Three quarters of large goods vehicles run by Scottish councils have not been fitted with the advanced braking system recommended after six people were killed by a Glasgow bin lorry in 2014, The Ferret can reveal.

Data obtained under freedom of information law from local authorities shows that only 600 of the 2,396 council-owned heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) have been equipped with an Advanced Emergency Braking System (AEBS) designed to prevent and limit the impact of collisions.

Only 25 of Glasgow City Council’s 250 HGVs have been fitted with AEBS.

Campaign group, Living Streets Scotland, said it was “deeply concerning” that the Glasgow bin lorry crash had “failed to trigger action” amongst councils to follow road safety recommendations. Road safety groups urged the adoption of AEBS.

The Glasgow bin lorry crash occurred on 22 December 2014 when a council-owned vehicle drove into Christmas shoppers on Queen Street in the city centre after its driver blacked out at the wheel.

Those who died included 18-year-old Erin McQuade and her grandparents Jack and Lorraine Sweeney, aged 68 and 69 respectively, all from Dumbarton. The other victims were Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh.

Scottish councils were later advised by Sheriff John Beckett QC to equip their large trucks with the AEBS “wherever it is reasonably practicable to do so” as part of a series of safety measures recommended after the fatal accident inquiry held in December 2015.

The inquiry concluded that AEBS “offers at least some prospect of reducing the harm which may be caused when control of a large vehicle is lost.” But it added that the system “would be very unlikely totally to have averted the collisions” that occurred in Glasgow.

Beckett also urged local authorities to consult manufacturers to “explore the possibility of retrofitting” HGVs with AEBS.

But councils said vehicle manufacturers had advised that many older HGVs were not compatible with AEBS or that fitting the system was not practical, affordable, or in some cases, possible.

Not one of the 152 HGVs in Dumfries and Galloway or the 25 in Shetland have been fitted with AEBS. Less than 10 per cent of the HGVs in Clackmannanshire, Midlothian, Moray and Orkney have the system.

Councils still buying HGVs without advanced braking

Despite Beckett’s advice, eight councils have continued to purchase HGVs without AEBS. They are Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, East Ayrshire, Highland, Inverclyde, Moray, Orkney and Perth.

Just nine of the 43 HGVs acquired by Perth and Kinross Council since the QC’s advice had the system. A spokesperson said this was due to the fact that “not all vehicles come from the same manufacturer”, with some not equipping HGVs with AEBS until 2017.

Of the 50 HGVs purchased by Aberdeenshire Council, 32 did not have AEBS. The council said these trucks were “exempt” due to being either “four axle or construction vehicles”.

Thirteen of the 21 large goods vehicles purchased by Moray Council were without AEBS. The council said manufacturers had advised that due to the “complex wiring” of these vehicles fitting AEBS would “invalidate” the warranty.

Eight of the 24 bin lorries procured by Highland Council lacked AEBS which, they said, was due to the fact that new replacement vehicles had been chosen before the fatal accident inquiry.

Some mostly-rural councils also said there were fewer risks of collisions due to a lack of highly pedestrianised areas.

The Scottish Greens transport spokesperson, John Finnie MSP, said it was worrying that some councils were continuing to purchase HGVs without AEBS, despite the recommendations made by Beckett.

“I understand that it may take time to implement fleet-wide, but every effort should be made to move toward this as quickly as possible,” he said.

How many council lorries have Advanced Emergency Braking Systems (AEBS)?

Local AuthorityWithout AEBSWith AEBSTotal
Scotland Total17966002396
Glasgow City22525250
Dumfries and Galloway1520152
Aberdeenshire13218150
West Lothian10022122
Moray928100
Fife9175166
East Ayrshire811899
Scottish Borders7924103
South Lanarkshire6741108
Renfrewshire631881
Aberdeen City613394
Highland5660116
Falkirk552186
Argyle and Bute542276
Stirling49958
Midlothian48452
Angus471461
East Lothian42648
North Lanarkshire412869
Dundee City371451
Perth and Kinross34943
Clackmannanshire31132
Shetland25025
North Ayrshire221436
Orkney Islands20222
West Dunbartonshire20323
East Renfrewshire18422
South Ayrshire121729
East Dunbartonshire113344
Edinburgh City84250
Inverclyde71118
Western Isles6410
Source: Scottish local authorities

Edinburgh Council’s driving safety failures

In Scotland’s four largest cities, Glasgow had the lowest proportion of AEBS-fitted HGVs (10 per cent), followed by Dundee (27 per cent) and Aberdeen (35 per cent).

In Edinburgh 84 per cent of HGVs had AEBS, the highest proportion of all 32 local authorities in Scotland. However, an internal Drivers Health and Safety and Resilience report from September 2018 highlighted serious safety breaches.

The report revealed that there was a high risk of employees and agency workers being “not legally or medically fit to drive”. An audit into the council’s resilience found other flaws that could hinder the council’s ability “to recover critical services in the event of a future major incident”.

Overall three high risk ratings were found in the safety review. One related to a failure to adequately complete the necessary pre-employment, legal and medical checks, “especially for drivers of heavy goods vehicles”, which the report said contradicted the advice given to councils during the fatal accident inquiry.

Knowledge of driving rules and safety standards were “not consistently tested as part of the selection process” while numerous checks were “often completed” after the driver had begun work.

A review of a sample of 20 HGV drivers “to establish whether driving assessments had been performed” confirmed that “no evidence could be provided to support completion of driving assessments for 12 drivers”.

The report also noted that there was “no established process to assess competence and deliver training to other existing and newly recruited vocational drivers”.

Five medium risks were also identified. They involved failures to train and assess drivers, to comply with driving hours regulations and to fully record and address driving incidents and complaints.

Edinburgh council stressed that pedestrian and cyclist safety was “of the utmost importance” and the council took measures to ensure HGVs posed “no risk” to the public.

“Our drivers are professionally trained and undergo regular checks to ensure suitability for the role and we have made significant investment since 2014, fitting many waste and cleansing vehicles with AEBS and cycle safe technology as standard,” said a council spokeswoman.

A new best practice driving policy “raises awareness of work-related driving risks and, in addition to statutory requirements for HGV drivers, also asks all new HGV drivers to provide confirmation from their GP of their fitness to drive prior to being appointed,” she added.

AEBS ‘does not pick up pedestrians or bicycles’

Falkirk Council released a note from Mercedes-Benz, its main vehicle provider, saying that “in its present form, AEBS does not pick up pedestrians or cycles”.

The vehicle manufacturer added that in the 2014 Glasgow accident, AEBS “would not have picked up the people or bicycles”. However, it specified that AEBS “will pick up large stationary objects.”

Stuart Hay, director of Living Streets Scotland, said it was “deeply concerning that Scotland’s worst incident involving multiple pedestrian deaths has failed to trigger action to prevent a repeat of the Glasgow bin crash.”

People in our town and city centres are still at risk from bin trucks operating in busy streets where people shop, work and live. Stuart Hay, Living Streets Scotland

He added: “People in our town and city centres are still at risk from bin trucks operating in busy streets where people shop, work and live. The Glasgow tragedy is far from unique in terms of a large refuse vehicle running out of control.

“Councils should be investing in safe systems which help to deliver the public inquiry recommendations to ensure streets are safe.”

Sandy Allan, road safety manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Scotland said that AEBS “is a good example of how vehicle technology is changing and can significantly reduce crashes caused by driver error.”

He added: “However, like all braking systems on a vehicle, it is safest to never get into an emergency situation where you need to use them. The best way of doing this is to ensure there is at least a two second gap between yourself and the vehicle in front, and to drive at a speed suitable for the conditions.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said the council was “implementing all of the Sheriff’s recommendations and vehicles procured since the FAI have AEBS, where possible.

“As was examined in some detail at the inquiry, it is not possible to retrofit this type of system to our existing fleet.”

Rod King, the founder of 20’s Plenty for Us which campaigns for councils to implement a 20 mph speed limit, said the responsibility for safety “is always upon the operator to ensure that every effort is made to deploy and use technology” that will prevent accidents.

He added that his group expected AEBS to be fitted as standard in large vehicles “that are routinely used in the presence and close proximity of pedestrians”.

Cover image thanks to Paul Robertson, via CC BY-ND 2.0. Photo of bin lorry thanks to Billy McCrorie licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.

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