Wheels within wheels getting message across

Falkirk Bike Club and Asda drivers met to discuss safety
Falkirk Bike Club and Asda drivers met to discuss safety

On a busy day, over 150 loaded HGVs can leave Asda’s Falkirk depot to make deliveries to supermarkets across the country.

The Asda lorry is a familiar sight on our roads, just as common a sight as the growing number of cyclists.

But it seems that these two everyday features are very much aware of each other, not to mention the difference in their sizes - 38 tonnes of machinery versus 10 stone of fragile skin and bone.

And it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that when these two road users collide, the results can be fatal.

One of the greatest risks to cyclists is travelling alongside a much bulkier vehicle and ending up completely out of the driver’s view, hidden in a dangerous blind spot.

But improvements in safety are being made all the time, and, here in Falkirk, the lorry driving team at Asda is going that extra mile to prevent accidents with devastating consequences.

All 156 drivers are committed to a new standard of road safety, and some have been working with schools and the local cycling club to spread the word.

Alan Brown, transport operations manager at Asda Falkirk, said: “We are not doing this in response to accidents, we’re being pro-active to keep accident-free.”

In 2009, it became a legal requirement for HGV drivers to gain a competence qualification in road safety.

The seven-hour module looks at different aspects of road safety from changing streetscapes to the dangers facing vulnerable road users such as cyclists and children.

But far from resting on their laurels, the local driving corps are going beyond the basic requirements.

Alan said: “When we were doing the training, the reaction we got was, ‘well this is great from a drivers’ perspective, but we want to take it into the community’.

“We wanted to focus on two areas - education through school visits and involvement with the local cycling club, in our case that was Falkirk Bike Club.”

Recently, and in their own time, bosses and drivers spent time with cyclists and have also reached out to children in the local schools.

They have had productive sessions with Falkirk Bike Club and Larbert Village Primary School and the drivers now intend to visit every school in the Falkirk Council area over the next two years.

With the bike club, the team changed the old adage of walking a mile in another man’s shoes to asking cyclists to sit in the chair of an artic cab.

Alan added: “It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to sit in the cab of an HGV.

“For the cyclists, the key thing for them was to see what it was really like inside the cab.

“The reality is that, as with any articulated vehicle, not to go up the inside and to stay in the driver’s view at the rear of the vehicle.

“With the schools, we don’t think there’s a child who doesn’t have a bike these days.

“With the expansion of the Helix Park, more and more kids are getting on their bike, so they have to be aware of safety.”

John Mitchell from Falkirk has been an HGV driver for Asda for the past 22 years, and says he is completely behind the direction his colleagues are taking on road safety.

He said: “The training makes the driver aware of the dangers facing drivers and road users.

“But the fact that Asda is taking it into the schools makes a difference.

“Children don’t know how lorries move or how they go round corners.

“For the drivers, it really does highlight the dangers.”

Falkirk Bike Club agrees.

Over 40 members of the club who turned out to the Asda safety event found the experience a real eye-opener.

It’s one of the first public events the club has taken part in, but now it hopes to do more.

Stephen Dickson, club secretary, said: “Sitting in the cab of an HGV was quite a surprise.

“I think it was a reality check for quite a few people.

“One minute you can see your friend cycling and then you don’t see them at all and for more time then you think.

“You realise that it doesn’t matter if they are wearing a bright yellow jersey, they’re still in the blind spot.

“It was a great event for reinforcing safety first.”

With more than 120 members - a possible result of the Mark Cavendish/Bradley Wiggins effect - the club is testament to the growth in cycling’s popularity.

It’s one of the largest clubs in the central belt and it is determined to set its own standard of etiquette and mutual respect.

Stephen said: “Five years ago, we had about 40 members, this month we have 120.

“We’re hoping that we’re going to have a tipping point in the community soon where everyone either knows a member of the club or is the friend of a friend of a member.

“We think this will really enforce the messages you see like ‘Think Bike, Think Cyclist’ to consider the cyclists as a person.

“We want to be the safest and most courteous club on the road, so when people see our distinctive blue and white checked jerseys, they will know our cyclists have been well trained.”

The team at Asda also wants to take its initiative further.

They are interested in reaching out to other groups and organisations which might benefit from learning about the latest safety guidelines for drivers.

Mr Dickson said: “I would like to see more organisations being responsible like Asda.

“We want it to be about road sharing - both cyclists and drivers have to be the best they can be.”