How the UK motoring public can avoid becoming a sideswipe statistic

Posted by Barry Culshaw on
M consulted Blake Morgan's Motoring Offences Team as he was facing proceedings in Colchester Magistrates' Court alleging a count of careless driving. A collision had occurred on the Ipswich bound dual carriageway on the A12. M, a Slovakian citizen, was driving a Czech Republic registered articulated goods vehicle. The vehicle was left hand drive. The vehicle combination was in collision with a Nissan Micra motor car which was driving along the same carriageway in the offside lane. M's vehicle combination had been in the near side lane but in attempting to overtake a slow moving vehicle M had pulled to the offside in anticipation of carrying out the overtaking manoeuvre. Unfortunately, this resulted in a collision. The Nissan Micra ended upside down on its roof. Two occupants of the Micra required medical attention from ambulance staff. M was required to pay a graduated roadside deposit of £500 and subsequently received a summons returnable before Colchester Magistrates' Court. The proceedings were brought by Essex Police.

Barry Culshaw, a Consultant and Road Traffic Specialist with the Motoring Offences Team dealt with the case throughout. Pursuant to Barry's advice a guilty plea was tendered but a detailed letter of mitigation was lodged with the court for sentencing purposes.

M accepted that he was at fault for the accident but the letter of mitigation emphasised the very difficult circumstances that M was operating under when seeking to carry out the overtaking manoeuvre. A collision of this nature is commonly known in the haulage industry as a "sideswipe". A sideswipe arises when a collision occurs between a large goods vehicle and a smaller vehicle when the driver of the former is seeking to change lanes on a multi carriageway road. The vast majority of sideswipes occur on dual carriageways and motorways. Foreign drivers such as M when driving left hand drive heavy goods vehicles (particularly large articulated goods vehicles), are operating under a significant disadvantage when seeking to change lane. The problem posed to the foreign driver arises by virtue of a considerable blind spot that extends from just in front of the first wheel of the trailer and slightly forward of the right hand side front of the tractor unit (the cab). Sideswipe collisions, as in the current case, principally comprise the front right side of the cab of a large goods vehicle colliding with the rear left hand side of the car causing the car driver to lose control. Until the collision occurs in a case of this nature very often the car driver in lane two and the lorry driver in lane one are essentially unaware of the presence of each other.

The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency ("VOSA" as then was – now known as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) in 2006 undertook an initiative of issuing foreign drivers of left hand drive goods vehicles with Fresnel lenses on entry into the UK. The VOSA research revealed that the issue of Fresnel lenses accounted for a dramatic reduction in sideswipes by up to 64%. Essentially, the lens tends to eradicate the problem of the blind spot to a significant extent. Prior to the VOSA initiative and during the survey there was found to be approximately one sideswipe incident every two days in Kent alone.

M is 57 years of age and a very experienced heavy goods vehicle driver. He had been driving heavy goods vehicles for approximately 35 years and travelled approximately 150,000 kilometres per year. He had extensive experience of driving in the UK in left hand drive heavy goods vehicles. His experience in that regard extended over approximately 11 years. M's tractor unit was fitted with traditional mirrors on both sides but perhaps significantly the tractor unit was not equipped with a Fresnel lens which would normally be located on the interior of the right hand window of the cab. Most mirror configurations alone would appear to be ineffective in reducing the blind spot to a significant extent. It is perhaps surprising, given the extent of the problem, that legislation has not been passed by the EU or domestically for Fresnel lenses to be made compulsory for left hand drive heavy goods vehicles in the UK. Although M was an employed driver and not an owner operator of the vehicle Barry did give a cautionary word of advice that it would a proactive step in the future to ensure that a Fresnel lens is installed in the cab of M's tractor unit.

When M sought to carry out the overtaking manoeuvre he was acutely aware of the significant blind spot to the right side of his cab. M was also aware that he had to exercise particular caution when seeking to change lanes. As a matter of practicality, heavy goods vehicle drivers of left hand drive goods vehicles taking account of the blind spot have to indicate an intention to change lane normally for a minimum of some 15 seconds coupled with constant use of the mirrors fitted to the cab. M was adamant that he did operate his offside indicators for at least 30 seconds indicating an intention to move from the nearside to the offside lane. M did observe when using the right mirror that a blue motor vehicle behind him had slowed down to enable him to overtake the motor vehicle in front. After further use of the mirrors and continued indication to move to the offside M slowly sought to carry out the overtaking manoeuvre. He was then shocked when the collision occurred as it was evident that the vehicle that M collided with must have been "hovering" to the side of the cab of the tractor unit for a lengthy period of time without heeding the indicators.

Unfortunately, many UK car drivers unwittingly place themselves in danger of becoming a sideswipe statistic. There is no help in the current Highway Code as to how to address the issue and there would appear to be a growing clamour for guidance to be given when the Code is next redrafted.

M had an unblemished record prior to this incident. The magistrates when sentencing exercised significant leniency despite the seriousness of the accident. A fine of £400 was imposed together with payment of the victim's surcharge of £40 and a contribution to prosecution costs of £60. This meant that the financial liability coincided with the amount of the roadside deposit which will be utilised in settlement of the liability to the court. It is perhaps significant that the magistrates saw fit to impose only the minimum amount of points, namely three by way of endorsement. The court did have a discretion to impose between three and nine penalty points or a discretionary period of disqualification for an incident of careless driving. The fact that the minimum amount of penalty points were endorsed is a reflection of the sentencing court having evidently taken on board the very difficult circumstances that M was operating under when trying to complete the overtaking manoeuvre.

Barry would wish to impress upon the UK motoring public that there are ways of avoiding becoming a sideswipe statistic. The motorist should give consideration to the following practical suggestions:

  1. Make yourself aware of when you are about to overtake a left hand drive goods vehicle. A clue is the registration plate. If it is foreign registered it is likely to be a left hand drive vehicle.
  2. Avoid "hovering" in the lane alongside such vehicles for any length of time.
  3. If you are approaching such a vehicle in an overtaking manoeuvre and the vehicle's offside indicators are on do not assume that they have been left on and / or that the driver can see you. The driver by the indication may be effectively saying "I need to change lane and I can't see anything alongside my cab. I need some help".
  4. Always consider giving such vehicles the middle lane to move into by moving into the third lane if available and providing road conditions permit. If you have to overtake using lane two do so without delay and with caution.
  5. If during an overtaking manoeuvre you see such a vehicle indicating to move to the offside and if you cannot facilitate room for the vehicle to move into lane two, immediately sound your horn to alert the foreign driver of your presence and get out of the "danger" area as soon as is reasonably possible.
  6. Always monitor the mirrors of the heavy goods vehicle when approaching such a vehicle with a view to overtaking. If you as the motorist cannot see the driver of the left hand drive heavy goods vehicle it surely must follow that the heavy goods vehicle driver cannot see you.

With appropriate awareness, anticipation and observation skills the UK motoring public can assist the foreign heavy goods vehicle driver when the latter is seeking to carry out a change of lane manoeuvre.

About the Author

Barry Specialises in road transport law within our Driver Defence team. He represents clients facing allegations of careless/dangerous driving, driving with excess alcohol and speeding.

Barry Culshaw
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023 8085 7209

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