EU Referendum

Brexit: a question of vision


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Just as Boris Johnson tells us there is only one way to create a biking paradise, and that is to invest massively in making it safer, the Guardian writes of the concerns of the metro-centric greens who, on enthusiastically supporting increased cycling in London, have been somewhat dismayed by the number of their fellow pedallers who have been mown down by thundering HGVs.

The issue here is blind spots, and at the forefront of the research on avoiding this problem is Dr Steve Summerskill of Loughborough University. Recently, he has produced a report on his team's ideas for helping HGV drivers see cyclists in the hope that they (the cyclists) might live longer in proximity to their vehicles.

The research, however, has been co-funded by Transport for London and the "green think tank", Transport and Environment (T&E), and it looks to be the press release from T&E which has triggered the Guardian report.

What does not come over, though, is just how much this is an issue of concern to the anti-EU movement, and how it could be used as an example of how the EU hampers the pursuit of road safety, leaving us better off if we were to restore our independence.

In fact, the T&E press release is more than a little misleading – as you might expect from "greens". In what is obviously a cut and paste job, where it talks of legal roadblocks holding back safer lorries (adding the mandatory "fuel efficient"), it tells us that "Europe has no rules guiding what a lorry driver should be able to see with his own eyes (direct vision) ".

Instead, we are told, European rules focus on indirect vision, i.e., through mirrors, but while these are useful, the multitude of mirrors and their often distorted images are no substitute for decent direct vision.

Secondly, says T&E, the current EU law on weight and dimensions of lorries has forced a design that has particularly large blind spots. Europe, it adds, has proposed changing this law to allow (but not mandate) slightly longer (80-90cm), more aerodynamic lorry designs. New designs would need to comply with additional safety requirements but these still need to be developed.

The intriguing thing here is the reference to "European Rules" and, with the subsequent reference to "EU law on weight and dimensions of lorries", the natural inference is that we are talking here about EU law. But that is not the case.

Vision requirements for HGVs are determined not by EU law but by UNECE - Regulation 46 to be precise. And, as this Commission Report indicates, Regulation (EC) No 661/2009, otherwise known as "The General Safety Regulation" repeals Directive 2003/97/EC as from 1 November 2014 and replaces it by Regulation No 46 adopted under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

In other words, as from 1 November, this UNECE regulation is EU law, made in Geneva not Brussels, part of the ongoing process whereby the EU is junking its own vehicle standards laws – including type approval – and replacing them with UN Regulations. This is referred to here as well (see pp 10 & 15).

Such is the way of the world, though, that neither the Guardian nor T&E see fit to tell us this, much less tell us that, if we want to get change, it is to Geneva we must now go, not Brussels.

The thing is that, even if we are in the dark, Dr Steve Summerskill knows the score. He has been trying to get Regulation 46 amended for some years and, being in the know, he's been going to Geneva, not Brussels, to get a hearing.

Despite that, for Dr Summerskill, and the UK generally, there is a problem. Since we have vested our commercial policy with the EU, we don't have direct access to UNECE, having to agree a "common position" on vehicle safety matters with the other 27 member states, and then work through the European Commission, which negotiates on our behalf.

Thus, if the UK wanted to progress Dr Summerskill's visionary research, saving potentially hundreds of lives, we would still have to go cap in hand to Brussels, and hope the kindly Commission would take our cause to Geneva (where it maintains a massive office) and speak to our concerns there.

On the other hand, if we left the EU, we could represent ourselves directly at the "top table" in Geneva, ranking equally with any other nation, and put our case for reform. And the delicious consequence of that is, once a UNECE Regulation is agreed, the EU is obliged under its own rules to adopt it. We make the rules for the EU, without even being in the EU.

Taking this from a propaganda perspective, we could argue that EU membership and our inability to get direct access to UNECE is costing lives. From that stems the obvious slogan: "save lives, leave the EU". It's all a question of vision.

Certainly, there is a great deal more than can be done with new designs, but if they are to become mandatory, it is UNECE that must be convinced to take action. Boris had better dump his bike and get on the next jet to Geneva ... oops, he can't.