorries is an enterprise designed to capture accident moments for insurance purposes, to assist with insurance claims and also to prevent thefts. They can also be pretty thrifty for parking and at traffic lights. However, they were never designed to be used for the purpose of identifying vulnerable road users; it involves looking at a TV screen! We are not aware of any organisation that would encourage looking at a TV screen whilst driving. Video is useful for evidence based situations of liability and culpability, but definitely not to be recommended to identify cyclists whilst driving.
It’s absolutely vital that drivers give their full attention to the road; with using a camera as a means to identify vulnerable road users, the danger is distracted driving, with too much information being broadcast onto a screen that is normally split into four segments in driving mode (sides, front, back). In addition, many cameras systems look down the side of the vehicle but ignore the front left and right blind spots. 360 degree cameras have been designed to eliminate this problem, but (a) they are hard to fit to tippers and other such vehicles and (b) this is yet more information the driver needs to focus upon and that is on a TV screen.
Tag and Beacon: Cycle Alert
Cycle Alert is designed to detect cyclists.
Crossrail call Cycle Alert technology “2nd generation” technology and we would respectfully submit that the future of technology to protect cyclists has to be focused on a system that has its core a commitment to educating both cyclist and driver on safer road use. Cycle Alert is a door-opening device for education that allows us to communicate directly with cyclists and drivers.
Cycle Alert operates with RFID (sometimes called tag and beacon) technology and is predominantly wireless.
For more information on how it works, there is a wealth of information on the website.
The challenge is of course to ensure that a critical mass of cyclists and HGVs are fitted with the product and the goal is to see such technology fitted at manufacturing. But does everyone need to have one for it to be effective? Absolutely not; the cyclist who does not have one is no worse off than their current position and can only benefit from a greater understanding between road users.
Purpose: Vulnerable Road Users
There has been recent interest in the news that radar technology is being developed to identify all vulnerable road users. Radar is an object-detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. The technology currently being researched is based on an Israeli military technology.
Exciting though this may be, the promotion of radar - still in its early development stage - as a means to identify vulnerable road users is a dangerous one.
It is hard wired and simply put has far more to go wrong - there are usual issues associated with radar off course, clutter and noise propagation for starters, but there is also the dangerous matter of system which claims to detect all vulnerable road users. It screams, “no vigilance necessary” and sets itself up as a major component to driver complacency. Currently is still in development and even in its current form, such technology is prohibitively expensive to purchase, to fit and to maintain.
Certainly one to keep on the “radar” (sorry!) but we’re not ready yet; in short, this is potentially a 3rd generation technology that can be incorporated into a product such as Cycle Alert in a number of years when such technology has been mastered.