Aside from the six lives lost in the Glasgow bin lorry accident, perhaps the saddest fact is that, according to the results of the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the tragedy, it could quite possibly have been avoided.
In the report on the five-week inquiry, released last month (December 2015), sheriff John Beckett QC placed the majority of the responsibility for the accident on driver Harry Clarke’s decision to cover up his history of blackouts.
Clarke, the report said, “repeatedly lied in order to gain and retain jobs”. This has prompted the call for a change in legislation around the communication between doctors, drivers and the DVLA when it comes to licence permissions.
The report outlined a series of recommendations to a variety of bodies, including Glasgow City Council, to avoid similar accidents in the future. But just how realistic are these suggestions, and when are we likely to see them implemented, if at all?
On a technical level, the sheriff called on Glasgow City Council to ensure all of its vehicles are fitted with Advanced Emergency Braking Systems (AEBS). This would mean any new vehicles must have the system in place while older vehicles without AEBS (including the Daf involved in the accident) should be retrofitted. While EU legislation has mandated AEBS on all new HGVs, “special purpose vehicles”, bin lorries included, are exempt from the ruling.
The system, the FAI report explained, would probably not have prevented the accident if it had been in place in 2014. “The legislative requirement is for AEBS to be able to detect a saloon car,” it said and added that “AEBS on Daf trucks will detect passenger cars, commercial vehicles, motorcycles, or any kind of object which reflects the AEBS radar beam.”
However as the report said that it is not possible to pin down the minimum size of what the vehicle would detect, it seems unlikely the pedestrians hit by the bin lorry in the accident would have triggered the system.
The report confirmed that it is indeed “difficult” for pedestrians to be detected by the system, however, “depending on the reflective quality of their clothing it may be possible for them to be detected by AEBS on Daf trucks”.
The sheriff’s recommendations are to be adhered to all the same in this instance, and a spokesman for Glasgow City Council says that the change is already under way. “As it happens, we’re in the midst of a procurement exercise for some refuse trucks at the moment and they will be fitted with the system, so that’s ongoing,” he says.
He adds, however, that retrofitting the current fleet is not as easy. “It wasn’t an option when we bought the vehicles, and the manufacturer has said it’s not possible to retrofit them.
“What we’re doing now is checking if there’s anywhere else that it could be retrofitted [by another fitter] – it’s not immediately apparent that it is but we’re just checking.”
While the sheriff’s recommendation was mostly for the “larger vehicles” owned by the council, the spokesman says the council was looking at the possibility of installing AEBS across the entire fleet.
The RHA’s director of policy for Scotland Chris Campbell says he thought the recommendation, made towards local authorities across the UK, would be well met.
“But it should be considered that emergency braking systems could also cause problems, if the vehicle locks up and skids,” he adds.