Welcome for Mayor’s proposal to create Safer Lorry Zone in London to improve cycling safety

The London Cycling Campaign warmly welcomes the Mayor's new proposal to create a ‘London Lorry Safety Charge’ zone in Greater London, but advise him that the details of the scheme are vital to making it effective.

We plan to work closely with Transport for London (as we have previously on reducing lorry danger) to make sure the new zone ensures that only lorries and operators who match the standards set in our Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling campaign have access to London’s streets.

We’re saddened the Mayor's announcement came on the day of a cyclist-lorry fatality and after two very serious injuries in the Greater London area, but we are pleased the Mayor and the Department for Transport are taking the problem of lorry danger seriously.

The proposed London Safer Lorry Charge zone would be modelled on the successful London Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which charges up to £200 a day for commercial vehicles that don’t meet tough emission standards to enter the area inside the M25.

The LEZ is enforced using number-plate recognition cameras linked to an online payment database, and is aimed at reducing Greater London's poor air quality, by only allowing vehicles fitted with cleaner exhausts into Greater London.

The proposed ‘London Lorry Safety Charge’ zone would be aimed at heavy good vehicles, such as articulated lorries and construction vehicles, and would not apply to buses, smaller commercial vehicles, cars or motorcycles.

Zone success depends on entry criteria

While we wholeheartedly support the principle of the zone, we believe its success or otherwise depends on the criteria used to decide whether a lorry is safe or not. 

The announcement from the Mayor says the scheme will protect Londoners against the “most dangerous lorries” and the “most unsafe lorries”.

We’re pleased the Mayor has set the bar high, aiming to tackle the serious problem of lorry-cyclist and lorry-pedestrian collisions, which account for an unacceptably high proportion of road fatalities in the capital.

There are several safety features required by national legislation from which construction lorries, tipper lorries, waste vehicles, cement trucks, and certain other types of HGV are currently exempt.

These 'off-road' style lorries, with high driving positions and poor visibility, are involved in a disproportionate number of cyclist fatalities in London.

We've challenged the industry to use better urban lorry designs, but there's still a rising number of such vehicles as a result of London's building boom – these present a serious hazard to the growing number of cyclists, who now make up almost a quarter of all rush hour traffic in the city centre.

It's essential the ‘London Lorry Safety Charge’ insists London lorries have specific safety equipment such as a full set of mirrors, sensors or cameras, and sidebars – as called for by our Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling campaign.

At this stage it's not clear how many of the requirements for our Safer Lorries pledge will be included in the scheme - for example, the Mayor's press release makes no mention of cameras or sensors.

Driver training is crucial factor

Additionally, we'd expect the driver’s level of training and competence to be one of the criteria for entry to the zone.

Our Safer Lorries campaign calls on every lorry driver in London to have taken on-bike cyclist-awareness training so they understand themselves what it's like to be a vulnerable road user on city streets.

TfL, the Mayor’s office, and many London borough councils have already made this additional training a condition for all HGV drivers contracted to work for them.

The fact is that even a lorry with the best safety equipment can be driven badly.

We recognise it’s more difficult to monitor driver competency using existing number-plate recognition technology because drivers can drive multiple vehicles.

However, the Mayor must prioritise ensuring every driver in Greater London has taken this additional cyclist-awareness training.

National HGV task force

At the national level, we welcome Transport minister Stephen Hammond's creation of a Transport Industrial HGV Task Force of specialist police officers and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) staff to enforce regulations against construction HGVs.  

This reinforces the success we had in 2010 in campaigning to preserve a similar unit (CVEU/CVU) within the Metropolitan Police whose existence was threatened by funding cuts.

This task force could finally provide enforcement power for the decade-old change in Health and Safety law requiring transport operators to be responsible for managing the risk their vehicles create for other road users.