The Direct Vision Standard has its supporters and its detractors, but it is coming, and operators had better take note, whether they operate in London or not, says Phil Clifford.

There has been a lot of discussion about the forthcoming Direct Vision Standard for HGVs. This is a London-centric standard, and one that has both its critics and its supporters, and the final introduction of the scheme in the capital is anticipated to occur from October 2020. 

The scheme aims to improve the safety of all road users, particularly vulnerable road users like pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. A star system will rate heavy goods vehicles exceeding 12 tonnes from zero stars (for the lowest) to five stars (for the highest). These ratings recognise how much or how little the driver of the truck can see directly through their cab windows as opposed to indirectly using mirrors or camera systems.

Why is this necessary? According to Transport for London, in 2016 23% of pedestrian and 50% of cyclist deaths involved an HGV, and this is in spite of the fact that HGVs account for only 4% of road miles in London. The Freight Transport Association, one of Britain's largest trade associations, fully supports the Mayor of London's Zero Vision approach to road danger reduction but argues that, in respect of DVS, vehicle design standards should not be set at a local level. Instead, the association argues that setting design standards is something that should happen at national government or European level.

The problem stems from the fact that most HGV cabs are high from the ground and the visibility of vulnerable road users who may be in close proximity to the vehicle is therefore compromised. There is an excellent short video available on YouTube, produced by TfL, which illustrates the problem.

There are many excellent technical solutions on the market that endeavour to minimise the risks. These include camera systems to eliminate blind spots, 'warning of intended manoeuvre' systems, which include decals and illuminated warning lights as well as audible warnings, and systems to minimise the impact of hazards such as side under-run protection. However true 'direct vision' is not common in modern truck design.

What is probably not so well known at the moment, however, is that there is a range of trucks that do deliver a high level of direct vision ' namely the low-entry municipal cab as used by many local authorities as a platform for their refuse collection vehicles.

Dennis Eagle, a manufacturer of such low-entry cab vehicles, recently invited operators to attend a Ride and Drive day at the Millbrook Proving Ground near Bedford. A range of production vehicles, all based on the Dennis Eagle Elite 6 chassis, were available on the day for operators to see and test out.

Based in Warwick, Dennis Eagle has successfully adapted its low-entry cab design to suit several different urban delivery solutions, and these were made available for the Ride and Drive event. Among the vehicles on show were an 8x4 mid-steer, 32-tonne urban tipper; a 6x2, 26-tonne refuse collection vehicle; a 4x2, 18-tonne skip loader; an 18-tonne, 4x2 urban distribution vehicle featuring a Gray Adams-built refrigerated body with side and rear tail-lifts; and a 44-tonne urban articulated combination. 

All the vehicles were powered by Euro VI Volvo engines and fitted with the Allison MD3000 six-speed automatic gearbox with an integrated retarder. Other safety devices were fitted to the vehicles such as 'blocked in' side-guards, CCTV camera systems, and ISS side guard Cyclear systems.

Another major advantage of the low-entry cabs is that the driver can walk through the cab and exit the vehicle on the near side well away from the traffic.

Before the event got underway it was clear that the vehicles lined up to try were perceived by some to be no more than modified refuse trucks. However, after having the opportunity to take the vehicles around the famous Millbrook circuit, most were pleasantly surprised by what they found.

The day went well, the sun shone, and the operators and drivers thoroughly enjoyed their experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I chose the refuse truck for my first test drive, as I have many years of experience with such vehicles. I then graduated to truck types that I wasn't familiar with and was surprised by how responsive and easy to drive they were.

My final test was in the 44-tonne Artic, a type of vehicle I have not driven for many years. The combination of high visibility, responsive power, and ease of control through the Allison transmission made it an interesting and enjoyable experience ' all the more so because of the high volume of construction work going on at Millbrook on the day. The difficulty of some of the turnings was increased by the presence of construction equipment and Heras fencing lining the route. Though unplanned, these restrictions helped to emphasise the need for good all-round vision. As far as I know, no one clipped any of the Heras fencing, even in the Artic.

Over lunch and during the afternoon, operators' conversations became more positive and thoughts turned towards practical applications of the designs in existing fleets.

Of course, there is a premium to pay for low-entry cab vehicles, but given the prospect that trucks that do not meet the required DVS standard will eventually be banned from entering London, that may well be a price worth paying. Some of the assembled operators stated that they didn't go into London so there wasn't a problem, but it was pointed out to them that, like the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), or the Construction Logistics and Community Safety standard (CLOCS), it doesn't take long before other cities and towns start looking at what is going on in the capital and begin applying the same standards elsewhere. Today London, tomorrow the rest of the country?

I have heard people ask whether it is really necessary to go to the lengths of full-height glass, air-operated, bus-type doors. Well, all the vehicles on show on the day are also available with a conventional slam door to the near side. Visibility to the left will not be as good, although it is still better than most mainstream trucks available today.

The families of victims will tell you that something needs to be done to reduce injuries and deaths from HGV-vulnerable road user collisions. And they are not the only ones to feel this way. There was an incident a few years ago involving an operator (outside London) using a truck with a conventional slam door. A passenger exited the vehicle on the near side but was slow to walk away from the truck. The driver couldn't see him, pulled forward and drove over his foot.  After months of surgery and recuperation, the passenger was able to return to work, and the operator reviewed its risk assessment for this type of operation. Given that a vehicle with a glass near-side door is available, it would be ludicrous, in light of that incident, for any operator not to take up that option.

Whether or not you agree that low-entry, high direct-vision cabs are necessary, Dennis Eagle, part of the Terberg Ros Roca organisation, is to be applauded for developing solutions that are available now, and which directly answer the call from the Mayor of London to design vehicles that resolve the issue of direct vision.