Dublin joins calls for safer trucks

18 cities write to European Commission president calling for improved pedestrian protections

 

Dublin has joined 18 other European cities calling for the EU to make life safer for pedestrians by enforcing tighter regulations on the designs of trucks and heavy goods vehicles.

The letter sent by the cities states that they are all engaged in efforts to promote walking and cycling. “ Our efforts cannot be successful if we do not also improve in parallel the safety of the cars, vans and trucks” says the letter, which includes the cities of Paris, Vienna, Poznan, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Berlin amongst its signatories.

“One area of particular concern is truck safety. A modern and vibrant city cannot do without trucks - they’re needed, for example, to supply retailers and for construction projects. But today’s trucks are very ill-designed for urban environments. They have poor direct vision and therefore huge and deadly blind spots. If crashes occur they are usually fatal.”

According to a 2016 report, some 4,000 pedestrians die every year from injuries received when being hit by a truck. The report states that 43 per cent of fatal accidents in Belgium involving a cyclist, also involved a truck. In some cities, such as London, that number spikes to 50 per cent, mostly because of the closer proximity and greater density of the two road users.

A spokesperson for environmental and safety group Transport and Environment (T&E) told The Irish Times that it’s critical to have some movement on the issue of making trucks safer, not least because the number of road deaths in the EU has stagnated, not falling since 2013. James Nix, freight and climate director at T&E, said “London has taken the lead here by banning trucks with the worst visibility; Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen and Dublin are among the many cities now examining a similar move. It’s up to the Commission to avoid a patchwork of different direct vision standards across Europe. Manufacturers should not have to make six different trucks for six different direct vision standards.”

Already, there are some trucks (such as the Scania PN3 cab) which have, effectively, no blind spot at all and others, such as the low-cab Mercedes Econic, which have only minimal blind spots. In those cases it’s because the driver is mounted lower and farther back in the cab, bringing him or her closer to the level of other road users.

Traditionally, the driver has been mounted high up above the road for simple space efficiency. European regulation has traditionally limited the overall length of truck and trailer combos, in order to preserve road space and prevent the proliferation of super-long road trains. The truck makers’ response has been, as with city centre architects, to build up. Shove the engine as far forward as possible, stack the cab and controls high up above and you maximise the length of the trailer which is, after all, the bit of the truck that earns the money to pay for the rest.

Currently, there is a proposal on the table to allow trucks to grow by 800 to 900mm in length, which many believe will be swallowed up by an extended trailer length, but which T&E has previously argued should be used to redesign the cabs to move the driver forward and down, and to improve the exterior visibility of the cab.

The European Commission has set a putative date of 2028 for the introduction of the new regulations, but T&E says that the requirements should instead be gradually phased in, starting as soon as possible. The lengthy lead times are seen as necessary for the industry though, as heavy trucks are enormously expensive and need a long shelf life to recoup that massive investment.

According to Eoin Bannon, Irish representative for T&E, “retrofitting is not really commercially viable - you could fit doors with more glass and perhaps change the design of the dashboard but this will only increase visibility to a certain extent. And it’s expensive. Only lowering the position of the driver will give radical improvements to visibility and this is not possible by retrofitting as the engine is underneath the driver. Plus hauliers typically keep a truck for three-to-five years, or a little longer for urban delivery trucks, and then sell them on, so the investment required for retrofitting is not attractive.”