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LCC says devices aimed at making cyclists safer around lorries may actually increase danger

Campaigners say that series of questions need to be answered before technology such as RFID tags on bikes is deployed

London Cycling Campaign (LCC) says local authorities and transport fleet operators should not install technology aimed at improving the safety of cyclists around London until a series of questions regarding how the systems operate in practice have been satisfied, amid fears that they could actually increase the risk to cyclists.

LCC says that while its Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling is making progress in getting London boroughs to sign up to use only highly trained drivers and vehicles with specific safety equipment, there are concerns about a rush of products coming to the market.

It’s unsurprising that there is so much interest in developing such devices, with more people cycling and the issue of cycle safety having risen up the political agenda, including a strong focus on ensuring how to keep riders safe when they are sharing the road with large vehicles – according to LCC, lorries make up 5 per cent of the capital’s traffic, but account for half of cyclist deaths there.

With more councils signing up to LCC’s Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling pledge and therefore committing that their own vehicles, and those of any contractors or subcontractors they use also adhere to those standards, its an area that is bound to prove attractive for companies able to get products on sale that meet that need.

LCC however fears that some of those products may actually have a detrimental effect on the safety of riders, and those concerns are outlined in a post on the LCC website by the organisation’s campaigns officer Charlie Lloyd, himself a former lorry driver and now its expert on improving road safety.

“Because of the media attention accorded to lorry fatalities and our own high-profile around these events,” he writes, “it's not surprising that a week rarely goes by when we aren't contacted about another device aimed at reducing the casualty count.

“A few of these are wacky ideas, but most have some merit. Very few get taken beyond the prototype stage into production.”

Lloyd reveals that several devices have been launched which use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags placed on bicycles, which relay information to a receiver’s cab to warn of the presence of cyclists, and how LCC reviewed one of those systems, Cycle Alert, last year, which it adds has now been launched to market.

Ahead of its launch earlier this year, Cycle Alert’s co-founder, Peter Le Masurier, said: “Many systems have been designed for HGV’s, so that drivers can be more aware of cyclists close to their vehicle.

“But everybody needs to take responsibility for their own safety on the road.

“Cycle Alert empowers cyclists to make themselves more obvious to HGV drivers – no mean feat when you consider the relative size difference – and allows HGV drivers to protect themselves from the devastating impact of an accident.

“In fact I was inspired to develop this technology when I heard an interview with a truck driver who had been involved in an accident with a cyclist – I recognised then that not one but two families are left devastated by such incidents.”

In our article about the launch of the product, we noted that while it was an interesting concept, without extensive uptake from haulage operators and more importantly cyclists themselves, with compulsion presumably not an option, it was hard to see how it could significantly increase safety.

LCC has similar concerns, with Lloyd pointing out that it expressed concerns about Cycle Alert in its review, saying, “The main problem with this device appears to be the logistics of installing devices on potentially millions of bikes in the capital and the UK."

Another issue raised by LCC is the way in which such devices are marketed, such as Cycle Safety Shield, currently being tested at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) in Berkshire, with the company hoping to install TFID tags on Barclays Cycle Hire bikes and which is touted as enabling drivers to “concentrate on driving and not be continuously checking for cyclists."

LCC says: “We are deeply sceptical this approach will reduce danger on London streets. The designers of many of these devices claim that if they can stop even one cyclist death a year it will be worth it. Our fear is that these systems actually increase risk by giving drivers and cyclists a false sense of security.

“We have seven burning questions about how these systems work in practice, and have told the TRL testing team of the potential pitfalls,” it adds. “Before any system is adopted for use by companies or governments then we must have answers to these questions:

• How many of the 1-2 million bikes in London need to fit a tag before a lorry driver can be sure he'll not put a cyclist in danger?

• What happens if drivers begin to rely on a system that only shows a minority of cyclists?

• Even if the system notifies a driver to the presence of one cyclist, how will they know about any other other bikes without tags in the immediate vicinity?

• If the alarm goes off at a three junctions in a row and is silent at the fourth, should a driver assume there are no bikes in the immediate vicinity?

• Is it a failsafe system? How will the lorry know if the battery in a bike’s tag has died?

• How will the cyclist know that the lorry’s system is turned on and working?

• Will cyclists with the device fitted assume that it's safe to go up the left side of any lorry?

• If drivers stop looking out for cyclists, will this have a detrimental effect on pedestrian safety? (as LCC points out, many more pedestrians than cyclists are killed by lorries most years in London).

LCC adds: “In recent years we, Transport for London, the police, GLA and many councils and much of the transport industry have made great progress changing the way the transport industry operates. Our aim has been to introduce a ‘safety culture’ so drivers and managers work together to identify risk and work out how to reduce them.

“This safety culture might include safety devices, but a key requirement is better driver training and awareness. Any device that gives a sense of security without actually delivering it for the majority of cyclists and all the pedestrians in London is likely to increase risk.

“We urge all councils and transport operators not to adopt these systems until there are convincing answers to these important questions,” it concludes.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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antigee | 11 years ago

'.....enabling drivers to “concentrate on driving and not be continuously checking for cyclists." '

i'm not often lost for words but that really shows a lack of understanding that is way beyond belief

Paul99 replied to antigee | 11 years ago
antigee wrote:

'.....enabling drivers to “concentrate on driving and not be continuously checking for cyclists." '

i'm not often lost for words but that really shows a lack of understanding that is way beyond belief

Ditto. This is frankly terrifying. Surely "driving" a car involves taking account of and observing the road and all other road users around you? Clearly someone who might agree with it not being a bad thing when you "clip a cyclist" and someone likely to campaign for lenient sentences for people driving two-tonne metal weapons who just got out of bed on the wrong side one day....

I ride in London every day and the idea of a device like this that can lead to letting drivers assume there is nothing there because the system isn't beeping at them is a shortcut to more deaths and injuries. Harsher penalties and serious education form the start (and re-education when necessary) are the only things that will lead to the necessary attitude adjustment on the roads.

kie7077 | 11 years ago

Again, the problem with this system is if you know about the dangers with HGVs then you don't need it, and if you don't know about the dangers of HGVs then you wouldn't put it on your bike.

So, completely pointless, as thebungle said, education of both HGV drivers and cyclists, primarily cyclists is the key to reducing deaths.

barongreenback | 11 years ago

What proportion of the cyclist deaths are where they have filtered up the side of an HGV rather than the HGV overtaking and then turning left?

Gus T replied to barongreenback | 11 years ago

Maybe you could put that to the G E O Amey prison transport that pulled into a cycle lane & would have crushed me against railings if I hadn't realised what he was going to do as he passed me signaling left. He knew he couldn't get through because on standing traffic but still pulled over on me.
Cycle lanes are on the left as standard, cyclists are supposed to use them & lorries don't always signal when sat at lights.
Stop looking for a scapegoat.

Tom Amos | 11 years ago

Interesting. I drive rarely and I cycle regularly. I don't have any problems seeing cyclists when I drive - even when they ride without lights at night in dark clothing - not that I'm recommending it. When a car driver claims "sorry mate, I didn't see you there", everyone knows that is not true. But somehow, when a lorry driver says that, the police, and coroners, believe them.

Anyone who has ever cycled in London will notice that the tipper truck drivers drive like maniacs. Imposing a 20mph speed limit on these vehicles and making sure that they are not paid per journey would force them to slow down.

A close friend of mine is a bus driver. He doesn't believe the excuse about not seeing cyclists. He watches out for them. He knows that if he passes one on the road, he's likely to see them at the next lights. You can't then run them over and claim you didn't know they were there.

To state the bleeding obvious, lorry drivers are not going to admit seeing cyclists when they run them over because it would be an admission of guilt.

thebungle replied to Tom Amos | 11 years ago

I've driven lorries on a part time basis and my handful of trips into London have been by far and away my worst 'using a road' experience by far, the reason? People on bikes.

They display the worst traits of both motorists and pedestrians, nightmare combination.

Applying a 20mph speed limit will do no good whatsoever as quite frankly if you can get a wagon above 20 in London you are doing pretty well.

Education and understanding is what's required.

velobetty | 11 years ago

A couple of years ago a few of us started protoyping an RFID system to alert drivers of HGVs as to the presence of a cyclist. The massive flaw in this system, that bicycles need to have an RFID chip, made us realise how dangerous this would be to populise and so we dropped the idea.

We could all imagine a situation where cyclists are to blame for their own accidents because they didn't carry an RFID chip.

It's solving the wrong problem; Paris bans access to HGVs during the day and don't have the same fatalities as we do. This pandering to vehicle-users (and I'm a driver/motorcyclist too, just one that realises I can't drive everywhere and all the time) has to stop and we have to put pedestrians and cyclists first, with *no* excuses.

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