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The European Connection - Can lorry re-design wait?

Mar 13, 2014
While many will be familiar with the ongoing EC debates about Long Heavy Goods Vehicles (Double-Trailer outfits, etc.), this aspect has somewhat masked other important matters – namely, those about road safety and emissions/energy use where the proposals facilitate the introduction of more aerodynamic vehicles.

‘Box’ shape lorry cabs with pillar box-style windscreens only allow drivers a limited sight of the road, creating blind spots beneath and around the cab. Cyclists are highly vulnerable to accidents in these spaces.  According to the European Cycling Federation (ECF), more than 7000 lives were lost across the EU, during 2008-2010, albeit not all by lorries.

At issue is an amendment which, by 2020, would mandate that new lorries be given extra design space – on condition that this is only used for safety improvements such as:

  • Bigger windscreens and side windows;
  • A ‘round nose’ to deflect cyclists to the side rather than sucking them under           the wheels, as happens currently;
  • ‘Crumple zones’ or shock absorbers;
  • 3-5% less greenhouse gases by way of fuel efficiency improvements.
An ECF coalition with the International Road Transport Union and others is pressing the case that "mirrors are not enough".  For some years, the lorry-manufacturers have been leading the calls for action on lorry safety by trying to convince the EU to allow manufacturers more freedom in design work but we now see that France and Germany are thought to be decidedly unenthusiastic about the legislation, under pressure from manufacturers such as Renault and Daimler.

The UK is also prolonging the issue. A briefing document says that “whilst we support improvements to [lorry] cab design to improve fuel efficiency and carbon emissions, and road safety for vulnerable road users, any mandatory requirement for cabs to have a new profile should be supported by an impact assessment. As far as we are aware, there is no impact assessment to support such a change.”

Boris Johnson has written to the British Transport Minister pointing out his deep concern at the government’s attitude on this but it’s not certain if Johnson has raised the matter with the prime minister. In addition, Johnson has announced the start of a separate formal consultation and legal procedures for making a pan-London Traffic Regulation Order for borough roads requiring all lorries over 3.5t to be fitted with side guards and cycle-friendly mirrors. The process could be completed as early as September.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) has called for a 15-year moratorium on new EU lorry design regulations stating “redesigning the cab is an extremely complex exercise that requires development time", and “the product lifecycle of a cab is 15 years on average”. But, do we really want such important legislation delayed until 2029?

By the time you read this, a ‘workable compromise’ via the European Parliament (EP) committees may be possible but the risk of the legislation being delayed is very disturbing. The EP Rapporteur says that he will bring legislation to a plenary vote in April 2014. So, if you support the proposals it is still not too late to contact your regional MEP and make your views known.

Tony Richman

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