Understanding the 'blind zone' key to cyclist survival

If these cyclists think they'll actually get to drive a big truck around for a while, they're sadly mistaken.

The closest they will come is down on hands and knees, pushing a toy truck around a Mt Eden carpark and making engine noises in their head.

Brrrm, brrrm...

But they signed up for this 'Share the Road' workshop, because these giant vehicles pose their biggest threat, as they negotiate inner-city traffic each day.

"It's pretty scary at times, particularly when they pass close," reflects Brendan Boreham of Onehunga.

Eighteen riders died in New Zealand last year, with more than 2000 others making ACC claims on non-fatal injuries.

As cyclists and motorists draw battle-lines on the country's roads, the Cycle Action Network has devised a programme to bring the antagonists closer together - not in a bad way.

Last month, Newshub attended a workshop that put truck drivers on bikes for a different perspective on the stand-off. 

Now, it's the riders' turn to step outside their comfort zone and into the "blind zone". 

"The aim of these workshops is to enable cyclists to be safe around heavy vehicles," says Share the Road campaign manager Richard Barter.

"To do that, they need to understand what drivers can see and what they can't see - when they're on the road with a heavy vehicle, where they should be and shouldn't be.

"They also need to understand how a truck turns and moves, so they can be in the right place to avoid a crash."

Convincing cyclists that they need to know this stuff is the first challenge. While the truckies-on-bikes are essentially told to participate by their employers, bikies are more of a law unto themselves, which is part of the wider problem.

"Cyclists are like wheeled pedestrians," agrees Mr Barter. "There's a sense of 'everybody walks' and that flows into cycling - the idea of someone telling us what to do is a significant barrier.

"At the same time, a lot of people don't ride because they are scared of interacting with other motor vehicles on the road, so understanding what happens out there is one way of breaking down those barriers."

Most attending this particular workshop are cycle instructors, who conduct community-based courses around Auckland.

Blind zones
Blind zones of a truck. Photo credit: Newshub.

"Today was really for me to see what blind-zone workshops are about, so I can incorporate that into future lessons and instructions that I give riders," says Mr Boreham, a community advisor for Counties Manukau Sport.

"As a cyclist, it's given me an idea of what a heavy-goods driver sees on the road and, as an instructor, it's certainly given me some things to think about, when I teach groups of riders."

Firstly, seven bright road codes are placed around the cab of a stationary Mercedes truck, owned by construction company Fulton Hogan, and each cyclist is invited to spend a few seconds behind the steering wheel, checking the mirrors on all sides.

Some find three cones, no-one finds more.

"There's a lot involved in driving a big commercial vehicle," insists Fulton Hogan driver trainer/assessor Jason Watts. "It's huge, compared to a car, with lots of weight involved, which means we can't stop in a short distance, so we need to be aware of that as drivers.

Guiding a toy truck
Guiding a toy truck around a corner without crashing. Photo credit: Newshub

"Added to that, we've got other motor vehicles and cyclists in the scheme of things. Cyclists are very, very small and often very, very hard for the driver to see."

Manoeuvrability is another issue for drivers. To help understand how cumbersome a truck and trailer can be to steer, the cyclists take turns in guiding a toy version around a corner, without wiping out traffic lights, street signs or pedestrians.

Very few achieve it.

Mr Boreham admits he's pushed his luck around trucks in the past.

"There was a situation where I passed a truck on the inside, not thinking and not something I would normally do.

"It was only afterwards that I thought it wasn't very smart. I guess coming to something like this today just reiterates that point."

The key to cyclist survival - literally, in some cases - is where you position yourself in relation to the truck and the driver.

"I think cyclists need to be aware that trying to sneak up the inside of a truck is the most vulnerable they can be," says Mr Watts. "The safest place is probably in the view-line of the mirrors of a truck.

"We don't have it on ours, but some trucks will have a sign saying 'If you can't see me in my mirrors, I can't see you'.

"It's a really good rule and a simple one for a cyclist to understand."