Driver distraction is the most likely explanation for a truck driver’s failure to see a bike rider at an intersection before his truck fatally struck and killed her, the Deputy State Coroner has found.
Phone records, GPS evidence, and the evidence of the other person on the call all confirm there was a telephone call at the time of the collision, Deputy State Coroner Caitlin English reports in her findings into the death of Arzu Karakoc, 35, in Yarraville in 2017.
Mrs Karakoc, married with two daughters, was riding along the Whitehall Street shared path when she was struck by a left turning semi trailer at the corner of Sommerville Street.
Telephone records indicate that the driver, Mr Prabhjot Singh, was on an open call from 4.49pm to 5.54pm with a friend, Mr Gurjant Dhaliwal.
The GPS data confirms the time of the collision with Mrs Karakoc occurred at approximately 5.39pm.
However Mr Singh has consistently denied he was on a phone call and he also gave repeated evidence that there was no one at the intersection, and he was reluctant to acknowledge Mrs Karakoc’s death had occurred, the Deputy Coroner said.
"I have formed the view it is very likely Mr Singh was on a telephone call at the time of the collision and he was distracted,” Ms English said.
"This explains why he did not see Mrs Karakoc crossing the road, did not feel a bump, and did not stop his truck.
"The footage of the view from his cabin is clear and unobstructed and I am of the view that driver distraction is the most likely explanation for his failure to see Mrs Karakoc.”
In her findings on the circumstances of the collision the Deputy Coroner said: "I am satisfied from the evidence that Mrs Karakoc had been walking her bike up Whitehall Street towards the intersection with Somerville Road and she stopped at the red light.
"As the bike/pedestrian lights changed to green there was a short delay before she proceeded to cross the road riding her bike.
"The truck approached the green signal indicating to turn left. Both had green lights. Mr Singh continued into the intersection to turn left and failed to see Mrs Karakoc crossing the intersection, who was slowly riding her bike. The pedestrian/cyclist light began to flash red.
"Mrs Karakoc did not realise the truck was turning left and stopped about halfway into the intersection, however at that position owing to the length of the truck and trailer and the turn angle, she was collected by the trailer’s first set of rear wheels on the triple axle of the trailer and was pulled underneath as the truck as it completed the turn.
The Coroner found that as both Mrs Karakoc and Mr Singh had simultaneous green traffic signals they both entered the intersection at the same time which contributed to the collision occurring.
The traffic rules require vehicles turning left to give way to pedestrians and cyclists crossing on a pedestrian/cyclist green light.
It is not known whether the Victoria Police intend to lay charges in relation the collision.
The truck involved was an empty “skeleton’ container trailer without side underrun protection, one of an enormous fleet of such vehicles that operate to and from the Port of Melbourne. These vehicles are a risk to bike riders and pedestrians as their extremities are difficult to detect and easy to fall under.
The shared path along Whitehall is popular with riders, and many use the crossing at Sommerville Road each day. Large numbers of container trucks use this intersection every day also, and drivers would regularly be exposed to bikes at the traffic signals.
The shared path by 2024 will take another route that avoids the intersection as part of works associated with the West Gate Tunnel Project.
The Deputy Coroner took evidence on safety issues from Bicycle Network and other parties. Bicycle Network reiterated long standing concerns regarding the lack of compulsory standards for side underrun protection, mobile phone blocking technology for drivers, truck cabin visibility and driver training.
Among the Deputy Coroner’s recommendations are that the Commonwealth authorities mandate side underrun protection and blind spot technology in Australian vehicle standards.
She also recommended that state and commonwealth governments adopt tender process that give preference to transport companies that have fleets compliant with direct vision standards.
Also recommended: that consideration be given to the Federation Trail being re-directed away from Whitehall Road as a temporary measure until the completion of the crossover bridge; a review of the risks at intersections where pedestrian/bike lights can be green at the same time as lights for other traffic; driver training to raise awareness of bikes.
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