Thursday, 2 February 2012

Cyclist's Death Brings Positive Result in Inquest into HGV Safety

Image courtesy of LCC
A young lady* was killed by a refuse lorry as she passed it last year. The verdict at last weeks inquest was that it was an accidental death.

Both the investigating police officer and the Coroner said that the lorry, which was not fitted with side guards,  would have benefitted from having them in place. Refuse lorries are amongst several categories of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) which are exempt from this requirement and so were not legally required to be fitted to this particular lorry. (More information can be found at Transports Friend**). Whilst no criticism was directed against the driver of the lorry or his employers, they did not see a reason why side guards should not be fitted on this type of refuse lorry in London and that there is a real risk of similar fatalities occurring unless action is taken to ensure that such refuse lorries are fitted with side guards.

It has been said that the rationale behind the exemption is that on vehicles which are required to be tipped or travel over uneven surfaces, typically in rural areas, a side guard would interfere with this aspect of the vehicle's functionality. However, as refuse lorries in London generally travel over more level urban roads, there is no reason why the exemption should apply to them. Furthermore, there are retractable/removable side guards available, which some HGVs are equipped with. Another reason why this exemption ought not to apply.

The police evidence was that if the refuse lorry had been fitted with side guards, although the cyclist would have suffered some injuries, they would probably not have been fatal. The Coroner has written to the Transport Commissioner with a report on the matter and her observations as to what action should be taken to prevent the occurrence or continuation of such circumstances, or to eliminate or reduce the risk of death in such circumstances.

One would hope and assume that companies and the relevant authorities will give serious thought to the recommendations, but even if they do not implement them straight away or at all - this should definitely be a wake up call to all HGV owners who are currently exempt from the requirement to fit their vehicles with side guards. They need to reassess the safety of all their vehicles (and not just in respect of side guards) notwithstanding that they may not be in breach of legislation.

The law requires that employers undertake risk assessments. In light of these incidents and any Coroners'/police recommendations, it is hoped that HGV owners will adopt a change in practice given the stakes, otherwise they are likely to face serious questions if the worst does happen. However, unless parliament acts to make these vehicles safer and save cyclists' lives by enforcing legislation, it will come down to a costs/benefit risk analysis for HGV manufacturers and owners, and the majority will do nothing at all.

Enos Bukuku - Solicitor, Levenes

*Please note that whilst the woman who was killed was one of those remembered at the Kings Cross Vigil earlier this year, her family have told us that they do not want her to be used or seen as a figurehead for cycling safety/lobbying, so in respect of that, we have not included her name.

**Levenes are not responsible for content on external sites.

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