Voices: I’m living proof (well, just about) that big lorries shouldn’t be on the road

Longer lorries mean bigger blindspot, more tail swing, greater risk to cyclists and pedestrians, more people ending up like me (Susannah Ireland)
Longer lorries mean bigger blindspot, more tail swing, greater risk to cyclists and pedestrians, more people ending up like me (Susannah Ireland)

My home has a number of adaptations since my bicycle and I had an uncomfortably close encounter with a large lorry. By uncomfortable, I mean that said lorry was resting on my ribs until the fire brigade pitched up to pull me out from under it.

Fun fact: my family tells me you could see the tyre marks on my skin. There are now handles dotted around my house to help me move around it; we have a shower board too (so I can sit); a wheelchair ramp at the front door.

After seeing the government plans for the mass rollout of monstrous, elongated road haulage lorry beasts, however, I think I’m going to have to add a new one: a cushion attached to the wall at head height so I can bang my head against it. I’ll need it installed for the purposes of relieving the mixture of frustration and fury that stories like this produce.

And there was me thinking I was immune to the impact of policies filed under the label “crass, stupid and downright callous”.

Why are they doing this? Elongated lorries are being made available to all comers, which may include haulage bosses who already flout rules on things like safe driver hours, because they’ll allegedly provide a boost to the economy and improve Britain’s shaky supply chains. It always makes me chuckle when ministers trot out arguments like that, given the damage they’ve done to both.

As for the CO2 emissions these vehicles will allegedly cut? Spare me. The Campaign for Better Transport has a four-letter response to that. No, it doesn’t involve an entry from Roger’s Profanisaurus, which might upset my editors. It’s rail. You can cut an awful lot of carbon by encouraging and investing in rail freight. And you won’t kill people by doing so.

“These new longer lorries will make a big difference for British businesses like [bakers], who will see 15 per cent more baked goods delivered, from tasty pastries to the nation’s much-loved sausage rolls,” said transport minister Richard Holden, who must have got a first when he studied for a BA in being patronising at the University of Government Spin.

Mr Holden? I love those sausage rolls too. My wife bought me one on the day I finally got off hospital food (I was an inpatient for three months, the initial estimate was a year).

But I don’t want one of them if the cost of getting it to me is someone else ending up with a body as battered as mine. I don’t want a pasty – even a low-carbon pasty – at the cost of someone’s life.

Cycling – which is what I was doing when I had my accident – is fun. Environmentally friendly. Good for your health. I still find myself staring at Bromptons with a sort of sad longing because I can no longer make use of what remains a miracle of British engineering.

But I’m living proof (well, just about) that the activity can also be dangerous on Britain’s roads. There are the blind spots for starters. The bit a driver can’t see through their wing mirrors. If, that is, they bother to look. They don’t always do that. My beaten-up body is testament to that.

Then there’s the tail swing from elongated vehicles. The Campaign for Better Transport and The Local Government Technical Advisers Group (TAG) used data collected during a partial demonstration of a new 18.55m lorry by the Department for Transport to simulate the full effects of a standard left-hand turn at a typical urban junction. It found the longer lorry had almost double the tail swing of a normal heavy goods vehicle (HGV).

Just looking at the picture of the beastly lorry in the official literature that came with the government’s announcement scared the hell out of me. It made me physically shake. It sent me back to the worst place in the world.

Longer lorries, bigger blindspot, more tail swing, greater risk to cyclists and pedestrians, more people ending up like me. Or worse. Cycling UK in September last year calculated that HGVs account for 3.4 per cent of all motor traffic mileage on Great Britain’s non-motorway roads. However, between 2015 and 2019 these vehicles were involved in 15.5 per cent of cyclist deaths and 11 per cent of pedestrian deaths.

The government insists the elongated monsters it plans to let all comers use will be safe. It says data from its trial – which has been running for the last 11 years – showed that they were involved in around 61 per cent fewer personal injury collisions than conventional lorries.

So move along, nothing to see here.

No, wait, hit the damn brakes. That statistic is from a trial involving responsible hauliers (because of course you don’t call upon the dodgy ones when these ideas are dreamed up).

But when are these lorries being made available to all comers? The people who look at ministers blathering on about legal requirements for careful route planning and chuckle before scrunching up letters from the Department of Transport and using it to make a basket in the net above the office bin?

“But boss, don’t we have to be careful with these things? I mean, that route you want me to use takes me through a couple of villages. I had a near miss last week.”

“You shut your yap and get the load delivered as quick as possible. That’s your job.”

“Yes boss. Guess the cyclists will just have to take one for the team.”

What’s more, if the economy is supposed to benefit as much as you claim, will you now reverse the 75 per cent cut to funding for cycle lanes and schemes outside of London to encourage more walking? A cut that prompted nearly 150 organisations, including both the charities mentioned above, to write to Rishi Sunak calling for a re-think when it was snuck out. No? Thought not.

There is a depressingly long list of policies that should be filed under “in need of urgent rethink”. Those longer lorries should go right to the top of it.