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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 10:03 GMT
Driving HGVs out of towns
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News Online, London

Elizabeth Webb
Miss Webb went in for nursing after her mother died from cancer
Like many student nurses at St Bart's hospital in east London, Elizabeth Webb was able to save a bit of money by cycling to her courses.

Living in nurses' accommodation in Bow, the 21-year-old cycled up and down the Mile End Road into the City.

Her family in Colchester, Essex, were not worried about her daily trek as she and their other children had done their cycling proficiency tests at school and wore cycle helmets.

But at lunch time on 24 September 1999, she set off to City University to hand in a project and was killed when she was hit by a 38-ton articulated lorry.

The driver was supposed to be in north London, but he had taken a wrong turning. He turned left and never saw the student nurse on her bike.

Lorries and Towns Don't Mix
Robin Webb
We just assume our lords and masters have arranged things so we are safe - but they haven't
Robin Webb

In that year 10 cyclists were killed on the roads. On average, 44% of those killed collided with goods vehicles over 3.5 tons.

Her father Robin said that as he sat at her inquest, listening to the coroner return a verdict of accidental death, he became increasingly annoyed at the failure to denounce the use of articulated lorries on urban roads.

"There were lots of things that made me very angry - but the coroner's inquest was really what made me feel something needed to be done," said Mr Webb.

"I found out these ghastly things about the visibility. The fact is the driver never saw her. I wanted to know how we can allow vehicles on the road when drivers can't see people on the left-hand side?"

He spotted an advertisement for funding for people with a burning issue and began to make a film, fitting in his research around work and coming to terms with his daughter's death.

Mr Webb found maximum lorry weights have increased from 24 tons in 1962 to 44 tons today, while maximum speeds have more than doubled.

Cycling in London
650,000 regular cyclists
44% those killed between 1994 -9 were involved in collision with HGVs, according to TfL
29% of those happened while an HGV was turning left
TfL says cycling in inner London has gone up by 30% since the introduction of congestion charge
And he wanted to illustrate the blind spot where cyclists disappear from drivers' views.

"The idea of having on the streets, where children, mothers and cyclists are going up and down, these great trucks that can't see - it's nonsense," Mr Webb told BBC News Online.

Four years later, his film, 44 Tonne Articulated Trucks and Towns Don't Mix, has been screened at venues from Sheffield to Bristol and he continues to campaign for restrictions on articulated lorries in town centres.

"The haulage industry knows there's a problem, it's [a question of] trying to find a way to get the government to change the law that allows these vehicles in."

"We just assume our lords and masters have arranged things so we are safe - but they haven't."

The Department for Transport (DfT) says traffic regulation is a "matter for local authorities" who have powers to make orders specifying vehicles, like HGVs, do not go down certain roads.

Traffic-control measures

And the Road Haulage Association says that although it takes part in safety awareness campaigns, there are no plans to change the design of cabs to improve visibility.

But it agrees that with more traffic-control measures, there may be a move towards transferring goods from big lorries to smaller vans as they reach town centres.

"We will be seeing more and more of this with more congestion charges," a spokeswoman said.

In the meantime the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) continues trying to ensure all cyclists take part in a training course to alert them to dangers.

London road deaths between January and March 2003
Pedestrian - 29
Car user - 20
Motorcyclists/scooters - 12
Cyclists - 9
They say cycling casualties are down despite a rise of 30% in the number of cyclists in central London since the introduction of the congestion charge.

"HGVs do represent a big problem for cyclists - should a cyclist be involved in an accident with an HGV it is quite likely to be fatal," said campaigns manager Tom Bogdanowicz.

But he says while cycling has increased on London's roads over the last 10 years, casualty figures are down.

"I have cycled for more than 40 years and I've never had a serious collision. Ultimately cycling is perfectly safe."

Provisional figures from Transport for London (TfL) for January to March 2003 show serious injuries are down.

Cyclists' deaths are still far lower than pedestrians and people killed in cars.

Various London councils, the LCC and TfL continue to run safety campaigns asking both cyclists and drivers to stay alert.

But that is not enough for Mr Webb.

"I think the only way anything's going to happen is if the law that allows these vehicles in changes," he said.

Lorries and Towns Don't Mix
Watch a clip of Mr Webb's film

Inquest into cyclist death
28 Oct 03  |  Hereford/Worcs
Police officer killed by lorry
04 Aug 03  |  Derbyshire
The great cycling gamble
16 Apr 02  |  UK News

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