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How to Safely Share the Road with Truck Drivers

By Adam Marsal

Heavy shipping vehicles pose a significant threat to the urban cyclist. According to several studies conducted across European cities, the presence of trucks turned out to increase accident risk and cycling accidents involving a truck are more likely to have more severe consequences.

Trucks responsible for up to 25 % of cyclists’ deaths

The European Union accident database, CARE, recorded 283 cyclist fatalities caused by truck drivers in 2015. That number accounted for nearly 14 % of all biking fatalities in the EU that year. Yet the rate grew to almost 25 % in countries like Denmark, Estonia, Ireland or Slovakia. The worst percentage is currently in London where lorries have been identified as the most frequent vehicle involved in the death of cyclists in over two decades. Why are trucks increasingly dangerous for cyclists? What can people on bicycles do to protect themselves efficiently in dense city traffic?

Cyclists and Trucks
A cyclist on one of the new Cycle Superhighways, in this case the CS7 that goes from Southwark bridge to Tooting. © Profimedia

Incorrect assumptions and frequent mistakes

The conducted studies identified the most notable risk factors leading to truck-bicycle accidents. Among the most frequently cited reasons belong the cyclists’ incorrect assumption about the ability of the truck driver to see them and the wrong expectations of how the trucks will navigate through the streets. On the drivers’ side, improperly-adjusted side mirrors and the lack of awareness regarding possible blind spots were highlighted among the most relevant failures.

Since cyclists are inevitably going to share the road with trucks in the upcoming years, it would help them to understand how drivers see this environment from their point of view. Despite being professional and highly skilled, drivers are just humans, which makes them fallible. Given the sheer mass of their heavy goods vehicles, the tiniest oversight might have fatal consequences if a bicycle is involved.

Cyclists and Trucks
Junction in London © Profimedia

Cyclists, give trucks space

Since only a few cyclists have ever had a chance to drive a truck, they tend to underestimate their assumptions about the big vehicle’s manoeuvrability. When turning, a truck (or, more precisely, some part of the trailer) might swing into the intended route of a passing cyclist which is the exact moment they end up being hit. Learning to anticipate the moves of a truck is the most secure way how to prevent a collision. In busy cities, the drivers of big lorries experience trouble when trying to fit into narrow streets, especially when turning. If you spot them indicating a turn, no matter if left or right, slow down and let them follow through the manoeuvre first. The size of their vehicle doesn’t mean they have more road rights than you but you’ll probably spot them first – before the driver knows you’re there. Trying to squeeze alongside when you see them changing direction is a pointless risk for everyone involved.

Rows over blind spots

A lot has been said about the blind spots of cars. With trucks, it’s even more complicated as their cabs are elevated above the ground level. The basic piece of advice says that if you can’t see the driver in any of their mirrors, the chance is that the driver can’t see you either. A picture showing trucks’ blind spots spread through social media, recently. In the picture, people gathered in yellow areas around the vehicle were marked as invisible the driver. These areas were surprisingly large not only in front and behind the truck but also on the sides. That’s why drivers warn cyclists about attempting to undertake them, even if they’re using a bike lane.

Also, never wait close to the front grill as you need to be a few meters ahead of the truck to become visible. The best way is to leave a distance of a few meters on the lights and when the green pops on, keep on riding while being aware of the truck’s position. When you need to pass it, do it on a straight section where it’s clear that the driver will not turn and cut unexpectedly in your direction.

Trucks and Cyclists

In contrast to what we’ve written recently, British truck driver Clive Matthews said to Forbes UK that when all mirrors are used responsibly, the whole blind-spot thing is a myth to excuse drivers who haven’t bothered to look. According to Matthews, who’s a cyclist himself with a foldable bike inside his truck, most of his colleagues are just poorly trained in using the mirrors correctly. He also believes that regular training could improve overall interactions with their surroundings in the street. Be it a case of blind spots or the lack of drivers’ awareness, cyclists should ride around trucks with respect anyway.