Calls to protect London cyclists as death toll continues to rise

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Calls to protect London cyclists as death toll continues to rise

25th October 2011

As the numbers of cyclists killed on London’s roads continues to rise, a serious injuries expert at Fentons Solicitors LLP has raised concerns as to how safe cycling in the capital really is.

Matthew Claxson, a partner at the firm, was commenting after a Korean fashion student became the 13th cyclist to die in the city earlier this month after suffering fatal head injuries when she was crushed under the wheels of an HGV outside Kings Cross station.

The 24 year-old woman was killed whilst attempting to navigate the treacherous gyratory system close to the junction of York Way and Pentonville Road on 3 October. She is the fifth cyclist to be killed within metres of the same spot in the last few years in what a cycling blogger called ‘one of the worst death-traps for cyclists in London.’

On the same day, a 25-year-old female cyclist was taken to Charing Cross Hospital with serious head injuries after being struck by a van on Fulham Palace Road, while another female cyclist was airlifted off Waterloo Bridge after she was injured in a hit-and-run incident.

“As these tragic incidents demonstrate, HGVs are repeatedly responsible for a disproportionate number of cyclist deaths in the capital, particularly involving women,” said Matthew. “Over the last 10 years, cycling in London has increased by 83%. In that time, more than half of all cyclist deaths in the city have been caused by collisions with HGVs - the majority of which occurred at traffic lights or other junctions when vehicles were turning left.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) annual report on UK road casualties, released last month, show that cyclist deaths across the UK rose by 7% last year, up from 104 in 2009 to 111 in 2010. When the DfT analysed incident statistics they found that 60% of cyclist casualties occurred during the rush hours of 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm, with 65% of them occurring between Monday and Thursday, suggesting the majority of cyclist deaths were directly related to school and work commutes.

“Despite accounting for just 5% of London’s traffic, between 2009 and 2011, 51% of all fatal cycling incidents involved lorries,” said Matthew. “In most of these cases, the drivers involved escaped punishment after claiming not to have seen cyclists around their vehicles owing to significant blind spots - a deficiency responsible for numerous deaths and serious injuries that is, at long last, hopefully on course to being remedied.”

The London Cycling Campaign has launched a ‘No More Lethal Lorries’ initiative which aims to provide better education for cyclists on riding safely around lorries. The initiative hopes to reduce road danger to cyclists with a 5-point plan that includes: cyclist awareness training for drivers including on-bike experience; drivers taking more responsibility for doing everything practical to reduce risks; safer design for London lorries with the best mirrors, cameras and sensors fitted as standard; higher standards from lorry operators, with quality-assurance schemes such as London’s Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) being mandatory; and more responsible procurement with haulage services only bought from reputable firms.

The initiative is just one of several high profile campaigns that have been launched to try and address the issue of cycling safety. Another is the ‘See Me Save Me’ campaign launched by the family of Eilidh Cairns, the 30-year-old TV producer who was killed by an HGV in February 2009. In March this year, MEPs adopted a Written Declaration (WD81) tabled by Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP for North East England, Eilidh’s home region and where her family still lives. WD81 called for the use of sensors and cameras to be fitted to lorries to eliminate the blind spots that cause so many cyclist collisions each year.

Tireless campaigning by the family and friends of Eilidh Cairns has paid off and resulted in success at the European Parliament. After WD81 was passed by 401 MEPs, the onus passed to the European Commission to draw up proposals as to how such changes might be implemented throughout Europe before they were sent back to the European Parliament to be voted upon.

However, despite MEPs again highlighting HGV safety in September, the European Commission has postponed its own report on the issue until the end of this year. In Westminster, meanwhile, Eilidh’s family’s MP, Sir Alan Beith, introduced a Bill - under the Ten Minute Rule in May calling for all lorries to be fitted with cameras and sensors - which obtained unanimous support from MPs. The Bill is due to have its second reading on 25 November.

Eilidh Cairns campaigners are urging the European Commission not to drag its heels over lorry safety, complaining that MEPs have now twice backed action to eliminate blind-spots on lorries. “It is unacceptable that despite The Commission promising a response after the summer, they are now delaying until the end of the year,” said Matthew. “This is an incredibly important issue which requires an appropriately speedy response. The technology for sensors and cameras to be fitted to these vehicles is available and affordable right now. Each time there is a delay more cyclists are put at risk of death or serious injury as a result.”