02 March 2012

Danish Truckers Union - It's the Cyclists' Fault

Related photo from Norway in this article Fortunately, no one was killed here

Denmark and the Netherlands are the safest places on the planet to ride bicycles. Full stop. Unfortunately, cyclist - and pedestrian - lives are lost in collisions with motorists despite best and largely successful efforts to reduce loss of life. A few days ago another life was lost when a truck driver wasn't paying attention when turning right.

This time it was a six year old boy on his way to school with his 12 year old sister. The truck driver was turning right and the children were heading straight on, on a cycle track. The truck driver hit and killed the boy, crushing him under the front wheels.

The truck driver didn't check his mirrors and didn't see them. He said that he was watching a moped coming up in the distance from behind and didn't look to see if there were any cyclists next to him.

I don't need to elaborate on how tragic this is. We can call figure that out and reflect on it personally.

The Danish Cyclists Federation (DCF) were quick to react and call for laws requiring truck drivers to bring their vehicles to a full stop before turning right. (Link in Danish) Back in 2007, the Traffic Safety Commission called for mandatory stopping for truck drivers turning right but there has been no law passed. One of the coalition government parties, Social Democrats, supported the DCF's call for more action to prevent right-turn deaths. (Link in Danish)
Hard and Soft
Three cyclists have been killed in right-turn incidents this year. Two of them six year old boys.

What is absolutely disgusting is the reaction from the Union of Free Danish Truck Drivers (Forbundet for Frie Danske Lastbilvognmænd (FDL)). Just when you thought you've seen and heard it all, you read that they are "furious" about the DCF's and Social Democrats' comments.

Here is a translation from an aricle on Danish Broadcasting's website:

The Union for Free Danish Truck Drivers (FDL) are furious about statements made by the Danish Cyclists' Federation after the tragic accident in Nakskov Tuesday morning, where a six year old boy was killed by a truck turning right. (Ed: It wasn't an accident and the boy was killed by a truck DRIVER, not a truck)

The DCF demands that trucks come to a full stop before turning right.

"The FDL would once again like to remind the DCF that trucks don't drive around cities for fun and that very few truck drivers like driving in city traffic, not least because of the many dangerous situations that occur in connection with the heatedly-discussed right turns", says the editor of the trucker union's newsletter, Peter Skjøth, in a press release.

According to the FDL, the cyclist federation should look inwards because it is - according to the truckers - cyclists who ride dangerously and are the greatest sinners.

"We shouldn't consider the latest accident, but merely note that in only a few right-turn accidents can the driver be blamed. There are many examples of cyclists suddenly appearing out of the blind spots and taking the chance to continue straight on, even though they can see that the truck driver has begun a right turn", says Peter Skjødth.

He underlines that FDL is not seeking to remove itself from the responsibility that every driver of a motor vehicle has. But traffic safety can only be improved when all traffic users make an effort.

The Social Democrats are also under fire.
On Tuesday, the traffic spokesman, Rasmus Prehn, sendt a declaration of support to the Cyclists Federation.

"Perhaps Rasmus Prehn and a large group of his colleagues in the transport and justice committees should spend some days in trucks and on sidewalks to follow the thousands of irresponsible cyklists who day after day create dangerous situations."

"It is trafic when a person dies in the traffic and it is extra powerful when it is a six year old boy like last Tuesday, but it is completely insane that the boy's trafic death is used as ammunition against those who bring goods out to the shelves", says the Union of Free Danish Truck Drivers.

I finished translating that and I've been sitting here staring at the computer. Not quite sure how to continue. The statements are so shocking, so completely devoid of facts that it seems unreal. In a way, Peter Skjødth has done an excellent job in exposing his - and the union's - callous indifference about the death of a boy under the wheels of one of their truck.

This is one of the many situations where the use of the word 'accident' seems so wrong. The truck driver killed a boy because he didn't pay attention. It's situations like these when you wonder why this isn't considered murder. The police have said that the driver may be charged with involuntary manslaughter - which can result in up to four months of prison - up to 8 years in extreme circumstances. Is that enough? Should the truck driver be allowed to continue working?

The Union of Free Danish Truck Drivers (slogan on their website: Real Danish truckers choose FDL) don't seem very concerned about killing children. On the front page of their website they list their key issues:

- Fighting cabotage scams
- Fighting bankruptcy scams (okay, "konkurs-rytteri" in Danish, whatever that is, but I'm quite sure it doesn't involve saving lives)
- Failure to apply customer help-responsibility- Failure to investigate illegal activities
- Unreasonably large fines for minor offenses
- Tachograf problems

The truckers' union doesn't seem to be very concerned about saving lives and working towards more and better mirrors for their trucks, tech solutions to avoid their drivers killing and injuring people on the streets or anything that means much to society at large.

There is nothing on their website about a desire to reduce truck traffic in cities by working with modern solutions like depots outside built-up areas and smaller vechicles delivering the last few kilometres. I'm going out on a limb and assuming that the Truckers' Union are ignorant about what is happening in cities around the world. Even the City of Copenhagen is working on a City Logistics project that will keep the trucks out of our city.

Isn't this an appropriate time to mention the groundswell of public protest in the Netherlands in the 1970s against Child Murder on the streets? Stop Kindermoord - Stop Child Murder - was a massive campaign to raise awareness about the slaughter of citizens - cyclists and pedestrians alike - by motor vehicle drivers, including truck drivers.

Two six year old boys have been killed by trucks this year and here in my neighbourhood late last year, a ten year old girl was killed by a motorist. We're certainly not at the levels of deaths we were at in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Denmark or the Netherlands but we still haven't been able to control the rampage of automobile traffic and, not least, trucks turning right.

The Truckers' Union - and everyone else who can read Danish - should be forced to read this letter from a mother who lost her daughter to a car driver's inattention. To You, Who Killed My Child. The truck driver who killed the boy should be given a copy to read each day in his jail cell.

The arrogant indifference exhibited by the Truckers' Union should be a warning to us all that our car-centricity is out of control. Their statement should be be the catalyst for a societal paradigm shift in Denmark for a return to not only safe streets and cities but the BURNING DESIRE in the population for safe streets and cities - not to mention clear and determined action from our politicians.


Anonymous said...

I'll bet a month's pay there are fewer 6 year old kids riding bikes on the streets between midnight and 5am than there are during school commuting hours. Why not a curfew banning deliveries during hours when cycling is highest?

Kim said...

Apparently the motorist just see this as collateral damage and it is some how acceptable, why do we put up with this??

The Truckers' Union behavior is rather reminiscent of the attitude of the NRA.

Peter said...

It's basically a strategy copied from our NRA (USA) -- whenever a bunch of schoolchildren get blasted, it's time to go on the offensive -- the best defense is a good offense. It works here, but we're a corrupt outlaw state, so...

Ryan said...

To a lesser extent there are issues between cycling groups and truckers in Canada.

Last year after a cyclist was killed in Toronto by a right-turning truck, calls for side guards went into full gear from cycling groups and the NDP.

Cost of installing them was the main reason cited by trucking groups as to why they shouldn't have to do.
Conservative talking heads likewise said for the few people it would save each year, they are not worth. Yep, the savings for truckers is worth more then a persons life.

Needless to say, our 'big-oil' run government didn't even look at the idea, shooting it down right away.

Erik Sandblom said...

Unbelievable comments from the Lastbilvognmænd.

On to a technical question, wouldn't the blind angles be smaller if the driver sat in the middle of the cab, instead of to the left? And it seems reasonable to me that they should be sitting way lower, at the same level as car drivers and bus drivers.

Christian said...

@Erik: Yes, for instance swedish garbage collector Liselott Lööf uses a truck designed for city-usage:


It has a much lower driver cabin than most ordinary trucks (picture on the above link).

ibikelondon said...

By saying that cycling groups should regulate their behaviour the truck driver's union is missing the point: how do you regulate the behaviour of a 6 year old and a 12 year old cycling in a space which they perceive to be safe which is then encroached upon by a truck? I can't believe they'd come up with those kind of comments after a child has died, it is just shocking.

Sadly, (and maybe the aim of the Union, who knows?) the result of that kind of talk will not be more mirrors and sensors fitted to trucks, but fewer parents allowing their children to cycle. Just really, really sad.

Dave Krentz said...

Words like "accident", when it was a collision. Blaming the "truck" and not the driver. Reminding us that truck drivers "bring goods out to the shelves". It's too common to see language used like this, to distance the actor from the act. And tragic that society is so quick to accept that.

TroelsJ said...

As a daily cyclist in Copenhagen, I think most of the comments here are hogwash. Trucks have huge blind spots, and you need to be careful around them. I don't think truck drivers are reckless, and in my experience they are very good at checking for bikes before they turn.

I think the most obvious solution would be to mandate a huge sticker on the back of the truck, warning about where the blind spots are.

Mikael Colville-Andersen said...

There have been campaigns in Copenhagen, Troels. Stickers, too. You name it. The fact of the matter is that trucks this size don't belong in densely-populated areas. Dublin banned big trucks from their city centre and many, many other cities have implemented similar measures. 25 cyclists have died in Denmark between 2006-2010 because of right hooks. The majority were trucks. Many countries are taking the issue seriously and placing the responsibility where it belongs - on the heavier vehicle. In order to save lives.

BG said...

It's kind of amazing that nobody has made the obvious comment yet, but I won't be the one to do it...

Michel from Norway said...

You 're right Mikael, reaction from Danish Truckers Union is disgusting, without no respect for
the family, they have missed a child!
looks like profit again, means more than a child live! Shocking!

Danish government cannot ignored that they have been signing the Parma convention in 2010 and which is about "protecting children's health in a changing environment"
Parma convention says also that "We aim to provide each child by 2020 with access to healthy and safe environments and settings of daily life in which they can walk and cycle to kindergartens and schools, and to green spaces in which to play and undertake physical activity. In so doing, we intend to prevent injuries by
implementing effective measures and promoting product safety"

That 's about fundamental rights, children's right to mobility.

More, it 's also about the global rights of children to embrace and integrate cycling in their daily life.

Tusen takk for du bryr deg!

Christian said...

The fact is that the size of the truck is a result of a purely economic consideration. Bigger trucks carry heavier loads and costs less compared to requring more vehicles and drivers.

There is nothing stopping the haulage contractors from using vehicles better suited for city usage.

l' homme au velo said...

In Dublin and Ireland most of the Accidents involving Cyclists down through the years have been caused by big Trucks mostly at Junctions in our case Trucks turning left.

There have been very few in Dublin since they brought in the HGV or big Truck ban. Unfortunately there was one about two weeks ago involving a 13mtre or 40ft Articulated Truck and a woman Cyclist who was very badly hurt but this was beyond the City past the Airport at Cloghran.

We still get a couple of Heavy Trucks with permit coming into the City Centre and they struggle trying to turn up our narrow streets which was not built for them. I think it is a very good idea if that law is passed that they must stop before attempting any turn plus anything else that will improve safety like big mirrors and beepers when turning.

Kelly said...

It's not like the drivers need to physically wrestle their rigs to a stop before making the right turn. All they need do is press down on a pedal. The overreaction by the truckers' union completely ignores this point - that no, it's NOT asking too much to have the drivers press that pedal all the way down before making that turn.

amoeba said...

The Danish Truckers Union are doing what the powerful do when they have no valid argument - blame the victim.

There is no excuse for drivers who kill vulnerable road users [VRUs]. It should be a life driving ban and large fine and probably a term of imprisonment.

Plus ban large vehicles from roads where there are pedestrians and cyclists.
Separate facilities for VRUs where these large vehicles are allowed.

It isn't difficult.

Shelly said...

This is a universal problem. Big trucks vs the rest of us. I am a retired "big" truck driver, having driven through out the U.S. & Canada. Also, I have over 3,000,000 safe miles.

With that being said. Ii am appalled by the Danish Truckers' Union. How callous can they be? It is true Big trucks have blind spots. It is up to the driver to set his mirrors or add additional mirrors to help him see to his/her best ability. If the driver is conscientious he will take these matters into his own hands and not rely on a union to tell him/her to do so.

It only makes sense even economically by adding jobs...Stop the Big trucks at the out skirts of the cities & have smaller better suited vehicles make the deliveries in the cities. Most Big trucks have multiple stops/deliveries on each load.

John S. Allen said...

"The truck driver didn't check his mirrors and didn't see them. He said that he was watching a moped coming up in the distance from behind and didn't look to see if there were any cyclists next to him."

How did the trucker see the moped coming up from behind if he wasn't checking his mirrors? The child was run over by the truck's front wheel and therefore was probably directly under the right-side mirror and out of its view just before the collision.

The trucker's preventing the collision would have depended on seeing the child earlier, but
humans are unable to see clearly in more than one direction at a time. Having to shift attention among the view ahead and several mirrors raises the likelihood of mistakes. Placing a bikeway to the right of right-turning traffic makes such mistakes likely, especially for children who do not yet understand how to avoid the risk.

Tallycyclist said...

I personally like the intersections where the right-turn signal for cars is separated from the green for cyclists. Not everyone likes this concept and it makes waiting times longer, but that's one compromise for safety if no change is made to the infrastructure itself. From what I've read and seen about Dutch infrastructure and intersection design, theirs appears to be much more forgiving for cyclists in the event that a motorist decides not to wait before turning right. And I read that the separation between right-turning cars and cyclists is also common there.

I think the design (intersections esp.) will make a big difference in safety for all road users. Whether cyclists have to share the road, ride on a bike lane, or use a cycle track, if the intersection is not well designed/marked, then it's asking for accidents. Having used the Danish bike infrastructure, I can say that it feels very safe and stress-free. And most motorist do watch out for cyclists. But as I said above the design is less forgiving if a motorist decides not to wait before turning than the Dutch one.

BC said...

ditto what Tallycyclist said. Dutch style intersection would have likely prevented this tragedy.

Mikael Colville-Andersen said...

Not every intersection in the Netherlands is designed like this. Many are, in Denmark as well, but not all.