European MEPs vote for safer Direct Vision Lorries, now legislation needs government support

Safer Urban Lorry

In a crucial vote on Tuesday 18 March 2014 the European Parliament Transport Committee brought genuinely Safer Urban Lorries (see above) a step closer to becoming a reality on London's streets.

This is a major victory for all those who have been lobbying to change the rules.

Last month, a delegation of campaigners and Transport for London officials went to Brussels, with campaigners Kate Cairns and Cynthia Barlow representing the families of cyclists killed by lorries on London streets.

Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman represented British Cycling and Andrew Gilligan represented the Mayor of London.

In May 2013, the European Union Commissioner for Transport and Mobility, Siim Kallas, proposed a change in the Directive covering the dimensions and equipment for large lorries across the European Union. 

Kallas highlighted this as a great advance for cycle safety, but when we and other experts examined the draft legislation these claims appeared to be largely untrue.

A series of lobbying actions then began to amend the draft law so that safer lorry designs were given the highest priority.

The original draft proposed longer lorries with a redesigned cab to improve aerodynamic performance, and it was argued that a rounded front might offer more protection to pedestrians (see the image below).

It was claimed there might be benefits for cyclists too, but this was not properly examined and details were not written into the draft document.

The new draft legislation is much better, but it is not law, and there are many more legislative stages for it to go through before it can become law. 

London Cycling Campaign's lorry campaigner Charlie Lloyd said, "This vote represents a great swing away from ever increasing size and weight of lorries towards prioritising the safety of other road users."

"We need to be on guard to see that these changes are supported by all MEPs and are not watered down by EU governments through the Council of Ministers."

The team from Transport for London made several visits to Brussels and are to be congratulated for getting support to amend the draft legislation.

Some of the important changes are:

  • New lorries can be up to 500mm longer only if they are redesigned to "improve the road safety as well as the aerodynamic performance"
  • The front of the lorry cab must "improve direct vision so as to make vulnerable road users more visible" at the front "and the side of the cab.
  • Crash damage must be minimised by fitting an energy-absorbing system
  • In a collision the lorry must be designed to push pedestrians and cyclists away to minimise the risk of being run over.

The draft legislation states that after a trial period these design changes would become mandatory.

Other changes to the original draft ensure that longer containers can only be used on combined road/sea or road/rail journeys and ensure technological improvements can't increase the load weight. 

If individual countries want to make exceptions or experiments with larger lorries, those lorries should not be used on international journeys.

There is still far to go before these changes can be implemented: the Transport Committee vote needs to be ratified by the whole European Parliament on 14 April 2014, and then the changes have to be agreed by the European Council representing member governments.

Originally, governments and the lorry industry were supportive of the legislation when it looked like it would be a back-door route to longer lorries (which carry more freight at the expense of road safety), but now there is opposition towards moving towards direct vision lorries.

The British Government ought to get behind the new proposals, but they have been opposing them.

The Department for Transport must also remove the exemptions to these rules which are given to thousands of the most dangerous tipper and mixer lorries used in the construction industry.