Urban drivers of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are all-too-often berated by other road users. 

The standard response: that large vehicles have handling characteristics not always understood by other road users; that HGV drivers’ visibility is restricted and that the best way of preventing accidents is for everyone else to maintain a safe distance, is fair enough. But it cuts both ways. 

Cyclists complain that trucks (and cars) pass far too closely and are often heard to urge drivers to pay more attention to their mirrors, but such advice, from both sides of the divide, is not always heeded. The consequences can be fatal, especially in London, UK, where 16 cyclists were killed in 2011. 

In an attempt to tackle this, the city’s transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), is promoting a bicycle riding course for lorry drivers which fits in with the country’s new HGV driver training regime. 

From 2014, British HGV drivers must have completed training modules on a range of topics amounting to 35 hours of training every five years in order to retain their certification to drive commercially. 

To get a feel for this approach, our Editor Mike Weir – a reformed truck driver – recently donned his cycling shorts and joined nine other drivers at a Southwark Council depot in South London. 

The practical training involves a short spell in a car park followed by an instructor-led ride around some sleepy neighbourhoods where basics such as tackling junctions, signalling and looking over your shoulder are taught from scratch.

The course culminates in a cycle around the famously congested Elephant and Castle – an intimidating prospect to begin with but one which most of the participants actually seemed to relish.

After a morning on the road, the group took to the classroom for a lesson in safe urban driving delivered by the Middlesex-based Skills Training Centre. 

Cycling instructor Helen French explains: “We talk about what it’s like on the road for cyclists and why cyclists have certain road positioning. 

“It’s good to then do it on the road and it’s good that lorry drivers are taking part. 

“You saw the drivers’ attitudes today. The ‘bloody cyclist’ attitude was oozing out of them to start with but they’re all lovely guys once you get through that and a lot of them found it useful. 

“It’s also worth it because a lot of people who might have cycled in the past and are now only used to sitting in their box, might come back to cycling.” 

Safety aside, the course offers a taste of a different mode of transport to a group of drivers who, in the main, had not sat on a bicycle for many years.

It also gave them a chance to experience the good-natured ‘encouragement’ offered by many of their outdoor-based Southwark Council colleagues who the participants rode past during the day. 

TfL’s effort to cut cyclist casualties is a fine way of improving truck drivers’ awareness of cyclists, not to mention their confidence in handling bicycles on the road. Some of the participants suggested that maybe more cyclists should do the course. 

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