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Vehicle Design Students Re-think Truck Safety for City Cyclists

As Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announces a rating system that will ban HGV vehicles with the worst driver visibility from capital’s roads by 2020, we look at Vehicle Design MA students' proposals for safer trucks for cyclists, exhibited at the Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC, Birmingham, and at the Transport Museum in Covent Garden..

In greater London over half-a-million cycle journeys are made every day, therefore the safety of road users, in particular cyclists, is a growing priority. In 2013 there were 23,066 recorded road accidents involving death or injury. Over half of cycle accidents involved heavy goods vehicles, which account for only 4 per cent of the city’s traffic. 

In 2023, stringent legal requirements for trucks will change, allowing for bigger cabs and longer bodies. Clive Birch, who was project manager for the brief, explained: ‘This is an opportunity to rethink the truck, how it is seen, and how it could be safer, in the context of its role, impact, perception, and integration with other road users.’

The students’ designs were influenced by a brief they completed at the College at the beginning of the year. Vehicle Design and Service Design students were challenged with the task of redesigning the truck, with cycle and pedestrian safety in mind. The project culminated in an internal competition, and students were also encouraged to enter the Future Truck Design Awards.

Working in teams, the students were asked to consider current truck design, looking at the comfort, convenience and connectivity of the driver, and his or her relationship to the road. They were required to analyse truck use and behaviour relative to other road users, with a particular focus on the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Students were encouraged to consider the importance of perception and visibility, creating proposals with vital sight lines embedded into designs rather than relying on additional mirrors or cameras.

Discussing the brief and competition, Dean of the School of Design Professor Dale Harrow stated: ‘any strong Vehicle Design programme must address issues like these, face up to problems of sustainability, accessibility and universal mobility, even while continuing to attract students from across the world who just want to design beautiful cars.’

During the briefing students received input from various industry experts. Hannah White, Freight and Fleet Project Manager at Transport for London (TfL), gave a presentation on road users at risk and Police Sergeant Simon Castle, from the Roads and Transport Policing Command at the Metropolitan Police, discussed road safety. Cemex trucks visited the College to allow students to physically experience what it is like to drive a truck and Nick Blake, Head of Engineering for Mercedes-Benz discussed approaches to truck design and improving safety. The students were also asked to consider the architecture of the street and systems through which road traffic is controlled, creating designs specifically for the inner city context. Brian Deegan, Principal Technical Planner at TfL offered insight into the planning of streets with cycle safety in mind.

Sam Philpott and Kalle Keituri’s design, which won the Safety Feature Innovation category, creates direct vision between the driver and vulnerable road users. This is achieved by removing the left-hand side of the truck behind the driver’s cabin, eliminating the blindspot all the way to the rear wheels. They also designed a driver’s pod that rotates when cornering; ensuring the driver's head never has to turn more than 90 degrees for maximum visibility.

Discussing the brief, Sam said: ‘As a design project, it was a great experience – it was really interesting to research and completely re-design a vehicle that has been historically paid little attention to by other road users – we really wanted our project to have a universal appeal on the street. We both come from different backgrounds so it was also great to collaborate and find out each other’s strengths and work to them.  Finally, it was rewarding to work on a project and come up with a solution that was so relevant in our day-to-day lives; cyclist and pedestrian safety in London.’

Po Yuan Huang and Jing Tian Li were announced winners of the Whole Vehicle category at the inaugural Future Truck Design Awards, winning £1,000 and a week’s work experience at the Mercedes-Benz Trucks Special Projects Design Studio in Würth, Germany. Sam Philpott and Kalle Keituri won the Safety Feature Innovation category and Frederik Vanden Borre received judges commendation for his System of Operation design.