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Wheeled Goods Vehicles

Volume 794: debated on Thursday 13 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to repeal the exemptions from the requirement for wheeled goods vehicles to be fitted with sideguards.

My Lords, under regulations made in 1986, most new heavy goods vehicles—HGVs—are required to be fitted with sideguards. There are limited historical exemptions—for example, a motor vehicle that does not exceed 15 mph, and fire engines—which were put in place for good reasons. Work is focused on amending regulations to ensure that where sideguards are required on new HGVs, these are retained and maintained. I anticipate that these proposals will be published in 2019.

The Minister may be aware that the typical cases at the moment are the mixers and tippers—heavy goods lorries that are exempt. It is the front wheel that hits you if you are on a bicycle and too near, but when you get dragged under the vehicle, the back wheel is the one that kills you. It is better to abolish this exemption, particularly as companies such as CEMEX, the Mexican cement-mixing firm, have deliberately and carefully put these barriers on, although they are not required; CEMEX is trying to persuade other cement people to do it. But would it not be simpler and better for the Government to just change the regulations? Is the Minister able to tell us figures for fatalities and casualties?

I am grateful to my noble friend. Cement mixers are not exempt under the regulations, and since 2012 all tippers have had to be fitted with sideguards. On the figures, in London over the past three years, 70% of cyclist fatalities involved HGVs, so my noble friend is quite right to draw attention to this. I speak as someone who came in on a cycle. My noble friend asks about injuries. Of the 29 cycle fatalities and life-changing injuries in two years, 25 were caused by the cyclist being knocked over by the front or side of the cab; in other words, ahead of the sideguard. Once the cyclist is knocked over, the sideguards are of no value because they are two feet above the ground. So the Government have been focusing on other measures to improve vision and cyclists’ safety, as well as making sure that the existing regulations on sideguards are honoured.

My Lords, we have an increasing number of foreign vehicles—some of them not EU ones—on our city streets these days, with drivers driving on what is to them a strange side of the road. How confident are the Government that those foreign vehicles meet the standards and regulations that we require on sideguards?

The standards that we follow on sideguards are international standards imposed under one of the United Nations sub-committees. So a vehicle, wherever it has been constructed, will have to meet those international standards, which cover sideguards. We are now taking extra steps to make sure that, in addition to the vehicles being fitted with sideguards when they are manufactured, the sideguards are maintained—for example, if they become damaged, quite often they are not replaced—and those are the regulations that we are looking at bringing in next year.

My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House how much enforcement of these regulations takes place? I was kindly invited to a demonstration of enforcement down by the Tate Gallery a couple of years ago, where the police and VOSA were combining to enforce the regulations on tachographs and all other rules relating to trucks. They must have spent a lot of money on this around the country but they said that the main achievement was to put a board on the back of scaffold lorries to stop the poles falling off. If that is all they can do, surely we need much more enforcement of these regulations?

As the noble Lord will know, there are regular spot checks on roads in this country where heavy goods and other vehicles are stopped and checked to make sure that they comply. I will supply the noble Lord with more information on the effectiveness of these spot checks and how often they are carried out.

My Lords, I had direct experience when I was a Member of the European Parliament of a constituent whose daughter was killed by a lorry because the visibility from that lorry was not adequate. I think that changes have been made in relation to the requirements for extra mirrors for observation around a vehicle of that kind. But sometimes the outside mirrors are obstructed with debris or become, frankly, useless during the vehicle’s use. Are we sufficiently able to move on and do things quickly when we find new ways in which we can help to protect those who are in contact with or close to heavy goods vehicles?

My noble friend is quite right that the UK played a leading role in changing international standards. In July 2016, measures for large HGVs with improved mirrors came into effect, largely as a result of our intervention. More work is going on in what is called detection technology, which detects vulnerable road users, and measures using cameras. There will be new requirements for buses and lorries, which could come into effect in 2021 under the direct vision standards initiative.

My Lords, I do not really understand the Minister’s reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. He said that the Government are focusing on other measures. What other measures? I do not find it acceptable if he says it is either/or, when it is in fact a simple change that the Government could make which could save lives or prevent life-changing injuries.

I am sorry if the noble Baroness did not understand my reply. What I hope I said was that cement mixers are not exempt; in other words, they have to comply with the sideguard regulations. Since 2012, all new tippers have be fitted with sideguards and we are taking other measures. On 22 November, we published proposals to increase road safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders. The Government are taking a wide range of initiatives to promote road safety. Our roads are among the safest in the world but one casualty is one too many.

My Lords, the death of cyclists in this scenario is a tragedy. The problem, which I think the Minister has alluded to, is that the vehicles are very heavy and the cyclists are very light. Sideguards are relatively ineffective when turning left over a prone cyclist. The modern technology available that powers alerts with radar or sensing systems and so on, including on modestly priced cars, is here and available today. It is actually on the car that I own. Is the department taking direct action to accelerate the trialling of this sort of equipment on lorries and contemplating regulations to require it to be fitted?

We are playing our role, in this case along with the European Commission. In May 2018, direct vision for trucks was one of the safety measures included in the European Commission’s review of general safety regulations. We are also supporting measures under the European Commission’s third mobility package further to improve the protection of pedestrians and cyclists. The European Commission is also doing work, which we support, to reduce what it calls the “aggressiveness” of HGV fronts in the context of vulnerable road users. The noble Lord is quite right that there is a lot of work going on supported by the UK which we hope will improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.