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Road Safety

Volume 528: debated on Wednesday 18 May 2011

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to make provision requiring the fitting of equipment to heavy goods vehicles to eliminate driver blind spots; to make other provisions relating to the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and other road users; and for connected purposes.

The Bill is about saving the lives of vulnerable road users, particularly cyclists but also pedestrians and others. The particular vulnerability that it deals with is caused by blind spots on heavy goods vehicles. It is a problem that is particularly acute in city traffic, especially at junctions. The problem is likely to increase as cycling becomes ever more popular as a means of getting to work in urban areas and for leisure, and as lorries get bigger.

A daughter of a constituent of mine lost her life in a collision with a tipper truck. Eilidh Cairns was cycling from her home in Kentish Town to her work in Chiswick. She had cycled this route daily for three years and she was an experienced cyclist. She was caught up under the wheels of the lorry, probably because its front bumper made contact with her rear wheel. The coroner described it as a

“terrible, terrible tragedy that unfortunately is not an uncommon occurrence here in London where a cyclist and a large vehicle come into contact with each other, and invariably the cyclist will suffer very serious or fatal injuries… It’s a huge problem that I think the Government, cyclists and safer cycling groups are going to be grappling with for quite a considerable time”.

The purpose of the Bill is to encourage the Government to grapple with that problem in order to safe lives, and using mirrors or technical means to eliminate drivers’ blind spots on HGVs is a vital weapon in doing so.

After her death, Eilidh’s family and friends set up the “See me, Save me” campaign, which has gained massive support. It shares a name with a motorcycling safety campaign that similarly seeks to secure greater road safety. In the European Parliament, my colleague Fiona Hall MEP tabled a written declaration on the issue and well over half of all MEPs—more than 400—have put their names to it. This means that the Commission must produce proposals to deal with the issue, probably by revising an existing directive so that newly registered HGVs will have effective means of eliminating blind spots, emergency braking and lane departure warning systems.

Here at home, the Transport Secretary last week published a road safety consultation document with a short section on vehicle technology. It stressed a preference for voluntary compliance rather than regulation. On some issues I would share that preference, but on this issue I think regulation is needed, first because the problem remains so serious, and secondly to ensure that hauliers who want to invest in good technology do not feel that they will be undercut by those who are unwilling to do so.

In fact, the costs to a haulage business of involvement in a fatal accident are substantial, including the loss of a driver’s services for a long period, the disrupting insurance, legal and other costs, and potentially compensation costs. The cost to the economy is massive. According to the Department for Transport, fatal accidents cost on average more than £1,750,000. The cost of better mirrors and technical additions would be very small in comparison to the huge cost of a new HGV. Fitting such technology to older vehicles could at least be achieved on a gradual basis, at a cost of around £700 on present estimates.

Clearly it is best for these measures to be introduced across Europe, because HGVs travel all over the continent and our roads see numerous haulage vehicles from other European countries. For British hauliers, it would be much better if their competitors from continental Europe were subject to the same requirements as they are. Although the Bill would give our Transport Secretary powers to make regulations for the fitting of equipment to vehicles, its underlying purpose is to demonstrate that Parliament wants to see the British Government actively involved in securing Europe-wide regulations and not holding back. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has responsibility for roads, has been present throughout my speech to hear this case.

Other safety provisions could be incorporated in the Bill, and it will be drafted in such a way as to allow this. The details of its provisions can be examined carefully if the House allows it to be brought in and gives it a fair wind. I have found very ready support across the House for the Bill; the list of sponsors was filled up to the limit within an hour or so of it becoming known to the House and many more hon. and right hon. Members would have liked to add their names. The all-party group on cycling has been particularly supportive of the campaign, as have a number of newspapers—The Independent, the Evening Standard and the Newcastle Journal have all given it substantial coverage.

Coroners’ verdicts often refer to the deaths of cyclists in the circumstances I have described as accidental deaths, which is much resented by many of the families involved. They feel very strongly that “accident” implies something that was beyond control or prevention. It also seems to preclude culpability where a driver has ignored the fact that he cannot see an area of road on to which his vehicle is encroaching. RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, is pressing for the word “accident” not to be used in future for road crashes or collisions. The case that we are putting today is that many collisions that lead to the deaths of cyclists and other vulnerable road users could be prevented. We should not miss the opportunity to call for practical measures to save lives.

Question put and agreed to.


That Sir Alan Beith, Dr Julian Huppert, Mr James Arbuthnot, Meg Munn, Naomi Long, Sir Peter Bottomley, Andrea Leadsom, Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Brake, Mr Don Foster, Fabian Hamilton and Natascha Engel present the Bill.

Sir Alan Beith accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 9 September, and to be printed (Bill 191).