Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Cyclists versus Truckers. Venue: The City.

Cyclists versus Truckers. Venue: The City.Written by Kaela Street,  19th November, 2013  

I have had the ability and license to drive just about any vehicle, some pretty darn big, and others, well, a lot lighter and smaller. For example, warehouse work using a fork lift truck, just about as tricky as it gets. The vehicles mass is all behind or underneath you, turns in its own length and has two huge forward pointing blades. You practice navigating narrow aisles with half ton loads until it becomes second nature, then you start doing it while reading a picking list, listening to the foreman barking new orders, other workers calling for help to move things like empties. After a few weeks, your workload increases and your attention becomes tuned to the tasks.

It is like riding a bicycle. Once you get the hang of it. On two wheels you can start doing other things at the same time, answering the phone on the move, daydreaming, watching a scene unfold ahead of you. You seem to seamlessly learn to stay in lane, move around obstacles and keep up speed at the same time. After a while, a cyclist can fall back onto autopilot and the journey unfolds while you think of other things.

I learned to drive heavy good vehicles, the English know them as Lorries, Trucks in the USA. I learned both rigid body and articulated (comprising tractor and trailer). Driving these extremely heavy and often slow to accelerate vehicles becomes second nature,  then your inner autopilot kicks in all too easily. After a while, there are times in the cab when your activity has gaps, so you fill them. I have worked with drivers who were able to make a cup of coffee on the move to be ready to drink when they get to the long line of traffic waiting to get off the motorway, reading maps in my day was no issue for most while on the move, now they have moving electronic maps on iPads, laptops and mobile phones. In my day, the mobile phone was a brick and the only way to use it was hands-free, but the signal dropped out so much, moving conversations were short.

Driving an articulated vehicle through a town meant, if you were any kind of reasonable driver, one hundred percent of your attention in all of your mirrors all of the time. You become acutely aware of your trailer length, your axle weights, the height of your load. You know when you are going to get stuck and make manoeuvres ahead of time so that your trailer wheels don't over ride the kerb, you need to plan so much ahead to make sure that by the time your vehicle arrives at the intersection or junction, you damage neither the vehicle, or the street furniture as you negotiate it. It can become hard work with a very high workload.

Cyclists cannot know what every truck driver is thinking, or how they are planning to make the next turn. Lorry drivers are aware of cyclists, but they know they can turn and accelerate so quickly, it is impossible to second guess where they will be next, that is, if you have seen them at all. It seems to some heavy goods drivers, some cyclists are adept at finding one of your blind spots, and sitting in it. The only way a lorry driver can signal to others what he intends to do, is with a stop light, a turn signal, by his speed, and his vehicle position. Exactly the same as he had forty years ago.

One would have thought, with today's technology, he could be communicating his intentions to every road user around using wi-fi or blue tooth. A cyclist's helmet electronics could be warning the rider, the bus or truck ahead is about to block his way. The cyclists onboard GPS could be warning bus drivers and truckers alike, they are within a few feet of them and could be on an intercept path. It is not rocket science, it is criminal to take another life and not knowing they were there is a sad admission of guilt. "I didn't see him", "I didn't know she was under my wheels" becomes a frightening litany.

Either stop mixing cyclists and heavy vehicles, or force the use of technology to them both to start saving lives. It is no proud boast for our cities to declare how many cyclists were killed over the last year.