Transport for London (TfL) has begun its latest consultation into the Direct Vision Standard (DVS) system for HGVs in the capital, promising a ‘more holistic approach’ to truck safety rather than concentrating on direct vision alone – and recommending the adoption of a safety permit scheme, rather than an outright ban on certain truck models.
The DVS system – which features a zero-to-five star rating model to decide which trucks should be allowed to operate on London roads – was designed to gauge the level of direct vision available to drivers from the cab of each HGV model, in a bid to improve safety for other road users in the capital.
But industry stakeholders had previously raised concerns about the potential high costs to transport operators who had recently faced significant outlay to purchase emissions-compliant Euro 6 trucks for operation in London, only now to see them restricted or banned due to the new direct vision rules.
Respondents to earlier consultations had also suggested that direct vision should not be the only consideration in improving the safety of HGVs operating in London. In its preamble to the latest consultation, TfL accepted this point, and also conceded that truck manufacturers were some way off producing sufficient redesigned cabs to cater for London operators.
As a result, while direct vision will remain at the heart of the proposals, TfL says it also plans to take other aspects into account via its permit scheme, namely: indirect vision aids designed to minimise blind spots; warning systems to alert other road users to intended manoeuvres; physical ‘hardware’ on HGVs’ exteriors designed to reduce the risk or impact of a hazard; and urban driver training focusing on vulnerable road user safety.
The direct vision star rating would determine the level of input required from these other elements. For example, an HGV rated zero for direct vision would not be granted a permit unless other elements were addressed.
“Our research into the impact of the Phase 1 consultation proposals has shown that direct vision for current HGV fleets is very poor and it will be some years before manufacturers can produce enough vehicles with sufficient direct vision,” said TfL.
“It also showed that an opportunity for greater safety benefit exists if we set the ambition for HGV safety wider than looking at direct vision alone. It is therefore necessary to take a more holistic approach and review additional safety measures that may assist in reducing road danger before improved designed cabs become widely available.”
The authority continued: “In line with the Mayor’s Vision Zero principles we are proposing to take a ‘safe system’ approach, as we do for bus safety risk. We intend to develop and deliver this safe system through our preferred scheme option of an HGV safety standard permit scheme.
“Under this proposal, in 2020, all larger HGVs (Class N3 over 12 tonnes) working in or entering Greater London would require a safety permit to operate, regardless of how good their DVS rating is.
“HGVs rated one star and above would automatically be granted a permit. HGVs rated zero star will be granted a permit in 2020 only if they meet specific measures in a defined safe system. In 2024, HGVs rated below three stars would need to prove they meet the standards of an updated ‘progressive’ safe system.”
TfL emphasised: “This proposal does not require HGVs with poor direct vision to adopt practices or equipment that are not already approved and commonplace in the industry.
“We used an estimated maximum cost of around £2,000 per vehicle to fit equipment to comply. In practice, many operators will already be at or near this level and the cost to them will be considerably less.”
The need to consider elements other than direct vision has come about, says TfL, because the star rating boundaries had been set based on desired direct vision levels, as opposed to the current performance of HGVs on direct vision, “which is poor”.
“This means a much larger number of HGV makes and models are rated zero star than we originally anticipated,” said TfL.
“Approximately 50 to 60 per cent of vehicles could be considered non-compliant with the original proposal to ban or restrict all zero star vehicles in 2020.”
One of the items on which TfL is seeking feedback in its consultation is the method of calculation for its DVS star ratings, which are calculated using the height at which HGV cabs are mounted, and have been the subject of some confusion in recent months.
Interim star ratings for some Euro 6 trucks were released by TfL in September, which were intended to be subject to consultation with stakeholders.
Since our October edition closed for press, some of the ratings that we published on page 5 for particular cab dimensions of certain truck models had been subject to minor revisions on TfL’s website, while some new ratings had also been added.
Transport Operator had intended to make operators aware of the new and amended ratings in our November/December issue. However, the online lookup tool which contained the interim ratings has now been removed altogether.
“Our first consultation on the Direct Vision Standard gathered important information to inform our proposals and create interim star ratings,” a TfL spokesperson told us on 9 November.
“Working with an expert panel of vehicle manufacturers, regulatory bodies and academics, we have identified some technical issues with these interim star ratings. To avoid any confusion for the wider industry, the interim ratings have been removed while this important work takes place.”
The new consultation document additionally notes that the provisional ratings: “are no longer available publicly to enable variations in data which could affect individual ratings to be resolved ahead of final rating publication.”
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) greeted the new consultation “with caution”.
“The RHA will study the consultation in detail but the initial concern is the requirement for all lorries (over 12t) to have a special permit to enter London,” said the association.
“In addition, there is no clarity on vehicle star ratings.”
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett added: “It is not acceptable that the ratings will not be known until after the consultation ends.
“However, we welcome the mayor’s support for a comprehensive and international approach to vehicle standards and we look forward to working with the mayor’s team in support of getting the best road safety outcomes for Londoners and the rest of the UK.”
Operators can read and respond to the consultation here, until 24 January 2018.