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Local authorities mapping the road ahead for a ‘post-COVID19’​ increase in vulnerable road users on UK roads

Long before the topic of cycle safety was in the public eye in the UK as it is nowadays, councils and municipal operators were already unknowingly well ahead of the ‘safety curve’. Here’s why they will be the ones setting the example on our ‘post-coronavirus road network’. 

The good old fashioned ‘dust cart’ cab from Dennis Eagle (Elite) or the Mercedes equivalent (Econic) were styles originally intended for refuse collection workers to get in and out of more easily and make it easier to spot trash bags through the low windows. Historically little consideration was given to vulnerable road users, direct vision just wasn’t a thing and if you were a ‘red light jumping cyclist, going up the inside of a left-turning lorry in the dark’ then the only thing you would get is a ‘Darwin award’. While it can be argued that some people do still think like this, thankfully the vast majority of HGV drivers and operators are very much on board with the culture change towards safety and have adopted a ‘zero harm’ policy – and that very much includes refuse collection operators. 

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About a decade ago, skip hire and muck away companies et al began trialling ‘innovative new direct-vision vehicles’ publicised by a successive string of grinning mayoral officials thus opening the way for the new ‘Direct vision standard'(DVS). The DVS is now credited to Sadiq Khan, however its true roots lay firmly with Boris Johnson’s administration – specifically with London’s first ever (and unarguably best) ‘Walking and Cycling commissioner’ the very sorely missed Mr Andrew Gilligan.

Alas there’s no getting away from the fact that these ‘5-star vision vehicles’ are basically just dust carts with an Allison gearbox…expertly mated by manufacturers to a different body! Quietly bemused municipal operators however already had plenty of the things in operation so they could easily turn their attentions elsewhere while other industries caught up.

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That fact made the procurement job of council fleet managers a bit less painful than those in traditional fleets who’s finance directors aren’t too keen on paying much more cash for ‘direct vision vehicles’ which ultimately make exactly the same contribution to a company’s profit and loss account as a traditional vehicle (Unless of course there’s a collision but that’s another story).

Hence councils have had much more time to explore alternative safety measures in three key areas. The first is driver training and accountability, the second is enhanced visibility around the vehicle through premium camera systems that also safeguard their employees and the most recent; better vehicle design away from the cab that mitigates the severity of collisions when they occur. This includes looking at ways to prevent a collision happening in the first place and educating inexperienced cyclists and pedestrians about the dangers around large vehicles.

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Following the COVID-19 pandemic, all of these factors are going to be even more relevant and if the cards are played right; reap even more benefits as our current government finally backs the same tune environmentalists have been singing for years – invest in cycling!

In the last few months ‘green transport’ sales have gone through the roof in the UK. Companies such as Brompton cycles are seeing a record month on month turnover since the beginning of the recent economically catastophic health pandemic. This phenomenon coincides with fresh political pledges to accelerate building and construction projects like HS2 which it is hoped will stimulate economic growth and lead us on a path to financial recovery. Of course it shouldn’t be, but the sad fact is that more cyclists and pedestrians on the road means more collisions are just around the corner.

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The inevitable influx of new inexperienced cyclists on the streets, sharing road space with mechanically propelled motor vehicles will mean more collisions in the short-term, so that responsibility will pass back to the risk managers, operators and regulatory bodies governing them such as CLOCS, FORS and the Direct Vision Standard.

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With all eyes currently facing local authority’s efforts to magic up safe and segregated road space that simply doesn’t exist in many British cities; soon those eyes will turn towards the vehicles becoming involved in collisions and the publicly funded ones are without a doubt expected to lead the industry by example and sharing of best practise.

Now is the time to act because one life lost is one too many and at the moment there is still time to make a difference.

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Dawes highway safety has been working closely with leading London boroughs and private municipal waste companies throughout the UK, enhancing their fleets with unique and cost effective safety systems that are recognised not only by FORS and CLOCS, but also now insurance companies. These simple but well developed safety systems are proven to increase danger awareness around large vehicles, deliver reassurance to vulnerable road users and save lives.