Plans to make roads safer for road users by improving truck drivers’ visibility could soon be introduced around the world.

Busy city streets would be far safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists if truck operators were made to comply with ‘direct vision’ standards. That’s the verdict of road safety experts who say improving the design of heavy goods vehicles would prevent accidents where blind spots are a contributory factor.

London, UK, is currently leading the way with its Direct Vision Standard (DVS), which is being rolled out across the capital this autumn, and civic leaders across the world are expected to follow suit if the scheme proves successful.

European organisations have also called for a Europe-wide direct vision standard to be introduced. A host of signatories, including the European Transport Safety Council and the European Cyclists’ Federation submitted a letter to EU commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker calling for measures to eliminate blind spots in HGVs.

The London DVS scheme was set in motion following alarming statistics that revealed HGVs were involved in 63% of fatal collisions with cyclists and 25% of pedestrian deaths on the city’s streets. This is despite HGVs making up only 4% of miles driven in the city. The scheme is part of an ambitious wider initiative to achieve zero deaths and serious injuries in the city by 2041.

The DVS will categorise HGVs in terms of a driver’s field of vision from the cab. Vehicles over 12 tonnes will be given a safety rating and only those that meet the minimum requirements for direct vision, or can show equivalent measures to reduce risks to vulnerable road users, will be issued with a safety permit to operate on the streets of London. HGVs from all other countries will also be expected to comply with the standard.

Operators would be able to achieve compliance by altering the structure of the vehicle to allow for better all-round vision, such as installing low-entry cabs and glass panels on the passenger side doors.

However, a study by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory and the Centre Européen d’Etudes de Sécurité et d’Analyse des Risques (CEESAR) found that vehicle safety devices, such as sensors, were 50% more effective at reducing fatalities and injuries than modifying vehicle design. The study also found that active safety measures drew the attention of the driver to the safety critical area and to vulnerable road users.

“Even with the best field of view in a low-entry cabin with glass side panels, the field of view can be obstructed by a passenger or bag on the seat. A driver can only look in one direction at a time and might still fail to notice a cyclist or pedestrian on the other side of the vehicle,” said Emily Hardy from Brigade Electronics, an award-winning supplier of vehicle safety devices.

“To improve all-round visibility, fleet operators should consider a four-camera system connected to ultrasonic proximity sensors to alert the driver, via an on-screen display, when there is someone or something in a blind spot. The system will also give an audible warning alarm when a cyclist moves into the danger zone.

If civic leaders are really serious about reducing the number of road deaths on city streets, a full complement of safety features, alongside direct vision adjustments to the vehicle, should be mandatory.”

How London’s DVS will work

HGVs will be given a rating between zero and five, based on how much the driver can see directly through the cab windows, as opposed to indirectly via mirrors or vehicle safety cameras.

By October 2020, all zero-rated HGVs will be banned from the city; and by 2024, only those HGVs achieving a three-star rating or above will be permitted to drive in London.

It’s estimated that of the 188,000 HGVs operating in London, 35,000 would be banned by 2020, rising to 94,000 by 2024. However, operators will be able to reach the required standard for their vehicles by fitting a combination of supplementary safety equipment, which includes side cameras and monitors; ultrasonic detection systems; and audible turning alerts.

Commercial vehicle camera systems, such as Brigade’s Backeye®360, can eliminate blind spots completely without the need for large mirrors and multiple screens. It gives a complete surround view of live images taken from four ultra-wide-angle cameras mounted high on the vehicle – a bird’s-eye view that leaves nothing to chance. The images are fed into a single image so that the driver is not required to monitor multiple screens.