'Cyclops' mirrors recommended for trucks

 

The national Safety Council estimates that eight pedestrians die each year because of a blind spot on trucks. Paddy Logue reports

There is little contest when several tonnes of articulated truck and a pedestrian or a cyclist collide. So far this year at least 16 pedestrians and one pedal cyclist are among 77 people who have lost their lives on our roads.

Of course, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are not involved in all pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. A National Safety Council (NSC) study carried out between 1996 and 2001 provides an idea of the proportion.

Pedestrians (43 per cent) and cyclists (19 per cent) accounted for the majority of road fatalities involving HGVs in urban areas.

During the period, 92 pedestrians and 29 cyclists died in collisions with HGVs in both rural and urban areas. The figures are small in relation to the overall death rate on the roads, but a significant number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths could have been easily prevented.

The NSC estimates up to eight pedestrians die each year because of a "blind spot" hindering a truck driver's view to the front and left of his or her cab. It is a problem, the NSC says, that is easily rectifiable and at a very small cost. Recent sittings of the coroner's court, reported in this newspaper, brought deaths blamed on these blind spots into sharp focus.

On December 21st, 2004, 54-year-old Bernadette Molloy died as she crossed in front of a truck at a pedestrian crossing on the New Cabra Road in Dublin.

A witness told her inquest last month: "She fell very catastrophically. I flashed my lights and sounded the horn to try to make the driver of the truck aware of what was happening, but then the truck jerked as the left-hand wheels ran over the woman."

Garda Anthony Kelly told the inquest he was "satisfied that a pedestrian approximately 1.5 metres in height would not be seen within approximately a two-metre radius of the front and side of the vehicle."

Patrick Nelson (52), a father of three from Clondalkin died on February 23rd, 2005 after he slid from his stationary motorbike in icy weather at traffic lights. He landed under the wheels of a truck as it moved off from the Naas Road-Nangor Road junction in Dublin. A front-facing "cyclops" mirror fitted to the truck or an electronic sensor could have saved his live, his inquest heard on February 19th last.

In January, Dublin City Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said he strongly recommended "the provision of these safety items in the interest of public safety" but it is a plea that has largely fallen on deaf ears.

The mirrors in question become mandatory on all new trucks, under an EU directive, from January 2007. In the meantime, however, thousands of truckers and truck firms are ignoring pleas to have them fitted, although both Volvo and Scania have already started doing so at a production level. At home, Dublin Bus has fitted the devices to the left side of all the vehicles in its fleet.

Truckers themselves admit that only about half of the 16,000 HGVs driving on the State's roads are equipped with front-view mirrors. "We have done a huge amount of work," says Jimmy Quinn of the Irish Road Haulage Association, who says the safety devices should be mandatory for all vehicles, old or new, before the EU directive comes into force for new rigs next year.

"It should be made part of the annual DOE [road worthiness] test. We suggested this [to the Department of Transport] last October twelve months... but a lot of people have been killed in the mean time.

"It is not often you have an industry clamouring to regulate itself."

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said the EU directive would be applied from January. He added: "We are working towards making it compulsory for existing vehicles to have the mirrors fitted. But that has to be done at an EU level.

"In the meantime we have been encouraging through engagement with the IRHA and others, drivers and owners to retro-fit their vehicles.

"The cost is relatively small, as little as a tank of diesel."

The NSC has also co-operated with the IRHA to highlight the issue in campaigns warning other road users that "if you can't see the driver, the driver can't see you."

NSC spokesman Brian Farrell says those who have fitted their lorries with the anti-blind spot devices are to be commended but "we are relying on the goodwill of truckers."

Of the thousands that have not paid heed to the calls, Farrell describes the situation as "shameful."

"They have no excuse. It is a small investment of about €100. How much is a brand new truck?

"Nobody can force a truck driver to put these mirrors on. A sizeable number have and they are to be commended but others don't seem to have the road safety issue at heart."

Farrell estimates up to eight road deaths each year occur because of HGV blind spots. "These are very preventable deaths," he adds.

While pedestrians remain less organised and less vocal as a group of road users, cyclists pull no punches in apportioning blame for deaths involving HGVs.

In its recent submission to Dublin City Council on how to manage HGV traffic in Dublin city centre the Dublin Cycling Campaign (DCC) said its main message was that "HGVs are very efficient 'cyclist killers'.

"Of course they also kill pedestrians but pedestrians choose where, how and when they cross a street so their time-exposed-to-danger is low, whereas cyclists are part of the traffic mix, during their journey, and are continuously exposed to the hazard and risk presented by HGVs.

"Serial killers would not be too emotive a term to use to describe the actions of HGVs and their drivers," the submission presented on January 27th says.

Truckers are equally unequivocal. Quinn believes some cyclists are "riding around town plugged into ipods or whatever, in a cocoon of their own. I ride a bike myself, and a horse, and I know that if you're on the road you need to pay attention."