On Friday afternoon, a deli on the corner of Brookfield Road in Kilmainham, has just recovered from a rush of builders. They sit outside the shop, finishing their lunch.
Across the road is the construction site for the new national children’s hospital, which is set to be one of the most expensive buildings in the world.
As the builders eat, three trucks enter and two trucks exit the building site in the space of 10 minutes.
The tractor turns right up the South Circular Road towards Hybreasal onto a residential estate. The trailer, pulled behind, spills over onto the other side of the road – its own lane too small to hold the vehicle.
One truck that enters is carrying four 20-foot concrete pillars. It snakes its way across Brookfield Road as its cabin turns first with the body following after.
Two minutes later, a tractor comes out of the construction site pulling an empty 20-foot trailer behind it.
Five minutes after that, a cement mixer drives out of the site and heads down the South Circular Road towards Rialto.
“That spot right there is where Neeraj Jain was killed by a HGV [heavy goods vehicle], by a cement truck with bad direct vision standards,” says Dublin Cycling Campaign Chairperson Kevin Baker, by phone.
Jain was a cyclist who was killed following a collision with a cement mixer last November. He was 34 and studying a masters degree in Engineering at UCD
“The big issue with HGVs is essentially the blind spot which is designed into the vehicle. It is possible to build vehicles without blind spots,” says Baker.
“There does not seem to be any particular protocol on how these vehicles enter and exit the city,” says independent Councillor Mannix Flynn.
Dublin City Council is looking to introduce stricter safety measures for HGVs, similar to London’s, Dublin City Council’s Head of Technical Services for Traffic Brendan O’Brien said at a council meeting last week.
The London initiative has introduced a direct-vision standard, which measures the visibility that HGV drivers have around their blind spots.
Transport for London
Over 8,000 permits were given out from October to January to trucks that now comply with the direct vision standard, according to Transport for London’s website.
Permits will be given to HGVs that have reduced the blind spots on the vehicle. HGVs that operate in London without the permit will receive a fine of £550 a day from 26 October 2020.
The vehicle is rated from zero to five stars on blind-spot visibility. Anything below one star will not be given a permit to drive in the city.
Transport for London estimates that there are about 250,000 HGVs entering London each year that will need to apply for a permit before enforcement begins in October, its website says.
The requirement for vehicles is set to be moved to a minimum of two stars by 2024.
Between 2015 and 2017 HGVs involved in a “disproportionate” amount of fatalities in London, 63 percent involving cyclists and 25 percent involving those who are walking, according to Transport for London figures.
“We have been in contact with our equivalent colleagues in Transport for London,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
The council has had a number of conference calls with their London counterparts. However, a visit to the city to see how the initiative is working has been put on hold because of COVID-19, says the council spokesperson.
The council is looking at the scheme to add additional safety requirements to the HGV permit scheme that is in place in Dublin.
Currently, HGVs have to get a permit to drive through the city between 7am and 7pm, within a designated areaof the city. However, the permit application does not require HGVs to meet the direct vision standard.
Councillor Flynn says that he has noticed construction trucks in town that don’t even have their hazard warning on.
“The trucks are going to have to simply slow down and be lit up like a Christmas tree. They are also going to have to be spotlessly clean because they are dragging the dirt onto the road,” says Flynn.
HGVs in Dublin
Safety measures on HGVs operating in Dublin need to improve, says Baker, of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.
“It’s a very mixed bag. There is some very good HGVs with few blind spots, good mirrors, and good sensors and there is some HGVs that are twenty years out of date on safety standards,” says Baker.
“The Cycling Campaign has been campaigning for a direct vision standard for years now,” he says.
It is not a major undertaking to reduce the blind spots on HGVs, says Baker.
“It might sound kind of crazy, but with four or five simple design changes we could remove all the blind spots around the cab of a HGV,” he says. These designs include sensors and cameras, says Baker.
Cyril McGuinness, who runs his own haulage company, WM Cyril McGuinness Limited, says they’ve loads of mirrors on each side of the HGVs in their fleet – and down the length of the vehicle, with goldfish-bowl mirrors and a mirror facing down at the front, too.
“There’s six mirrors on a typical HGV and still there are blind spots,” he says. Cameras, they found, have helped to deal with those blindspots.
They’ve fitted multiple cameras to all the HGVs – some with four cameras, some with three cameras depending on the kind they are, that hold a month’s data, says McGuinness. “Basically for safety,” he says.
McGuinness has asked the Road Safety Authority and a Renault representative who came to speak to the Irish Road Haulage Association – where he is head of the Dublin branch – to get these cameras fitted as standard to HGVs, he said.
It would also hopefully help with high insurance costs – at least insurance companies should take it into account, he says. “
The camera systems they installed cost €1,200 a piece and they have 14 trucks, he said. “We’ve done it over the last few years on a phased basis.”
“We were hoping to get a reduction in our insurance costs, and we didn’t get a reduction,” he said. When people are proactive on safety, insurance companies should reward that, he said.
“I think anything to do with road safety has to be welcomed,” said McGuinness, who still remembers, decades ago, seeing a cyclist killed by a truck near St Stephen’s Green. “Even thinking of it now, the hairs have gone up on my arms.”
Segregated cycling infrastructure is an important safety measure, but there will always be points where cyclists and HGVs meet, says Baker.
“HGVs are not designed for city streets, but occasionally we do need them on for construction projects and the likes,” he says.
Direct vision standards are important for when bikes and HGVs are forced to meet, Baker says.
“There is always points like quiet side roads and residential streets where it [direct vision standards] is still really important because there is no segregated points here,” he says.
In the meantime, Dublin City Council has plans to increase segregated cycling this year, says a spokesperson.
“We will shortly open Royal Canal Phase 2 and there are several other contracts for segregated cycling facilities which will hopefully begin this year,” the spokesperson said.