New standards to help make roads safer

Councillors Kate Cairns, Heather Cairns, Ian Swithenbank and Anne Dale next to the rear mounted safety camera.
Councillors Kate Cairns, Heather Cairns, Ian Swithenbank and Anne Dale next to the rear mounted safety camera.

Two new national safety standards have been adopted to reduce the risk of collisions between HGVs and vulnerable road users.

The standards have been put in place to help companies improve driver skills and competence and follow good practice in the management of their vehicles and operations.

One of the requirements of achieving the accreditations is the attendance at a Safe Urban Driving course, providing drivers with the knowledge, skills and defensive driving techniques to deal with the increasing challenges of driving in busy environments.

Other requirements include the fitting of adaptations to eliminate vehicle blind spots to help detect the presence of vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

Northumberland County Councillor Ian Swithenbank, cabinet member for local services, said: “There is a growing number of cyclists and motorcyclists on our rural roads and a growing number of HGVs.

“This means the hazard is only increasing.

“Our refuse wagons go to every corner of the county with our council staff often needing to manoeuvre the vehicles in locations which are narrow and have poor sight lines.”

A study has found only 20 per cent of HGV operators fit rear-facing cameras to their lorries and only 12 per cent of vehicles are fitted with sensors that alert drivers to cyclists close to their near side.

In Northumberland, between 2011 and 2016, 33 per cent of cyclist fatalities involved heavy goods vehicles.

Eilidh Cairns, from Ellingham, died in February 2009 at the age of 30 after being knocked off her bike in London where she was living and working for a television production company. The driver later admitted he had not seen the former Duchess’s Community High School student.

Eilidh’s sister Kate Cairns and mother Heather Cairns, both Northumberland county councillors, have campaigned tirelessly to eliminate lorry blind spots and bring about improved HGV cab design at European Level with their See Me Save Me campaign.

Coun Heather Cairns said: “Needless death and injury is happening right across the country not just in London.

“HGVs are involved in 22 per cent of cyclist deaths UK-wide and yet they make up only 4 per cent of traffic.

“Time after time, just like in Eilidh’s case, drivers say they didn’t see the victim.”

The council has a fleet of 662 vehicles, 145 of which are over 3.5 ton.

In order to meet the accreditation, the council must have front, side and rear blind spots completely eliminated or minimised as far as practical, either through vision aids or audible sensor alerts.

The authority plans to fit the protection systems to these vehicles over the next seven years at a cost of £84,650, partly offset against a reduction in insurance premiums.

Coun Anne Dale, chair of the Northumberland Cycling and Walking Board, said: “While the council cannot enforce the implementation of these standards for all HGVs that travel through Northumberland we are going to be actively promoting and encouraging adoption of the standards by other operators, for example to local farmers through the National Farmers’ Union.

“We will be requiring improved standards through planning permission where projects require significant HGV movements and we will let it be known, through our tendering processes, that we are keen to work with safety accredited companies.”