A fatal accident inquiry has concluded that an accident which led to a pedestrian being killed by a bin lorry could have been avoided if the contractor had not sent a vehicle “with extensive blind spots”, a sheriff ruled on Thursday.
Margaret Johnstone was killed on November 13, 2020 after suffering “catastrophic injuries” after she stepped off of a pavement in High Street, Alloa, at the same moment the 19-tonne lorry began to move off.
Sheriff Alastair Brown said that the 52-year-old had chosen “a bad place to cross the road”, less than 18 inches in front of the lorry which was operated by Perthshire-based private waste contractors Binn Group Ltd.
In his written determination, Sheriff Brown said that the lorry had “significant blind spots” and Ms Johnstone would have been invisible to the driver, 30-year-old Grant Wayley.
Alloa Sheriff Court heard that Mr Wayley had just gotten back into his cab after picking up waste bags before Ms Johnstone died at the scene of her injuries.
The fatal accident inquiry ruled that two precautions could reasonably have been taken and might realistically have resulted in Ms Johnstone’s death being avoided.
One was that Ms Johnstone could have chosen to cross the road at a point which was not directly in front of a stationary vehicle.
The other was that “Binn Group could have chosen not to send a vehicle with extensive blind spots to collect refuse on the High Street in Alloa”.
He made no other recommendations.
Sheriff Brown said: “The conclusion I reach is that this vehicle was unsuitable for the task which Mr Waley was carrying out.
“He had to keep stopping outside commercial premises, collect rubbish, get back in and drive on before stopping again and repeating the process.
“He had to drive down a street which was busy with pedestrians, with shops on both sides. The carriageway was so narrow that the lorry occupied its whole width.
“The extensive blind spots which characterised this lorry made it difficult for him to be sure that pedestrians were not in danger.”
He added that the truck had been fitted with “an array of mirrors”, which alleviated but did not cure the problem.
He said that if the Binn Group had used a “low cab” lorry for the collection, its low windscreen and side windows would have given the driver much better visibility and that might well have avoided the accident.
Irvine Morrison, Binn Group transport director, said that “in an effort to avoid similar accidents occurring in the future” the Binn Group had “heavily invested” in low cab vehicles.
Mr Morrison said: “Following the accident all eight or so of the refuse or bin lorries purchased by Binn Group have been low cab models.
“If a pedestrian was to walk in front of one of our new vehicles, they would be readily identified by the driver.
“The new cabs are designed to fundamentally improve driver’s field of vision. Moreover the side panels on the new vehicles are also split which effectively creates a different and additional window.
“I would say that this is the crux which would have prevented the fatality occurring.”
Giving evidence to the inquiry in October this year, investigator PC Fraser Mitchell that Ms Johnstone, who walked with the assistance of two walking aids, had just withdrawn money from a cash machine but by the time she showed any signs of intending to cross the road she was in a position where the lorry driver would have been unable to see her, either directly or in any of his mirrors.
CCTV showed her “picking up pace” to try to get to the other side of the road before the lorry struck her, but Ms Johnstone, who was less than 5ft 4ins tall and was thought to have walked with a stoop, would have been below the bottom lip of the lorry’s windscreen because she was so close.
Mr Wayley, who was described as “emotional and in a state of shock”, was breathalysed after the accident and found to be clear.
He said that he had checked all his mirrors before moving off, had never seen Ms Johnstone in front of the lorry, and had no idea where she had come from.
Sheriff Brown offered his condolences to Ms Johnstone’s family.