Tuesday 26 October 2010

Sharing London's Streets with Lorries

Transport for London have recognised that there is a problem with lorries and bicycles sharing road space on London's streets and have launched a Cycle Safety Awareness Campaign.  the Mayor's transport adviser says that:
"We are working with freight operating companies to improve HGV safety and we are the first city in the UK to trial on-street cycle safety 'Trixi' mirrors.
'However, perhaps most vital is getting safety advice to cyclists, whether new or experienced, particularly about road positioning and crucially that being in the blind spot of a large vehicle could potentially have fatal consequences.'
I am far from convinced that 'most vital' is getting advice to cyclists (see poster above).  Yes, of course, it is important for cyclists to exercise extreme caution in the vicinity of any large vehicle; but this should not for a moment distract from the importance of getting safety information to, and demanding higher standards from, lorry drivers and their employers.
I find the most shocking thing about the poster is the state of affairs which permits a lorry driver to run down all those cyclists on his nearside without obvious blame being attributed to the driver and his employers.  'Blind spots' are not an inevitable fact of life they are a design flaw which in any context, other than motor vehicles, would be regarded as obviously unacceptable.

As Roadpeace point out nearly three quarters of cyclists killed in London are killed by HGVs (9 of 13).  Plainly this is grossly disproportionate to the numbers of lorries on the road.  Who could sensibly argue against the low cost and effective measures that Roadpeace would like to see put in place immediately drastically to reduce the risk to vulnerable road users from lorries?

It is true the Mayor has a Freight Operator Recognition Scheme.  Freight operators who care will no doubt sign up.  The problem I experience commuting is that the vast majority of lorry drivers are very good (usually the best motorists) around cyclists.  However when they are bad, they are very very bad.  These bad drivers are often employed by undertakings that do not sufficiently care.

I do not know whether Sunlight or Oil Salvage Company, for example, are members of the Mayor's FORS - I rather doubt it; certainly they have not bothered to respond to the video footage I have sent them showing their lorries speeding by me far too close.

Sadly, in my experience, it is no use whatever reporting bad driving to the Metropolitan Police.  The Met may be interested in setting up initiatives, such as Roadsafe London that make it look as though they are taking action.  However the claims made that  'At Roadsafe London we make attempts to contact every driver in all cases reported to us. Please be assured we will research every submission in order to task police activity, but be aware we will not initiate a prosecution other than in exceptional cases. To make an allegation of a driving offence with a view to prosecution, you will have to attend a police station and complete a reporting form.' require some resourcing or they are mere verbiage.  Further the Met continue to put off complaints that should lead to prosecution by inconveniencing the complainant with the need for a personal attendance at a police station and a notoriously lengthy form.  I used the Roadsafe site in July, wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on 21st September, and more than one month on have had no substantive response at all despite reminders.

In short it look like a good initiative but the Met will only make a serious effort to investigate in cases where a death (or at least, resources permitting, a serious life changing injury) has occurred.

I try to remain as dispassionate as possible, but I have done the bikeability course, I make myself visible and I take no risks around lorries; nonetheless all too often I am in close proximity to a lorry because he (and in my experience the few women lorry drivers are much better than the men) has forced that on me.  What is true for me is also true for thousands of London cyclists, and I have no reason to suppose was not also true of all of the 8 cyclists killed in London last year by lorries.

Going back to the TfL poster at the outset of this post, my guess would be that the bicycles were at the junction first (and the lorry is about to turn left without indicating; for added realism the front of the lorry should be stopped at the front of a never enforced advanced stop line).  To prevent the lorry pulling alongside, the cyclists would have had to have taken the centre of the lane, something which is specifically discouraged by the woeful cycle lanes across the capital.  These lanes should be 2 metres wide on busy routes or a minimum of 1.5 metres wide where the speed limit is 30 mph or less in accordance with the Department for Transport's own design standards (paragraph 7.4).  Where they are less than that and/or optional (dotted lines) they should be removed.  Having been forced into the position in the poster, the cyclist needs to ensure he leaves it before the lorry moves.  Most junctions in London are controlled by traffic lights; the cyclist in those circumstances needs cautiously to get ahead of the lorry before the light turns green.  Likely as not he will then encounter the Met's enforcement action in the form of a fixed penalty for jumping a red light.  A misdirection of resources?  I leave you to be the judge of that.

I agree with the family of Eilidh Cairns, one of the 9, that restrictions on the right of HGVs to use the road should be considered at least until they are able to demonstrate they can do so in safety.  With this unfair mismatch, it is not the cyclists who should be leaving the roads, it is unsafe lorries and unsafe drivers.  A recognition scheme with trained drivers and suitably equipped lorries should be mandatory and police resources should be redirected to following up all serious complaints against lorries before disaster strikes.

Finally anywhere in London, save those elevated motorway monuments to motorcentricity, twenty is plenty and far exceeds the speed a motor vehicle could hope to get around anytime between 6 am and 9 pm.  Lorries are equipped with tachographs, enforcement would be easy and there is a precedent for differential speed limits elsewhere.  Why not restrict lorries and buses to 20 mph on all non-motorway routes within the M25?  If that slows Porsches and 4 x 4s down too, is that a bad thing?

POSTSCRIPT:  Eilidh Cairns was from the North East and her family are constituents of Fiona Hall MEP who is calling for support in the European Parliament to mandate the fitting of sensors and cameras on lorries to remove blind spots.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Legal Update Autumn 2010

The Court of Appeal in Smith v Hammond [2010] EWCA Civ 725 has reversed a trial Judge’s finding that the driver of a DAF lorry, Mr Hammond, had been partly to blame for the severe injuries sustained by a 13 year old cyclist, Joshua Smith, on a newspaper round. The evidence of Mr Hammond, accepted by the trial Judge, was that he had been travelling at the 30 mph speed limit when the cyclist attempted to cross the road from one driveway to the opposite side straight in front of him.

The road was a residential street in Tean depicted here (outside number 77 which I believe to be in this general area):

Mr Hammond had seen Joshua at the side of the road looking in the opposite direction. The trial Judge had found that Mr Hammond ought to have sounded his horn to alert Joshua to his presence.

The Court of Appeal overturned that decision on the basis that the HGV drier could not reasonably have been expected to sound his horn until Joshua was on the move out into the road and by then it would have been too late anyway.

On the law, as it is, one can see how that decision is arrived at. Sounding a horn every time somebody might do something unwise, could lead to a cacophony of noise in residential areas.

I have though two observations. First, speed. It is in my view high time that the speed limit in residential areas where children on bicycles and on foot can be readily anticipated, is reduced to 20 mph. There has been talk of this for years but political foot-dragging because it may be perceived as a ‘war on the motorist’. In this case the HGV was travelling at around 30 mph. Although Mr Hammond says say he ‘eased off the accelerator’ there is no suggestion that this reduced the speed before the cyclist came into his path other than marginally. At 20 mph there would have been more time to sound the horn, to brake and to swerve and if a collision had taken place the consequences would have been far less devastating. I once tried to persuade the Court of Appeal that in certain circumstances travelling at 30mph in a 30mph zone was itself negligent. I got nowhere. This is not for the Judges; this is for Parliament to fix.

Second observation is that in most of Europe the cyclist would have succeeded in his claim against the HGV driver despite the driver being held not to be at fault. This is, in my view, justifiable here on the premise that HGVs are large dangerous vehicles which should only be permitted onto the roads o terms that they pay for the damage occasioned by their presence. However I hold a minority view on this and although widespread in the European Union and apparently recommended by the soon to be abolished quango, Cycling England; the motoring public here would not stand for it and it is manifestly not something the Judges can alter.

Mr Hammond had his own claim against the cyclist for causing him a post traumatic stress disorder. The trial Judge had rejected this claim saying that Joshua could not reasonably have foreseen that his actions would have led to injury to Mr Hammond. The Court of Appeal reversed this also, saying it was sufficient if he should have foreseen injury to another road user, such as another cyclist. This aspect was dealt with briefly and could have merited greater analysis. Mr Hammond was surely outside the zone of the risk of physical injury; had a driver coming the other way seen what occurred and suffered PTSD he would not be able to recover. The only valid distinction is that Mr Hammond would foreseeably consider himself an instrument of the accident. The Court of Appeal was pleased to note that Joshua’s employer the Co-Op had agreed to pay the damages to Mr Hammond (rather than the bill falling on Joshua personally).

Other news this quarter relates to the adequacy of investigation into fatal cases. A seminar on this topic was organised by RoadPeace last month Improving the Post Crash Response. Unfortunately prior commitments kept me away from this. I would have liked to have been there because I take the view that improvements are required. This is highlighted by the case of London cyclist, Eilidh Cairns. I have written about her inquest already in an earlier legal update. This week the driver of the HGV that crushed Eilidh was fined £200 for driving an HGV with defective vision. His vision was only ever tested some time after the accident at the insistence of Eilidh’s family, who could not understand how he had not seen her prior to the fatal collision in Notting Hill in February 2009.

As a lawyer I find it easier to understand, than others may, that the Court had to sentence on the basis of the charge made and could not assume that the collision was caused by the defective vision (for had it been, the charge should have been a far more serious one). Nonetheless driving an HGV around crowded streets in London with defective vision may be thought to be a serious matter.  The driver seems on any objective view to have got off lightly, following a very late plea of guilty, with a £200 fine, £150 costs and a £15 surcharge. He got the three penalty points but no disqualification. It is a striking feature of our society that outside the world of motoring, the Health and Safety requirements which relate to, for instance, visual checks for all those required to work at display screen equipment seem to matter more than eye tests for those who drive in the vicinity of vulnerable road users. Far too often (daily in my case!), HGVs pass far too close to cyclists (examples are here, here and here). Our society accepts far too readily this hazardous proximity focussing on the actual collision without challenging drivers as to what they were doing so close to a cyclist as to permit a collision to occur.

It is not wise to cycle when drunk (and illegal, if so drunk as to not have proper control of the bike). However even if a cyclist is drunk, it should not be sufficient to conclude an investigation into his death by saying it was probably he who deviated from his course. This is what apparently happened following the death of Piotr Kobiela.  As in any safety context there is good reason for a comfortable margin of safety. We cyclists need a car width not in order pointlessly to inconvenience others but because anything less is dangerous, intimidating and does not make any allowance for potholes, mechanicals and wobbles.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Two Cheers for Surrey Police

The prize for providing the first substantive response from my letters of a couple of weeks ago goes to Surrey Police.  I used their DriveSmart website initiative back in July to report this overtake on the A30 Egham by-pass.

A letter from the Chief Constable's office confirmed that my report had been received and apologised for the fact that I was not sent a form and asked to come into a police station to report the offence formally.  I have encountered this before, when trying to report bad driving to the Metroploitan Police, and it does seem to me that a requirement to attend a police station and fill in a complex form is designed to deter too many reports.  The letter went on to say that the time limit for bringing a prosecution had now passed but an attempt would nonetheless be made to contact the driver.
In fact the time limit for bringing a prosecution for careless driving is six months BUT, and here is the rub, if there is no accident and the motorist is not informed at the time of the possibility of prosecution, a 'Notice of Intended Prosecution' must be served on the registered keeper of the vehicle within 14 days of the offence.  Accordingly where there is no accident and the offender is not stopped by the police at the time, they must act pretty swiftly to contemplate prosecution based on the report of a member of the public.  This requirement also makes private prosecutions difficult for anybody who does not have access to the dtabase of vehicle registration numbers.
I have at the same time had a constructive e mail dialogue with an officer in Woking who has asked for, and now seen my video footage and will, if he can, give some advice to the driver.
Surrey Police are as a result of all this reviewing their system for the reporting of bad driving and in particular are looking into online reports that dispense with the need for a visit in person to a police station to fill in a form.  They aim to learn from the experience of Sussex Police who apparently have such a system (and who hopefully have learned something in the past from the Marie Vesco case).
There does appear to be some good intention at a policy setting level.  It would be good to see some more efficient implementation of policy.  Obviously suitable charges following an accident are very important (which is why the lack of action following some of the fatal cases I have written about are such a disgrace).  However intercepting poor driving before there is an accident also has the potential to save a lot of grief.
I would like to see drivers routinely pulled up on careless (or 'inconsiderate', the threshold for the offence is not high) driving before they cause an accident.
No substantive response yet from the Met Police, AXA Insurance, Tellings Golden Miller or Europlant Group.  I aim to keep you posted.

Thursday 7 October 2010

A response to 'Phatboy'

It is inevitable that as I keep posting my thoughts about cycling on this blog, somebody will disagree vehemently with what I am saying.  Disagreement has certainly been expressed by 'Phatboy' to this post which I penned after a motorist yet again told me to get off the road and onto a cycle track.
Phatboy starts:

Alright.  I will take it that you are serious and this is not a windup from a friend.  It is rather reassuring that my blog is reaching out beyond the cycling die-hards to some of the people that need to be persuaded.  Perhaps Philip Hammond reads my blog too - I do hope so.

"the Highway Authority have provided a cycle lane well away from the traffic and you're still complaining?"
I am not complaining, I am explaining why I do not use the cycle track (not lane).

"What is wrong with this lane? It looks perfectly good to me, except that it leaves nowhere for pedestrians to walk."

I have mentioned in my blog the fact that the track does not comply with relevant design standards.  Check out the Department for Transport's Cycle Infrastructure Design Guidance here. This is, in my view, good guidance but it is scarcely ever implemented.  3 metres is the minimum acceptable width.  This track is just over one metre wide.  The track surface is  nothing like as good as the surface of the adjoining road.  The ends of the track deposit the cyclist the wrong side of multiple lanes of traffic to get onto the A315 and the position is worse coming from the other direction (the track is two-way, there is no similar provision on the other side of the road.)  Furthermore the track gives way at every junction.  The photograph in my post was taken to demonstrate, for a talk I gave a firm of solicitors, the low priority given to cyclists who are expected to give way to a hedge.  A cyclist has to slow even for this 'junction' because, if a motorist pulled over here to answer a mobile 'phone (say), and ran over the cyclist, he would be able to assert that the cyclist was obliged to give way.
And incidently look what happens just a few hundred metres West when you hit the Surrey border:
That blue sign says end of cycle route..I leave you to guess what the cyclist is to do next.  Any notion that this is Dutch style cyling infrastructure will not survive a quick inspection on google earth.

"Once you start paying road tax for your bicyle"
Not this one again!  Please refer to http://ipayroadtax.com/.  Both the road and the cycle track are funded from taxation.  I dare say I might pay more tax than you but that is not relevant.  Noone asks for your tax receipts when you visit the hospital or sign on for benefits.  I pay for the roads.  The sums you (and I because I have not managed to dispense with the use of a car) pay in Vehicle Excise Duty and fuel taxes are not hypothecated.  They are in any event trivial sums in comparison to the overall detrimental effect that a car culture has on our society in terms of death, injury, ill-health, noise, pollution, land use, climate change and ugliness.

"then I'll accept that you can get on your high (and very pompous) horse about who uses the road."

It is not unusual for people expressing views like those of Phatboy to mix in some personal abuse.  I am used to it.  It does nothing to advance the argument.  It is Phatboy, not I, who wishes to dictate who cannot use the general road network.

"By the way, if you're in a rush one morning, how about using a car or a motorbike rather than riding a push bike"
First, because it would make me a hypocrite.  I tell my colleagues who drive into Central London to work that their action is antisocial.  The last thing London needs is even more motorists.
Second a car is unquestionably slower.  Unless they turn off, I invariably catch and pass those vehicles who are in such a great rush to pass me.  A motorcycle may be faster but the inattention of motorists that currently frustrates me, would very likely kill me if I was travelling fast on a motorcycle.
Third, I enjoy riding a bike.  I do not enjoy driving.  It would be total bliss if I were not faced with aggressive and thoughtless driving on a daily basis.  If you have not tried cycling, then do.
If I am in a rush one morning, I take a train using a Brompton to get to and from the station.
What I find dispiriting is your assumption that those on bicycles have no business wanting to make good time whereas people in motor vehicles can 'rush'.  It is this double standard that lies behind the continuing prevalance of 'Cyclists Dismount' signs and systems which require cyclists to make unnecessary detours or wait for long periods at lights.  My return commute leaves me standing at red lights for 40 minutes.  this is because lights are phased for motor traffic, which can in any event avoid many lights by taking the Westway or Chiswick flyover or Hammersmith flyover etc not available to cyclists.
Some years ago I had a greviously injured client who had stepped into the road from a crowded pavement into the path of a car travelling at the 30mph speed limit.  The driver gave evidence that she ws travelling at 'the recommended speed' and that she saw no need to slow down because the pavements were crowded with pedestrians attending a festival.  A Court of Appeal Judge denied my application for permission to appeal stating that 'we all have to get around'.  Is it so unreasonable for cyclists to seek to make good progress too?  A cyclist at 20mph represents no significant hazard to anybody.  Aside from Portsmouth, motorists are still almost universally permitted to travel at 30 mph in built up areas, when it is well established that a 20 mph limit would save many lives.  Scandalously the Thames Valley Police will not enforce the few 20 mph limits in their area.
Attempts to enforce even the speed limits that we do have are characterised ludicrously as a 'war on motorists' (Mr Hammond are you still there?).  I already leave half an hour extra because I am butter fingered at fixing punctures.  I see no reason at all why I should allow a further half hour each way to negotiate cycle tracks instead of making good progress on the road.
Finally are you not able to appreciate that when I am on my bicycle leaving my (taxed!?) car in the garage, I am easing the traffic flow for the rest of you.  Richard Ballantine in his masterful 'Bicycle Book' suggests cyclists should be paid for cycling.  That will never happen but if you are going to measure your morality by narrow fiscal considerations, the motorist owes the cyclist not vice versa.
"in what looks like quite a fast road?"
The road has a 40 mph limit though this is regularly and routinely ignored.  It is perfectly suited to shared use.
Finally I have mentioned that I drive.  When driving, I have no difficulty whatever giving a car width space to cyclists when I overtake them.  Should they swerve for a pothole, wobble drunkenly or even fall off I would not run them down.  I do not bother to overtake a cyclist travelling around 20mph in a built up area or when I am about to turn; there is no point.  I always indicate and check my mirrors before I turn in case there is somebody there.  None of these things are difficult and none take more than a few seconds.  I remain at a total loss to understand what the likes of Phatboy have against sharing the road with cyclists.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Cycle Lanes

Further to my last post, one piece of cycling infrastructure that is a complete waste of white paint is the discretionary (dotted line) cycle lane.  Without at least a requirement that motor vehicles
not enter the lane until they have a clear exit, they are of no use to cyclists.  All they do is keep us to the edge of the road, out of the way of 'proper traffic'.  I would do away with them all.

What's he yelling? Something about a cycle track

A finger stabbing gesture accompanies this man's expression of view that I should not be on the road; I should be on the cycle track.  His mate the driver obviously agrees, assuming he is in control of the horn.  To be fair, he did take the trouble to move over (a tiny bit) which differentiates this driver from the ones that try to squeeze me off the road.  As for the shouting, I am a lawyer who believes in free speech, however strongly I dissent from the view being expressed.

Here is the cycletrack alongside the A30 which they would like me to use.  It is, like most, cycling infrastructure completely unsuitable if you wish to get anywhere in anything approaching a hurry.  It is also built in either ignorance or defiance of all relevant design standards.

I used to use this track when I first started tentatively commuting by bike.  It took me at least 30 minutes longer than it does using the road, and with the numerous junctions and the requirement to give way to vehicles approaching from all directions, I was less safe.
There is though a pervasive attitude that cyclists should use cycle lanes, highlighted by the daft conviction of Daniel Cadden and the wishy-washy compromise wording in rule 61 of the Highway Code.  We were saved from even worse wording.  However it should read:
"Cycle Routes and Other Facilities.  Use of these facilities is not compulsory.  The choice as to whether to use them or not is yours and your decision will depend upon your level of experience and skills, as well as the prevailing traffic conditions."
I am all for optional segregated cycling facilities, but not for surrendering the general road network to the exclusive use of the motorist.  Motorists have motorways; when not on a Motorway they should share the road.