Scania trucks’ “Keeping children safe”? What’s going on here?


A construction industry truck currently sold by Scania. Note gap between vehicle body and lack of diver visibility in high cab

Amongst the deluge of unquestioned “road safety” press releases from the “road safety” industry, one recent one grabs our attention. Time for us to question this initiative from truck manufacturers Scania – and one from Volvo – with another bit of recent publicity on the same matter.

The Scania/RSGB initiative

Released at the recent trade show by Scania in partnership with the official “road safety” practitioners’ organisation RSGB, the programme is outlined here.

Essentially it is based on telling primary school children not to cycle near the nearside of lorries, and not to stand on the footway (pavement) near corners. Do look at the material here.

Launch of initiative: representatives of Transport for London’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (TfL/FORS); Road Safety Great Britain (RSGB) and Scania

  How about safer lorries?

Remember this sorry story of the blocking of the introduction safer lorries in Europe? (Also read this in The Times.) Essentially, under pressure from lorry manufacturers, the French and Swedish governments blocked manufacturers from implementing more aerodynamic lorry designs. The manufacturers generally referred to were (for France) Renault and (for Sweden) Scania and Volvo, although Scania are 80% owned by Volkswagen, and Volvo are now largely under Chinese ownership.

The redesign which was delayed was primarily there for the benefit of operators wishing to save fuel by having greater vehicle aerodynamics from peripheral “skirts”. This also benefits cyclist and pedestrian safety by providing lower cabs with more driver visibility, and skirting and/or lower vehicle and cab bodies to reduce chances of being dragged under lorry wheels.

The principle of Road Danger Reduction – as opposed to traditional “road safety” – is to reduce danger at source. In this case this means controlling the design and operation of lorries, enforcing laws to control lorry driver behaviour, and engineering the highway to prevent lorries from coming close to cyclists and pedestrians. What we have here is something which should only be considered when these options have been properly implemented.

The next two sections have been reproduced from an earlier post – but are worth repeating:


 An aside: The recent history of lorry design

At this point I should refer to a meeting I had at Transport for London (with my colleague from the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group). This was at a time (I think 2002) before The Times started pushing for cyclist safety, when we had to fight hard to get anybody to take notice of the HGVs/Cyclists issue. We were met by, among others, a freight industry representative, who explained the 10-year cycle of lorry design, manufacture, sale and use.

Now, it was a while ago, and I may have got the details wrong (and they may have been inaccurately conveyed to us) but my understanding was this: Lorry manufacturers take about ten years to design, implement and manufacture a model, and this will then be bought and used by operators for another ten years before they buy the next model. We were told – as I recall – that the next design/manufacture cycle would start in 2010. New models would come in then, and by 2020 almost all HGVs would have the safer and more aerodynamic characteristics shown above.

But they didn’t. The episode recounted above – where RDRF joined others to lobby the EU to allow (that is just allow, let alone make mandatory) safer lorry design – indicates that the cycle we are now in ignored all the evidence about the importance of lorry design for cyclist and pedestrian safety in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as the desire of operators to have more fuel-efficient vehicles.


The HGV problem in context

We have been working on the safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians posed by HGVs, specifically in cities, since the early 1990s. There is a range of solutions which require implementing, namely:

Highway engineering which could eliminate potential collisions of all severities, and also do so with collisions involving all motor vehicles and create safer space. This is restricted to specific locations, and is less relevant for pedestrians, so attention is also needed to engineering HGVs so that drivers can be aware of who and what is around them. HGVs should also be engineered so that it becomes far more difficult (or impossible) for pedestrians or cyclists to be crushed, by skirting HGVs or otherwise reducing the gap between road surface and the body of the vehicle. Safety standards on HGVs can also be enforced by the police. Swift and high quality post-crash investigation, and the threat of deterrent sentencing for unsafe HGV operation are required. Construction sites and operators can be subject to appropriate procurement procedures to push forward relevant measures. Additional technologies such as black box recorders and pedestrian/cyclist-activated vehicle braking systems should be introduced.

HGV driver training is necessary, although low down the list of priorities. We are believers in cycle training, but the essential issue is reducing danger at source – from HGVs (particularly construction industry HGVs) which are currently unfit for purpose in a city. Not all of the million people who sometimes cycle in London can be reached or – even if experienced and careful – expected to avoid HGVs that hit them from behind or overtake and turn left. Even where a cyclist or pedestrian is careless or ignorant (as we all are on occasion) they do not deserve to be punished with death or serious injury. After all, motorists have their carelessness accommodated by highway and vehicle engineering – why shouldn’t cyclists or pedestrians?

For further discussion see the post by Bill Chidley here  with RDRF comments below.


“Keeping children safe”

 Forgive the emphasis on use of language – we are keen on this at RDRF. The first point is that we focus on danger in terms of danger to others. In this sense, aside from rare examples of child pedestrians knocking over cyclists, child cyclists on pavements troubling elderly pedestrians etc., children are very safe.

But let’s look at what happens when primary school children are subject to the ETP (Education, Training and Publicity) of the “road safety” industry. For decades it has been known that relentless campaigns exhorting children of primary school age to get out of the way of drivers have little impact on their behaviour. They are not, however, totally ineffective.

In my view they have a subtle background effect – people have memories of being instructed in “road safety”, even if there was no actual change in their behaviour, years afterwards. Essentially a message does get through – that it is right and necessary to defer to those more threatening than you are. A might-is-right ideology is transmitted to the most impressionable in society.

Let’s look at the two messages here in more detail: The first, about not cycling up the nearside of large vehicles is communicated in effective Bikeability cycle training as one of numerous elements. But good quality Bikeability training promotes cycling, and results in more people developing confidence and abilities for a variety of situations on the road, and also makes people aware of their rights as equal road users when cycling. It isn’t about scare tactics or disassociated from the business of getting around. Children taking part may even have to un-learn what they have previously been taught about always getting out of the way of motor traffic.

The second is telling children that the pavement is often not a place where pedestrians should be. What effect will this have when – as seems likely – they become motorists some years later? It won’t have a noticeable effect on changing the behaviour of primary school children – as said above, these programmes tend not to. And anyway, how many primary schoolchildren are actually hit on street corners by HGVs when standing there?


What is Scania doing for lorry safety?

 Why are Scania still selling construction vehicles like the one below, with poor visibility for drivers and a large gap between vehicle body and tarmac for cyclists and pedestrians to go into?


Construction industry HGV (from Scania web site)

 Our contact at Tip-Ex (the trade show where the initiative was launched) notes that Scania has been offering a service to retro-fit glazed panels to the lower part of nearside cab doors, but they weren’t clear about the extent to which that had been taken up. This kind of retro-fitting (in this case to give some proper visibility to HGV drivers) is one of the many pieces of re-engineering that should be implemented as soon as possible.


Operators and local highway authorities like Transport for London should press strongly for this until “blind-spots” are eliminated and there is no large space for pedestrians and cyclists to enter and be crushed in.


And “Road Safety GB”?

 What are “Road Safety Great Britain” doing to support enforcement of laws, engineer highways and vehicles to reduce the danger to cyclists and pedestrians of all ages, and oppose attempts to delay introduction of safer lorries, etc. etc?

VOLVO: “Stop, look, wave – a few good tips could save children’s’ lives”.

Do look at Volvo’s programme here. Here at RDRF we have something of a general problem with Volvo. We point out the adverse effects on other road users of drivers feeling that they have to less to worry about because of increased crashworthiness of their vehicle. And Volvo have historically been synonymous with greater car crashworthiness.

We note that in the concluding comments to the recent TfL/CLOCS conference by CLOCS chairman Brian Weatherly, he said, “When will CLOCS’ work be completed? Volvo has Vision 2020 – no one will be killed by a Volvo HGV in 2020. It would be an excellent goal for everyone in CLOCS to adopt. If we could achieve that we would know CLOCS has done its job.” Since re-engineered lorries will not now be on the roads until after 2020, and many lorries that are already on the roads will, one does rather wonder about Volvo’s Vision 2020.

So when we saw the release about trucks, children’s lives being saved and Volvo, we thought it only fair to let you know.

Everything we have said above about HGVs applies in this case as well.

Also, (a minor point on the eye contact question. Establishing eye contact is good practice – although don’t forget what happens with visually impaired pedestrians. But:

“To make sure you have gained the driver’s attention, WAVE and wait for the driver to wave back. Now you can cross the street. “

“Always Stop, Look and Wave before crossing a street to prevent an accident.”

What happens when the driver doesn’t wave back?

For a moderate and sensible approach to dealing with the issues around lorry danger look at the work of the cycle campaign groups, particularly London Cycling campaign (most recently, see this and the latest issue of its London Cyclist.


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