• Opinion: Can the EU make lorries safer across the EU?
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  • megatrucks, Road safety, Standards and technical issues,
  • Opinion,
  • 27.03.2014

Elina Baltatzi


MEPs voted last week in the TRAN Committee to start a process that could finally put us on a path to safer lorries for cyclists in urban areas.

TRAN Committee MEPs managed to cut their Gordian knotty problem last week of how to deal with amending Directive 96/53 on the ‘Weights and Dimensions’ of lorries that regulates the maximum size allowed for lorries crossing borders[1]. The deadlocked political problem of whether or not to allow megatrucks[2] across borders was on the verge of derailing the whole proposal. Fortunately they solved the problem by having the whole megatruck debate moved to 2016 after a full review by the Commission. 

I say fortunately, because it allowed them to concentrate on another very important aspect of the directive, to allow extra space at the front of the cabs for increased safety; which they then duly went ahead and voted for. This is a very promising development in making these disproportionately dangerous vehicles safer in Europe.

European lorries are a very different shape to those in other areas of the world, with a cab over engine design rather than the long nose of cabs elsewhere, the main reason for this is Directive 96/53. Because the directive provides the maximum size of lorry that is allowed to cross border, and because containers are standardised at a certain size this means that the cabs are built to the maximum size to contain the maximum amount of payload. This means limited space left for the cab to contain the engine/cooling system and driver living/sleeping area.

There are also no direct vision regulations for HGVs in Europe. This further omission (oversight/blunder/scandal – delete as appropriate) of European legislation has meant, it seems to me, that the rising of the driver’s position has gone unchecked and that there is little consideration of what the driver can see out his front and side windows. This is something that has to be addressed.

HGV urban safety Regulations

In some respects the technology and design of lorries over recent years with regards to safety has been impressive, including;

  • Emergency Braking and Brake Assist
  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Electronic stability control
  • Lane departure warning
  • Running daytime lights
  • Top speed limiter of 90 kph

All of these great technological advances are really useful – when driving on the motorway. However when we look at where HGV accidents are happening across the EU we find that motorways account for about 15% of fatalities, the rest are on rural and urban roads.[3]

What vehicle safety regulations do we have specifically for HGVs in urban areas? We have mirrors Directives[4] specifying the indirect (not direct) vision requirements and a passive safety regulation of underrun protection[5] to try to stop a pedestrian or cyclist being pulled under the wheels after being hit. These are the only specific safety design features for other road users in urban areas that I can think of that is currently specified for HGV cabs in Europe.

What’s wrong with the indirect vision of mirrors?

So what’s the problem with mirrors? First, mirrors can be broken and incorrectly adjusted. A few years back the Danish transport authority looked at 25 lorries involved in cycling accidents[6] and found that 21 had incorrectly adjusted mirrors, many of these were the blind spot mirrors, and many of the mirrors were creating a blind spot of their own. Worse, incorrect mirror adjustment was judged to have been directly responsible for the crash in eight of the cases.

Second, a paper reviewing a number of sources on driver glances into mirrors showed that the mean glance time into a single mirror to be just over a second[7]. A review of mirror scanning[8] shows that travel time between mirrors is around 0.32 – 0.34, so before a manoeuvre it could mean 4-6 seconds from looking in the first mirror to the last before then starting the manoeuvre creating a temporal blind spot.

Finally, a 1.5 tonne car of 3-4 metres has direct vision regulations, a 40 tonne HGV of 18 metres does not. And this 18 metre vehicle also sits the driver about 2 – 3 meters from the ground, without any specifications of how large the window should be. It is not unreasonable to ask that we ensure that drivers are able to look out the windows of their cabs and see other road users around them, particularly in urban areas.

Buses and trucks

37 cyclists were tragically killed by buses and coaches in the EU in 2012; HGVs killed 296[9]. And yet we are constantly cycling around buses in urban areas, it is rarer that we come in contact with an HGV than a bus/coach in urban areas; so why the larger amount of damage by HGVs? Bus and HGV drivers are trained to the same European standards[10], the roads are the same urban roads, yet HGVs kill more cyclists than buses in urban areas, despite being fewer in number. If the type of road is the same, the drivers are trained to the same standard, then perhaps there is something wrong with the vehicle. Well next time you see one parked-up compare what the driver can see from a bus and an HGV, particularly out the passenger side window where most cyclist accidents occur.

What did MEPs in the Committee vote for last week?

MEPs voted to allow extra space at the front of the cab to be specifically used for aerodynamic and safety considerations. The extra space should be used to improve aerodynamics, to improve the deflective shape as well as the direct vision all around the cab, possibly with a view to making these improvements mandatory in the future.

This is an excellent decision by the Parliament, it still has to be rubberstamped in the Parliament plenary in April but so far this shows a commitment to improving HGV safety from the Parliament.

However this will also have to pass the Council before being legislation, so the procedure now rumbles on to the Member States. They will have to agree to this as well before we see any changes being allowed in shape or design.

This is an ongoing issue and there will be an update after the vote in the Parliament plenary on April 11th, and with details about how you might want to get involved to convince your Government to agree with the Parliament.

[2] 25 metre behemoth lorries weighting 66 tonnes

[5] Directive 2000/40/EEC and Directive 89/297/EEC – This also needs thoroughly updating as there is still considerable space between the wheel arch and the protection. It also can be open with a simple two bar structure rather than fully closed off

[10] Both have to pass the EU CPC qualifications specified in Directive 2003/59/EC


About the Author 

Ceri Woolsgrove is the ECF Policy Officer for Road Safety & Technical Issues.


  • Warwick Pattinson

    Excellent piece Ceri. In Australia, where I am, it is very hard to get policy makers to consider the issues you raise.

Last Updated March 28, 2014