London Is Going to Ban the Deadliest Trucks From Its Streets

Photo: Transport for London via Treehugger
Image: Transport for London via Treehugger

Heavy trucks with big blind spots are a deadly menace to cyclists and pedestrians.

In Boston, eight of the nine cyclist fatalities between 2012 and 2014 involved commercial vehicles, according to the Boston Cyclists Union [PDF].

Between June and September this year, there were six cyclist fatalities in Chicago, and all six involved commercial vehicles.

In New York City, drivers of heavy trucks account for 32 percent of bike fatalities and 12 percent of pedestrian fatalities, despite the fact that they are only 3.6 percent of traffic.

U.S. cities are starting to take steps like requiring sideguards on some trucks. But no American city is tackling the problem like London is.

In London, city officials estimate that 58 percent of cyclist deaths and more than a quarter of pedestrian deaths involve heavy trucks, even though trucks only account for 4 percent of traffic. Evidence suggests trucks pose an especially large risk to women cyclists.

London will grade trucks on a scale from zero to five based on visibility. Graphic via Vision Zero Network
London will grade trucks on a scale from zero to five based on visibility. Graphic via Vision Zero Network

London cycling advocates (most notably, the London Cycling Campaign) have been pushing for safer truck standards, and the city is listening.

To prevent the needless loss of life, London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, has proposed ridding the city of the most dangerous trucks, using a six-point scale rating how well the truck driver can directly see outside the cab. Beginning next year, the city government will not work with contractors who use “zero-star” vehicles, the Guardian reports.

Khan wants the most dangerous trucks banned from the city entirely by 2020. By 2024, only trucks rated “good” — with a score of three or higher — will be allowed in the city.

London’s truck safety framework goes far beyond what American cities are doing. In part, that’s because U.S. cities have less power to dictate truck design, which is largely decided by federal and state regulations. Comprehensive efforts to regulate trucks at the city level have to be specifically enabled by the state.

But there’s still a lot that American cities can do on their own, said Alex Engel, a spokesperson with the National Association of City Transportation Officials, and some of them are taking action to protect people from trucks.

We’ll have more on how U.S. cities can improve truck safety in an upcoming post.

Correction: Post originally said all of Chicago’s six 2016 cycling fatalities involved heavy trucks. They all involved commercial vehicles. 

  • johnaustingreenfield

    While all six bike fatalities in Chicago this year involved commercial vehicles, only three involved trucks, all of them flatbeds. The other three cases involved a double-decker tour bus, a cargo van, and two freight trains.

  • rohmen

    This sounds great in theory, but assuming the capacity of a large truck is being fully utilized (which might not always be true, but likely is much of the time), doesn’t this just result in doubling or tripling the amount of truck traffic on the street? And if so, which is the more dangerous situation in the long run??

  • Thanks. I’ll correct.

  • Alicia

    … And what about the possibility of pursuing a requirement to modify trucks with cameras to fix the blind spot, instead of a full-on ban?

  • wklis

    While rear-view cameras will be mandatory after 2018, side-view should be included. However, keep the mirrors in case the cameras fail.

  • AlanThinks

    Many such large trucks are hauling small loads that can be off-loaded to smaller trucks thus reducing risk and the traffic congestion caused by large haul vehicles. Large trucks already go to terminals such as warehouses where loads are distributed to delivery vehicles. for the occasional large load that can only be delivered by a large truck an escort vehicle must be required.

  • Bicycle_Boy

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a2028f5a4117c5dd5f4aff2e44939bb4037f7ef0d68e31c86c533af6a6bb7854.jpg I recall reading about a city in Sweden, Gothenborg perhaps, that planned to ban large trucks from the city center. Large trucks would be required to drop cargoes at a warehouse at the outskirts of the city, and then local deliveries would be made by smaller vehicles. Delivery trucks based on the design of the Tecnobus Gulliver, a little electric bus from Italy, should work well.

  • rohmen

    It’s not that large trucks are carrying cargo that would only fit in large trucks (I agree, they almost always are not), it’s that a large truck can hold lets say 3000 cubic feet of cargo, while a small box truck can only hold a 1000 cubic feet. You can take the large truck off the road, but you’re then putting 3 smaller box trucks on the road to replace its capacity. And in my experience, companies are not running large trucks with only 1/3 cargo capacity being utilized—they’re normally full, and hit multiple spots in a given day doing deliveries (like several grocery stores or chain restaurants in a given area).

    My question is whether the safety you gain from removing the large truck counterbalances the safety you lose by increasing truck traffic by two or three fold.

    Is the better solution, as Alicia notes, to make the larger trucks more safe than simply just having more small trucks clog our streets.

  • Southeasterner

    Agreed and even scarier is you have a lot of inexperienced drivers operating smaller box trucks as they don’t require a CDL. Having driven one myself for a couple years and seeing how they interact with peds and bikes on city streets I would say increasing the number of those on the road is a much larger threat.

    Also large trucks tend not to operate in city centers except for the very late hours of the night or extremely early hours of the morning when their isn’t a lot of potential for conflict with cyclists.

  • Billy

    If you take your situation where you have one large truck carrying 3,000 cubic feet making multiple stops throughout the city, the easy solution is to have the 1,000 cubic feet truck make three trips from the warehouse. There’s times when this might not be absolutely the best scenario but most cities where these issues arise are small enough where the overall mileage added is still fairly minimal. And the smaller trucks are able to navigate the city easier and would theoretically be able to do the extra miles in the same amount of time.

  • Nicholas Littlejohn

    Perhaps a 180 degree or better camera like on Teslas

  • Alex

    When you’re looking at about 9 times more deaths than typical traffic users (New York), as the article describes, replacing them with three times as many safer road users is pretty much a no-brainer. Unless, maybe, you think reducing congestion is a higher priority than saving lives.
    Granted, if other commercial vehicles are even close to as dangerous as heavy trucks, this might not be the right strategy – something similarly drastic for all commercial vehicles would be. (Mechanically enforced speed limits, more stringent licensing requirements, etc.)

  • Smurf

    Surely the better solution is to make cyclists get a road license, like all other road users have to. As a regular driver, I’ve seen cyclists do monumentally stupid maneuvers which put multiple lives in danger, possibly from a lack of road awareness. Perhaps a rigorous test would lessen the danger for everyone.

    Banning Heavy Goods Vehicles will just have a knock on effect elsewhere. The trucks have to go somewhere, after all.

  • Joe R.

    You might as well have people get a license to walk while you’re at it since large trucks kill more pedestrians than cyclists. Bike licenses are best left in the bucket of really brain dead ideas which serve no purpose and would be incredibly difficult to implement and enforce. Any vehicle which has as many blind spots as a large truck doesn’t belong in areas with pedestrians or cyclists.

  • Joe R.

    A better long term solution is to get rid of the need for trucks altogether. Chicago actually had a system which more or less did this. It was a great idea then, it’s an even greater idea now. Whether you have large trucks or more smaller ones, they create a major quality of life problem for people in cities. Other ways exist to get freight from a depot to its final destination. While we’re at it, the freight can go from the place of manufacture to the depot by rail instead of long-haul truck. At the depot it’s transferred to an underground railway and delivered to the final destinations. Much neater than what we have now, probably far less labor intensive as well.

  • Smurf

    ‘You might as well have people get a license to walk while you’re at it since large trucks kill more pedestrians than cyclists.’

    Nonsense. Pedestrians don’t use the road, they cross them, More than enough pedestrian crossings in London.

    ‘Bike licenses are best left in the bucket of really brain dead ideas which serve no purpose and would be incredibly difficult to implement and enforce.’

    You haven’t shown why it would be a bad idea. The purpose should be obvious. It’s incredibly dangerous to allow a cyclist on the road with no knowledge of how to safely navigate one. It would be no more difficult to enforce than any other road license.

    ‘ Any vehicle which has as many blind spots as a large truck doesn’t belong in areas with pedestrians or cyclists.’

    That would relegate trucks to motorways, how would that work exactly?

  • Joe R.

    No, you suggested it, you have to show why it’s a good idea. What exactly would licensing accomplish? We’ve licensed car and truck drivers for decades and most still stink. A piece of paper doesn’t make you a better driver or better cyclist. And how do you enforce this? Even if you managed to get a licensing law passed, it would largely go unenforced. Police have better things to do than randomly stopping cyclists to ask for their license. If it were heavily enforced, cycling would drop to zero. That’s why bike licensing laws are a bad idea. They don’t make cyclists safer. They just eliminate cycling altogether but I suppose that’s your real goal anyway.

    This worked well as a way to deliver freight in cities without trucks over 100 years ago. A updated version with computer controlled trains would work even better today. It’s amazing how people can’t seen anything other that what exists now. Isn’t imagination and creative thinking taught in schools any more?

  • Smurf

    Are you a cyclist Joe?

  • Joe R.

    What does that have to do with anything? You don’t need to be a cyclist to think bike licensing is an awful, awful idea:

    http://www.executivestyle.com.au/18-reasons-why-registering-bicycles-is-a-bad-idea-1m23gh

    http://www.blogto.com/city/2012/01/5_reasons_why_licensing_cyclists_in_toronto_is_a_bad_idea/

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2010/dec/13/regulating-cyclists

    http://streets.mn/2015/07/13/lets-put-those-tired-anti-bike-arguments-to-rest/

    https://blogs.crikey.com.au/theurbanist/2014/05/04/should-cyclists-be-licensed-to-ride-on-public-roads/

    Usually when the government decides a license is needed for something it is because the activity is potentially very harmful to others if not done properly. Here we have cyclists getting killed by trucks, not truck drivers getting killed by cyclists. It’s the trucks which are causing harm, and therefore need to be more highly regulated, not the cyclists.

  • rohmen

    Again, that’s all assuming smaller box trucks are “safer” than larger trucks to a degree that counterbalances the fact that you’re adding a lot more of them to the road—something I seriously question.

    Suggesting a ban of large trucks will prevent these type of tragedies suggests the tragedies were unavoidable in the first place (i.e., they were caused by design of the truck, and not driver error), which I strongly disagree with, as driver error is very often involved in these situations. Sure, a smaller truck has a smaller blind spot, and that helps, but a smaller blind spot only matters if the driver is properly checking it and exercising sufficient caution in the first place.

    Lastly, suggesting I’m prioritizing reducing congestion over saving lives is a total strawman argument. My point has consistently been that you’re not increasing safety overall if you remove 1 dangerous vehicle and replace it with 2 or 3 slightly less dangerous vehicles. The congestion point is a response to those that say an additional benefit of removing large trucks is reducing traffic issues they cause, again based on the point that smaller trucks still cause severe issues, and you’re doubling the amount that will be on the road.

    Bad policy with good intent is still bad policy. There needs to be a more comprehensive solution that addresses why drivers allow these incidents to happen in the first place, and IMHO just placing them in slightly less dangerous vehicles isn’t that solution.

  • Gargamelle

    I don’t see how a license is going to be any better. As a regular driver, more often I see drivers in cars, doing monumentally stupid maneuvers that put multiple lives in danger, also from a lack of road awareness. Maybe we need to implement a more rigorous test for those types of drivers.

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