Leading serious injury lawyer Jill Greenfield welcomes TfL’s plans for new style HGVs which
allow ‘direct vision’ from the cab rather than relying on mirrors and monitors
Better safety courses for HGV drivers and cyclists would help to reduce serious road accidents, personal injury lawyer Jill Greenfield tells Deniz Huseyin
Cycling to work in the City of London can be treacherous, so employers should ensure staff are given appropriate training before getting in the saddle. This is the strongly held view of leading serious injury lawyer Jill Greenfield, a partner at law firm Fieldfisher.
Cyclists need bespoke training to learn how to cycle “defensively” when sharing road space with large vehicles such as HGVs and buses, she argues.
Why mirrors matter
One of the chief reasons for accidents involving cyclists is due to mirrors on HGVs being wrongly positioned or not being used properly by drivers, according to Greenfield. “Mirrors are a major factor in many accidents. There should be no blind spots if mirrors are used correctly.”
Greenfield, a personal injury lawyer who seeks compensation for her clients, thinks employers should ensure staff receive special training to reduce the risk of them being “clipped” by a large vehicle.
“Employers should make sure people who want to start cycling are properly trained,” says Greenfield. “Staff should get specific training as opposed to a standard training course to show them how to cycle in the City of London.
“Before you get on your bike in the City you need to know what you are doing. It is not the sort of thing where you wake up one morning and decide, ‘I’m going to cycle to work today’.”
She added: “People on bikes need to know how to position themselves properly, and should be made aware of the pinch points and dangerous zones. Training would show them how to get out of difficult positions.”
A cycling trainer could lead rides in the City along routes that avoid the most dangerous junctions, suggests Greenfield. “I’m sure that doing this would save lives.”
Support should also be offered to cyclists who have been involved in accidents and want to get back in the saddle. Fieldfisher has arranged for clients to take rides with a “buddy cyclist” who can offer guidance and help build up a rider’s confidence again. The defendant’s insurer would cover the cost of this training, Greenfield points out.
Rise in serious injuries
Fieldfisher has handled an increasing number of catastrophic injury cases involving cyclists in the past four years. In the past 12 months alone the firm has worked on more than 20 cases involving injuries to cyclists and pedestrians. Of these cases, 80% have involved HGVs and 10% buses.
About 70% of bike accident cases have involved female cyclists. This could be because women are more likely to stick to the rules, suggests Greenfield.
“It could be they did what they were meant to, they did not cross the white line, perhaps they weren’t as quick to pull away when the lights changed.”
She points to figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), which show that in 2014, 21,287 cyclists were injured in reported road accidents in the UK, including 3,514 who were killed or seriously hurt.
“The number of deaths may be going down. This could be due to doctors saving more people, but it also means the number of serious injuries is going up. I am seeing an increasing number of cases where the cyclist has sustained serious brain and spinal injuries as well as amputations.”
The horrific nature of some accidents involving cyclists has left an indelible mark, admits Greenfield. “Over the years I have seen too many accidents and too many gruesome pictures.
“These are shocking cases often involving left and right hook incidents. It is at the point of the HGV turning that seems to be the fundamental problem. Sometimes it is a case of the mirrors not being adjusted properly for the height of the drivers.”
‘Direct vision’ cabs
Greenfield welcomes Transport for London’s plans to improve all-round visibility on HGVs. New style HGVs allowing ‘direct vision’ from the cab, rather than relying on mirrors and monitors, would have a substantial impact on improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists, says TfL.
Under the proposals the most dangerous HGVs would be banned from London’s streets by January 2020.
Data from TfL shows that HGVs were involved in 22.5 % of pedestrian fatalities and 58% of cyclist fatalities on London’s roads in 2015, despite making up just 4% of the miles driven in the capital.
There is a pressing need for HGV drivers to go on safety awareness courses, believes Greenfield. “I think shock tactics is the only way – getting them to meet with the victims and realise that time spent on proper training can really save lives. They are driving a lethal vehicle and need to be super vigilant. Drivers need to understand how vulnerable cyclists are and how they can be clipped and dragged under an HGV in seconds.”
The remorse felt by HGV drivers involved in accidents is palpable, she says. “I have actually felt sorry for drivers – they never intended to maim or kill someone. When they realise the damage they have caused to an individual it is horrific for them. Lives are wrecked because their mirrors weren’t positioned properly or they just didn’t look.”
But, all too often, when a case reaches court the HGV drivers’ employer argues that the cyclist was partially at fault, says Greenfield. “The defendant says this even when it is clear to me that the cyclist was in no way responsible.” Greenfield points out that she has never lost a road accident case in her 24 years as a civil lawyer. “You need to analyse the case correctly and get the right expert evidence. I will go to the junction myself and look at the traffic.”
This thorough approach means that she has been able to win cases that initially failed in criminal court. She recalls how a cyclist involved in a collision with a bus was deemed to be at fault when the case was heard in criminal court. “But we then got hold of all the paperwork about the case and found that the bus had gone through a red light, so we were successful in the civil claim. ”
Jill Greenfield: ‘People on bikes need to know how to position themselves
properly, and should be made aware of the pinch points and dangerous zones’