Tens of thousands of lorries with poor visibility will be banned from London's roads within four years to better protect cyclists and pedestrians, the city's mayor, Sadiq Khan, has announced.
Road safety campaigners have long called for action against some types of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), especially high-wheeled construction lorries, which have significant blindspots. Lorries are involved in more than half the cycling deaths on London's roads, and more than a fifth of pedestrian deaths, despite making up only 4% of motor traffic.
Khan's plans, immediately welcomed by cycling groups, will give construction trucks and other HGVs a star-based safety rating from zero to five, based on the amount of vision the driver has.
From the next financial year, Transport for London (TfL) and the Greater London Authority will not sign any contracts that involve the use of zero-starred trucks. Khan's office said there were currently about 35,000 zero-rated trucks operating in London, and that over the past three years they had been involved in about 70% of the cyclist deaths involving HGVs. Overall, lorries were connected to 58% of cycling deaths in 2014 and 2015, and 22.5% of pedestrian deaths.
By January 2020, those with a zero rating - primarily construction trucks with a high cab and big clearance under the wheels - will be banned. By 2024, only trucks rated three stars - "good" - or above will be allowed in the city.
Khan said the safety evidence was clear, and he felt obliged to "take bold action" to better protect cyclists and pedestrians. "I'm not prepared to stand by and let dangerous lorries continue to cause further heartbreak and tragedy on London's roads," he said. "Our groundbreaking direct vision standard will be the first of its kind in the world, directly addressing the issue of lethal driver blindspots. I'm also proud that TfL will lead by example and will not use any zero-star lorries in its supply chain from the new financial year."
A significant proportion of cyclist deaths involving lorries in London happen when the truck turns left across the bike, with the driver unable to properly see anything in a large area around around the truck, or does not properly check all their mirrors. Safety campaigns urge cyclists to stay away from the near side of lorries. However, bike lanes tend to filter cycle traffic by the kerb, and a number of deaths have happened when trucks have overtaken cyclists before turning across them.
The move was welcomed by the London Cycling Campaign. "Pedestrians, cyclists and drivers and operators of HGVs all stand to gain if modern designs with minimal blindspots become the norm for on-street use - no one wants fatalities and life-changing injuries to continue to happen," said Tom Bogdanowicz, its senior policy manager.
However, the Road Haulage Association said the plans were unfair. Its chief executive, Richard Burnett, said: "Lorries, including construction vehicles, play a vital part in the economic life of London. Without them the capital's businesses would grind to a standstill." Will car drivers ever learn to share the road with bikes? "We want to bring balance to the argument. We're not convinced these measures are the solution. Improved visibility isn't going to sort the problem alone."
Construction trucks are seen as a particular safety issue. A 2013 study commissioned by TfL found lorries carrying materials to and from building sites were disproportionately responsible for cyclist deaths, in part also a factor of rushed delivery times and a lack of proper care about road safety within the construction industry.
A series of organisations have sought to design lorries with significantly better surrounding visibility. The European parliament has passed a law obliging the use of such trucks, although the new standards will not come into force until 2022.