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Rolling with the heavies

23 March, 2011

Bikes and trucks don’t mix well on the road. Emma Clark examines ways to improve the relationship.

Drivers of big vehicles such as trucks and buses have caused a significant number of deaths and injuries to bike riders, despite making up only a small percentage of road users. While this number has dropped over the past few years, in part due to increased awareness and infrastructure improvements, passing heavy vehicles can still be high-risk for riders.

Graeme Higgins is an instructor who runs courses for heavy-goods drivers. He is also a bike and motorbike rider, so understands the needs and concerns of both riders and drivers. “We tell our drivers that observation and planning are paramount,” he told Ride On. “Give riders a bit of room if possible. Long vehicles can cause a draft and riders can be quite intimidated by a huge truck coming up beside them.

“There needs to be a bit of understanding from both the rider and the driver: riders need to understand that a truck driver sometimes can’t see them, even if a rider is right next to the driver’s window. Awareness is important from both parties.”

For urban drivers, the ‘danger zone’ around all trucks is along the left hand side of the vehicle. Most injuries and fatalities occur when a rider has cycled down the left side of a truck, or the truck has passed a rider and then turned across their path. One thing is clear; you are risking your life when you pass trucks or buses on the left hand side.

Also be mindful that a truck driver sits high above the road. If you are under the mirror and next to the passenger door, you are invisible to even the most careful truck driver. Some newer truck designs counter this by installing a small, floor-height window on the doors, which allows the driver to see riders and pedestrians alongside them. In Copenhagen, the only trucks permitted in the CBD have extra-long windows which cover most of the side of the cab and the drivers are seated lower, making it easier to see riders.

Remember that if a truck or bus is turning, it may move right in order to turn left. The extra length on the vehicle means that the turning circle is a lot wider than a car. Don’t be tempted by the space opening up in front of you as the truck turns: never, ever attempt to pass a truck signalling to turn. It is a good idea to get in the habit of staying out of the ‘turn zone’ on heavy vehicles so you don’t end up stuck in a dangerous position.

Don’t pull in front of a truck to merge or change lanes: they take a lot longer than a regular car to slow down and you run the risk of being rear-ended.

If you are involved in or witness a near-miss or collision involving a commercial heavy vehicle, contact the company and let them know what happened in a clear and reasonable manner. One Ride On reader told us he recently contacted trucking company TNT over a near-miss incident. The company apologised and has since begun holding rider-awareness training for their drivers.

Changing technology

CEMEX is a global building-materials company with numerous delivery trucks across the world. They have recently fitted their new trucks with proximity sensors on the sides of the vehicles, which pick up any movement along the left-hand side of the vehicle and give an audible warning to riders and the driver. There is also signage along the sides and rear of the truck and a front blind-side mirror enables the driver to see bike riders and pedestrians directly at the front of the cab.

Up until recently, at least one person each year was either killed or suffered life-changing injuries from collisions with CEMEX trucks. Since the safety features have been installed, there have been no deaths or injuries.

  • Don’t overtake a truck on the left
  • Don’t pass a truck signalling to turn
  • Don’t position yourself under the mirror next to the door.
  • Stay out of the turning zone
  • Smile and wave at truck drivers who help you
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