Safety organisations have sent a joint letter to the Transport Minister demanding progress on a law which would allow safer EU lorry design. France and Sweden are looking to have the legislation delayed by several years as it would open up Renault and Volvo to greater competition. Campaigners say such a move would mean hundreds more lives being needlessly lost.
The open letter was sent by Philippa Edmunds, the Freight on Rail Manager at the Campaign for Better Transport on behalf of 11 UK organisations, including British Cycling.
“Current EU rules on weights and dimensions of HGVs have indirectly restricted the length of cabins to 2.35m which explains why European lorries have such blunt brick-shaped cabin fronts which affect the aerodynamics of lorries, making them inefficient and dangerous in the event of a frontal crash.
“Today’s cab design forces the driver to sit on top of the engine in such a high position that much of what happens around the cab is invisible to them – the so-called fatal blind spots.
“Redesigning lorry cabs to reduce blind spots could save hundreds of cyclists’ and pedestrians’ lives every year, according to a study by Loughborough University which found this ‘direct vision’ lorry concept would increase the driver’s field of view in front and to the sides of the lorry by 50 per cent compared to today’s lorries.”
Both the EU Parliament and Commission want the new designs allowed by 2017/2018, but, according to the Financial Times, France and Sweden have been lobbying to have this pushed back. It is thought that this is a bid to protect manufacturers Renault and Volvo, as the changes would also open up the European truck market to US competition. Volvo, for one, have only recently launched new model ranges and so changes would be costly to implement and could also result in competitors gaining a head start.
A Volvo spokesman said:
“Redesigning the cab is quite complex and costly, and you have to bear in mind that product cycles in our business are 15, maybe 20 years long.”
However, William Todts, an official at Brussels-based environmental think-tank Transport & Environment, points out that the new legislation would not demand change, only allow it.
“New design rules would enable, not force, lorry-makers to produce lorries that are safer, cleaner and cheaper to run. A moratorium on innovative lorry designs is absurd. EU governments must resist calls to stall innovation in order to shield a few companies from increased competition.”
Edmunds points out that in London, lorries were involved in over half of cyclists' deaths in 2011 and 2012, even though they only made up five per cent of traffic.
“Hundreds more lives will be needlessly lost if the safer more aerodynamic HGV cab designs are delayed.
“These new HGV cab designs would reduce blind spots and add a crumple zone to protect pedestrians and cyclists from being knocked underneath the wheels in a collision, while reducing fuel costs by up to 10% through increased efficiency. If our Government is serious about improving road safety it must push for the introduction of these designs now on a voluntary basis as soon as possible.”