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Tragic bike death highlights risk that's being ignored

After Tuesday's tragic death in Melbourne, Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards has written about the changes needed to reduce risks in crashes with trucks.

On Tuesday, a woman was tragically killed on the corner of Punt Road and Toorak Road in Melbourne while riding her bike.

While the media focused on the ensuing traffic chaos, the bike riding community was hurting, left to lament the potentially avoidable death of another person riding a bike on our roads.

It’s often difficult to comment as the investigating authorities need to do their work thoroughly to avoid errors. This can take some time.

But what’s clear in this instance is that the young woman was killed when she was struck by a type of truck called a truck and dog that was making a left turn. It’s the type you see with a long drawbar that links the first part of the truck to the second.

This is not the first person on a bike we’ve lost in these circumstances. In July last year, we lost Yuka Kamada when she was killed by a similar truck on North Road. Clearly more needs to be done. Particularly with these dangerous trucks.

In Bicycle Network’s 20-year fatality report released in March this year we highlighted the high risk of left-turning trucks on suburban streets. We recommended that Australia catch up with Europe and require new trucks to adhere to improved safety design standards.

These include blind-spot reduction designs such as lower cabs and side underrun protection. We also recommended driver assist technologies such as brake assist and left-turn warning systems. Of course, we also recommended vulnerable road user training for all drivers.

These recommendations fell on deaf ears. While it’s not clear at this stage whether these measures would’ve saved the young woman killed yesterday, at least we’d be addressing and minimising the risk that heavy vehicles pose.

Melbourne is in the midst of a major construction boom. It’s set to increase even further once the election promises start being delivered. To cope, we need to at least immediately up the minimum safety standards for all truck and dogs operating in urban areas and consider designating the roads they should stick to.

In the meantime, we’re left with the unacceptable situation of only one course of action: warning people on bikes to be super careful around all heavy vehicles. This is what’s been done by VicRoads in its "beware of the dog" campaign. It warns riders to stay behind turning trucks.

There are two problems with that advice. First, sometimes it’s not clear to bike riders that the truck is turning left from a right-hand lane. Second, the bike rider can be in front of a truck that catches up the them then turns.

Through our Swapping Seats initiative, we’re highlighting just how poor truck driver visibility is. It’s frightening when you realise how little can be seen from the cab of a truck.

In London, after several bike riders were killed by lorries, governments acted quickly and implemented practices that drastically reduced the human tragedy. I wonder how many more Australians must die before we get moving?

This opinion piece originally appeared in The Age

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