Cycling Safety and Sharing the Roads with Trucks

Cycling Safety and Sharing the Roads with TrucksVolvo Trucks have embarked on a Global Campaign to enhance the safe sharing of roads between truck drivers and cyclists. For this purpose, they have made available a toolkit for educators. We would like to use this opportunity to share some of the illustrations and insights in the presentations!

Knowledge is key to safety - An informed road user is a safer road user! The more we know about something, the better our prerequisites to identify and avoid a potentially dangerous situation. If we know what we are looking for, we can pay attention to the right signals and ignore what is less important. We would know exactly what to look for and how to interpret various situations.

Often in life, it doesn’t matter if we make a few misjudgements. But in some cases, it can be fatal…

Every year, 1.2 million people die on the world’s roads. That is equal to 3,400 people a day…  which is equal to 10 air crashes a day!

Human Error and Road Crashes

90% of all traffic accidents involve human factors. This is because people have limitations.  We make misjudgements. And we lack in our attention.

We are not at all as attentive as we think we are. Our brain has a tremendous capability, but the world is complex, and we are only able to pay attention to a fragment of all the information available.

Normally, we only notice and remember the things we are interested in, or the things we believe are important to us. The rest is a blind spot.

Volvo and Safety Systems

To help the driver and other road users as much as possible, Volvo provides a number of systems and vehicle features that prevent accidents from happening in the first place. This is called active safety.

 Volvo also works with passive safety, which is about protecting the driver and other road users as far as possible, if an accident should occur.

And finally, we do a lot of safety research, participate in collaborative projects and perform information campaigns about safety, just like this, to increase awareness and hopefully reduce the number of traffic accidents.

Perceptions of truck drivers and cyclists

[Example of cyclists in blind spots around a left-hand drive truck]

Perceptions of truck drivers and cyclists

Volvo interviewed both a truck driver and a cyclist to gain insights into their perceptions of safety.

The cyclist and the driver both felt more unsafe being in a city environment than in the forest or on the highway, which is very logical: Most accidents between trucks and unprotected road users occur in urban areas. The reason is of course that this is where they actually meet - aside from motorcyclists, you don’t find many pedestrians and cyclists on the highway, right?

But when do these accidents occur?

Yes, most accidents occur in daylight. One reason is that it’s more traffic during the day. Another reason is that we know that it’s more difficult to see and be seen in the dark, which means we tend to become more cautious at night. If we, on the other hand, have good visibility, we may believe that other people see us, which is not always the case.

A few other interesting observations:

  • Most accidents occur at low speed.
  • Most accidents occur on good, clean roads. If we see potholes, railroad tracks, ice, leaves and loose gravel, we become more cautious, irrespective if we are walking, cycling or driving. When we don’t perceive a situation as dangerous, we may become lulled into a false sense of security and more prone to take risks.

So, most accidents between trucks and unprotected road users occur in urban areas, in daylight, at low speeds and on good roads. The main reason why they occur is the human factor - lack of knowledge, inattention and the fact that we make misjudgements.

As you know, city environments are busy and complex. There are a lot of players in a limited area that needs to interact with each other and a lot of things happening at the same time, which means it’s impossible for us to pay attention to everything. We try to anticipate what other road user’s will do, but they may be unclear about their intentions and we may miss their signals or make misjudgements.

Furthermore, traffic situations can change instantly. This means that a dangerous situation can appear very suddenly if we are distracted, for instance, if we wave at someone we know on the other side of the road, or if we look down on our cell phone for just a few seconds.

Driver and Rider Distractions

Did you know that the act of dialling while driving increases the crash risk by six times? Texting while driving increases the crash risk by 23 times. And even though the speed is lower for pedestrians and cyclists, the risk of accidents is heavily increased if we are texting or checking messages while walking or cycling.

Another reason why accidents between trucks and unprotected road users occur is that lot of people don’t know that truck drivers have limited visibility close to the cab. This is because the truck is so big and the driver is sitting high up. The drivers have mirrors to help them see in all directions, but they have to lean over to the front and to the sides to make sure they see everything.

Blind Spots around Trucks [ Example from Europe with Left-hand Steer]

Blind Spots around Trucks [ Example from Europe with Left-hand Steer]

Which of these cyclists do you think are most difficult for the truck driver to see?

The most difficult cyclists to see are the three in front. The cyclist on the orange bike at the right side of the truck can also be difficult to spot.

Another thing many people are unaware of is the fact that trucks have a larger turning radius than cars. The reason is that trucks are a lot longer, and they need to get all wheels past the corner before they start turning. At an intersection, this may take a truck partly or completely into the wrong lane and halfway through the intersection before it turns.

Five Typical Road crashes between trucks and unprotected road users.

Five Typical Road crashes between trucks and unprotected road users.

A. In this situation, the frontal part of the truck has hit an unprotected road user at low speed at a crossroad or pedestrian crossing.

Typical causes for this accident is lack of visibility in front of the cab and lack of communication between the driver and the pedestrian.

B. In this situation, the rear of the truck has hit an unprotected road user at low speed reversing. It’s probably a distribution truck delivering goods to a store or a garbage collector.

The typical cause of this accident is lack of judgement from the pedestrian and limited visibility for the driver. 

C. This is a collision at an intersection. The truck and the cyclist have moderate or high speed.

 The reason for this accident is inattention from both parts. The cyclist may misjudge the speed of the truck, and the driver is probably caught by surprise when the cyclist suddenly turns up.

D. In this situation, a cyclist going forward is being hit by a truck that is turning right. They both have green lights.

A lot of people are unaware of the fact that trucks have limited visibility and a large turning radius. This is a typical situation where this lack of knowledge can become lethal. The cyclist, who is waiting for a green light, does not realise that the truck driver may not see him. When the lights switch, he thinks that the truck will continue straight ahead - or is slowing down to let him pass - but actually, it’s just preparing for a turn.

Vehicles have legal obligations to stop for pedestrians and cyclists at crosswalks, but since the driver may not be able to see you, cycling forward may lead to a very serious accident. Looking at the indicators is not enough either because the driver could have forgotten to turn them on. To be on the safe side, you should always stop behind the truck.

E. In this situation, a cyclist going forward is being hit by a truck that is turning right. They both have green lights.

Yes, maybe the driver was forced to change lanes quickly to avoid an accident ahead. Or maybe the lanes were merging. Either way, this accident is a result of stress and inattention.

Some of these crashes are more common than others but all of these accidents have very serious consequences.

We are not talking about a few scratches or broken bones, but severe injuries and even deaths for the cyclist or pedestrian. The truck driver would probably not get physically injured, but he or she would get a real shock, and maybe not be able to recover from this traumatic experience at all.

To prevent accidents between trucks and cyclists, we need to make sure that we see and are seen.  Or - since we normally don’t have any problems to see a large vehicle like a truck - to make sure that the driver sees us and that we as pedestrians or cyclists are being seen.

So, what can we do?

So, what can we do?

Let’s start with the driver’s perspective. What can he or she do to see?

  • Check the mirrors
  • Use active safety systems
  • Make eye contact with other road users 

Let’s move on to the cyclist’s perspective. What can he or she do to be seen?

  • Reflexes and strong colours
  • Helmet
  • Bicycle lights
  • Avoid riding up the inside of large vehicles
  • Signal and make eye contact (don’t forget to take advantage of the truck’s mirrors)

So, the more we communicate with each other in traffic, the fewer misjudgements and accidents we will have. To increase our understanding of other road users and their behaviour, it’s also a good idea to experience their perspective first-hand.

First of all, it’s a good idea to use reflexes, strong colours and clothes with high contrast. Naturally, you should always use a helmet - if the helmet has a bright colour, it increases your visibility, but most of all it’s about protecting you, should an accident occur.

Always use bicycle lights, both front and rear, after dark or when visibility is poor. Avoid riding up the inside of large vehicles, like trucks or buses, where you might not be seen.

Signal to show other road users what you are about to do. It’s important to be clear and determined about your intentions - if you hesitate or send out mixed signals, other road users may get confused, which can lead to potentially dangerous situations. And finally, make eye contact with drivers so you know they have seen you. Don’t forget to take advantage of the truck’s mirrors. 

If you have never been inside a truck cab, it’s impossible to visualise the views you get from above. This is important to keep in mind.

Even though we can see the truck, we cannot be sure that the truck driver sees us. Therefore, it is important to always seek eye contact with the driver so you know for sure that he or she sees you. If you cannot look straight at the driver through the windscreen or side window, you can instead try to use the mirrors.

DOE Road Safety - HGV and Cyclists

Also view:

Toolkit provided by Volvo Trucks

Safe Cycling Suggestions for Cyclists in SA

Blind Spots and Safe Driving

Blind Spots and the Child Pedestrian