Mercedes Econic urban truck shows how good design can save lives

Truck with cyclist in London
© Mercedes Econic

Trucks wouldn't kill so many people if the drivers could actually see what is in front and around them.

One of the reasons that I prefer wood construction over concrete is that it takes a lot of ready-mix trucks off the road; you can get a lot more square feet of a building onto a truck when it is light and in panels, so there are fewer opportunities to squish cyclists and pedestrians, as is their wont.

Dalston lane in concrete© Dalston lane in concrete/ Waugh Thistleton

When Waugh Thistleton designed Dalston Lane, they calculated that it would have taken 10,000 tons of concrete and 700 deliveries; with wood, it took a fifth that weight and only 95 deliveries.

Dalston lane in wood© Dalston Lane in wood/ Waugh Thistleton

I cannot find detailed information about how many pedestrians and cyclists are killed by ready-mix trucks (especially since the victim is often blamed) but it is not inconsiderable. It's not surprising; the drivers are sitting up high and don't have great visibility in trucks that weren't designed for cities. I could stand right in front of one and the driver probably wouldn't know I was there.


Then I saw a tweet from a civil engineer in London showing a different kind of truck and was shocked to learn that there actually are cement trucks designed for cities.

Econic in London© Mercedes Econic

The truck is a Mercedes Econic, which was designed in accordance with a study by the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety Commission (CLOCS). When it was launched, the head of Transport for London said, "The new vehicles on show today, with massively reduced blind spots, show what can be done if people join together for a common good to solve a simple problem."

Econic in London with cyclist© Mercedes Econic

According to Mercedes,

In response to the findings of the study, the industry with support from the City of London began establishing a culture of safety and taking measures to increase road safety in construction transport. The aim is to use commercial vehicles with maximum visibility and with high ergonomics and safety standards for inner-city construction transport.

view from inside© Mercedes Econic

The Econic is designed for maximum visibility, safety and ergonomics.

The advantages of the driver's low seating position, supplemented with the extensive panoramic glazing and the mirror system, provide the driver with virtually unrestricted visibility in front of the vehicle and on both sides – a clear advantage in confusing urban traffic with pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, the Econic is easy on drivers and co-drivers. The cab can be reached with just one step. On a busy workday that saves them several metres they don't have to climb up or down.

view from inside the Econic© Mercedes Econic

Wait, there's more; no door prizes are given out to cyclists because it has an inward opening folding door on the curb side. There are mounts for cameras and monitors. "These cameras show the driver the vehicle's surroundings from different angles and thereby further enhance the safety of all road users."

There is none of that black diesel smoke either; it has a BlueTec engine that removes nitrogen oxides with urea, so that it reduces particulates by 50 percent and NO by 90 percent.

Mack in the bike laneMack Truck in the Toronto bike lane/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The crazy thing about this is that it doesn't cost that much more to design a truck that is safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Every truck in the city, whether a tipper truck carrying gravel or a delivery truck parked in the bike lane, should be like this; it is just good, sensible design that fits the environment where it is doing its job.

Where I live in Canada, 20 percent of the deaths on the roads are caused by heavy trucks. The head of the Trucking Association blames the infrastructure and the number of people out there.

“Wherever you see a house, place of business, retail store or manufacturing, there’s going to be a truck going in there,” said Steve Laskowski. “We’re dealing with infrastructure built 50 years ago for vehicles. The reality now is we have more and more people wanting to use the roads for more than just their vehicles — pedestrians and cyclists. If we could do it all over again, we would, but we don’t have the luxury.”

Or, we could just make the truckers buy trucks that work with the old infrastructure and where they can see the pedestrians and cyclists. They are doing it in London, but it will likely never happen in North America - the government won't even make sideguards mandatory.

Of course, we have known for years that good vehicle design can save thousands of lives. North American governments could demand that SUVs and pickups be designed to the same safety standards for pedestrians that cars have to meet, but that would muck up that manly and aggressive front wall of steel. It is the same with these trucks; as they said in London, this is "what can be done if people join together for a common good to solve a simple problem." But they never do.

UPDATE: from a reader


Mercedes Econic urban truck shows how good design can save lives
Trucks wouldn't kill so many people if the drivers could actually see what is in front and around them.

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