Nationally, heavy vehicles make up just 4% of the total vehicle fleet and 7% of the kilometres travelled. But around 20% of road deaths come from crashes involving trucks – which is not to say they’re responsible for all those crashes but it’s clear we need to improve the safety of trucks.
That was more evident than ever late last year when almost one in five trucks were found to be unroadworthy, highlighting we need a lot more enforcement, and that’s all based on our current standards which aren’t anywhere near what they could be.
The place probably doing the most on truck safety right now is London, who just last week they started enforcing some strict new standards. Those new standards focus on driver visibility and they’ve created a star safety rating system for trucks.
The Direct Vision Standard measures how much an HGV driver can see directly through their cab windows. This indicates the level of risk to vulnerable road users, such as people walking and cycling, near the vehicle.
The Direct Vision Standard and HGV safety permit for HGVs is part of the Mayor of London’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries on London’s transport network by 2041.
The standard requires cabs lower to the ground with larger windscreens as well as side windows/doors to help remove blind spots.
Trucks with a zero safety rating can still drive as long as they’ve got a permit, which requires they be upgraded with the safety features listed below. That minimum rating will also increase from one star to three stars in 2024.
To improve indirect vision, and help drivers see near the vehicle
- Class V and VI mirrors
- A fully operational camera monitoring system
- A sensor system with driver alerts
To warn road users of intended manoeuvres
- An audible vehicle manoeuvring warning for left turns (or right turns if the vehicle is left-hand drive)
- Warning signage
To minimise the physical impact of a hazard
- Side-underrun protection
Enforcement of the world's first ever Direct Vision Standard lorry safety scheme is now in operation 24/ 7 across all roads in London.
By eliminating blind spots, these strict new standards will save lives and improve road safety, especially for cyclists. pic.twitter.com/yXu1QCtqPi
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 1, 2021
Fines for not complying with the new standards are £550 ($1,065), or £275 ($533) if it is paid within 14 days.
In New Zealand we don’t yet even require cheap and proven safety measures like side-underrun protection, which can cost less than $1,000 and make a meaningful impact on safety. Meanwhile those lower driving cabs would also make it easier for drivers and result in fewer injuries.
New Zealand needs to introduce something similar to push up the standards of our trucks. These kinds of measures were raised in a reference group in the lead up to the government adopting their Road to Zero safety strategy but I’m not sure if it’s on the agenda to do anything about.
If the government were to mandate changes, the changing our heavy vehicle fleet is not going to be cheap or easy, especially as we can likely assume strong opposition from the trucking lobby from the additional costs their members would incur. The video above notes how these new trucks are more expensive to purchase. But what if we’re needing to change our trucks anyway?
In addition to improving safety we also need to address is climate change and when it comes to trucks there are fewer alternatives than there are for private vehicle trips. Sure we can move some long distance freight to rail and some some shorter distance and smaller deliveries to things like cargo-bikes or other small electric vehicles, but for most freight trips we’ll still need trucks. That means to meet our climate objectives the only real option is going to be a new fleet of electric trucks (or other zero emissions technology).
I’m sure many of the bigger trucking companies are already starting to look at options for replacing their fleets with electric vehicles. So if we’re going to be replacing our heavy vehicle fleet with electric versions, what better time to also incorporate all the enhanced safety features the London standard requires. There’ll certainly be a lot more resistance to them if the government were to introduce new requirements just after companies have replaced their fleets.