Haulage is blighting Britain’s road safety record

The government says it wants to improve HGV safety but at the moment it is not following a coherent policy.

By Philippa Edmunds of the Campaign for Better Transport 

Far fewer people die on our roads each year than was the case a decade ago. However we must not undo the good work through ill-considered changes to rules for heavy good vehicles.

According to Department for Transport statistics, 1,754 people lost their lives on the country’s roads in 2012. This figure is far too high and many of these deaths were avoidable, but notably it is part of a downward trend and is half the number killed in 2002. By this measure, the UK has just about the safest roads in Europe.

Yet there are signs the government is putting this achievement in jeopardy.

Campaign for Better Transport has just published research showing HGVs lagging behind other transport types in reducing accidents. Concerningly, the government is also trialling changes to rules for HGVs that could make lorry movements more dangerous. At European level, hauliers are pushing for double articulated mega-trucks to be allowed free movement across the continent.

We commissioned consultants MTRU to look at statistics on road fatalities since 2007. The results show that although improvements have been made across the board, the percentage of the most serious accidents involving HGVs has increased significantly. Last year, one in five of the fatal crashes on our A-roads involved an HGV. Worse, on motorways more than half of fatal accidents involved an HGV.

These statistics should give government pause for thought about safety. But last year, they caved in to industry pressure in allowing trials of longer trailers on UK roads. Our research, published last week, shows that because of their reduced manoeuvrability, particularly while cornering (known as out-swing) these trailers are unsuitable for many urban roads. As a matter of urgency, we have written to the secretary of state calling on him to give local authorities the right to dictate which routes these lorries can travel on.

Government is also showing signs of ceding to industry demands on speed limits for lorries. Currently, HGVs are limited to 40mph on single carriageway A-roads. Government recently consulted on plans to raise this to 45 or 50mph and is expected to make an announcement shortly.

At EU level, plans are afoot to allow so-called mega-trucks to cross national boundaries, risking a domino effect with trucks being used across the continent over time. Research has shown double articulated lorries up to 82ft long and carrying a maximum of 60 tonnes are worse for the safety of other road users, worse for emissions and highly damaging to road surfaces (a significant issue when you consider the UK’s £10.5bn backlog of pot holes).

Although the UK government has claimed it will not allow mega trucks on UK roads, they will come under huge pressure from industry to do so if such lorries are freely circulating across borders with certain countries on the continent.

The case for ever longer lorries relies on the mistaken presumption that there would be fewer but bigger trucks on the roads. In practice, however, since the previous increases in dimensions there is no evidence of larger or heavier lorries leading to improvements in average payloads or a reduction in empty running. In fact, over a quarter of lorries are driving around completely empty.

As ever, the mantra of increased competitiveness is used in pushing for these changes. But the UK can improve the efficiency of haulage while addressing safety and tackling environmental impact. We should support the continued mode shift from road to rail by ensuring all major new distribution parks are planned with a rail connection.

There is also a case for introducing a simple but comprehensive road user charging scheme for goods vehicles based on vehicle type and distance instead of the time based system being introduced in 2014. This system should include incentives for the use of low emission vehicles and different rates at different times of the day to reduce congestion at peak times.

Improved enforcement of vehicle standards would also help make sure all lorries meet legal guidelines and are driven in line with the law.

The government says it wants to improve HGV safety but at the moment it is not following a coherent policy. It should reject calls for mega trucks, prevent HGVs from using inappropriate roads and keep speed limits at 40mph.

By including standards for safe lorry design, equipment and driver training in the national freight operator guidelines, we can build on the improvements the UK has already made to road safety.

7 Responses to “Haulage is blighting Britain’s road safety record”

  1. Liam Mitchell

    While the theme of the argument has merit, there is no actual content short of saying HGVs are responsible for more deaths on UK roads. The number of deaths involving HGVs is not in doubt, and the rise since 2010 is concerning. There are questions that need to be asked and investigations carried out about why there is a rise.
    The term ‘HGV’ covers a multitude of sins from anything above 3.51 tonnes, but there is no research indicating that length or size of a vehicle adversely contributes to deaths on UK roads, a point acknowledged in the report.
    The Millbrook ‘research’ published by Campaign for Better Transport is anecdotal apart from a confusing graph about trailer swing. Longer trailers adhere to legislative requirements radii of 5.3m to 12.5 metres using one rear-steer axle.
    The whole accumulation of ‘reports’ is a collective mud-slinging exercise that ensnared the shadow transport minister. It’s compounded by the apparent solution; shift more freight from “road to rail by ensuring all major new distribution parks are planned with a rail connection”.
    What is more there are dismissed assumptions that longer lorries who lead to “fewer but bigger trucks on the roads” yet it is a presented as fact that “over a quarter of lorries are driving around completely empty”.
    What about the empty running of subsidises freight trains that return to rail heads from delivering containers, timber, coal or aggregates?
    The rail network runs flat out already, where will these extra freight trains go?
    Points conveniently overlooked.
    The 24m long trucks work successfully is Scandinavia, and data regards 25.25m trials in Europe are being collated. And considering 18.75m drawbar combination have been a part of the road network since 1991 perhaps any research might want to assess the impact that has had on the UK road network.
    Road safety, as well as how freight is moved around the country, are important issues that require proper investigation not loosely-formed but entrenched opinions. That is why the longer lorry trial is a trial, so it can collect data about the routes, safety, utilisation and productivity.

  2. Liam Mitchell

    While the theme of the argument has merit, there is no actual content short of saying HGVs are responsible for more deaths on UK roads. The number of deaths involving HGVs is not in doubt, and the rise since 2010 is concerning. There are questions that need to be asked and investigations carried out about why there is a rise.
    The term ‘HGV’ covers a multitude of sins from anything above 3.51 tonnes, but there is no research indicating that length or size of a vehicle adversely contributes to deaths on UK roads, a point acknowledged in the report.
    The Millbrook ‘research’ published by Campaign for Better Transport is anecdotal apart from a confusing graph about trailer swing. Longer trailers adhere to legislative requirements radii of 5.3m to 12.5 metres using one rear-steer axle.
    The whole accumulation of ‘reports’ is a collective mud-slinging exercise that ensnared the shadow transport minister. It’s compounded by the apparent solution; shift more freight from “road to rail by ensuring all major new distribution parks are planned with a rail connection”.
    What is more there are dismissed assumptions that longer lorries who lead to “fewer but bigger trucks on the roads” yet it is a presented as fact that “over a quarter of lorries are driving around completely empty”.
    What about the empty running of subsidises freight trains that return to rail heads from delivering containers, timber, coal or aggregates?
    The rail network runs flat out already, where will these extra freight trains go?
    Points conveniently overlooked.
    The 24m long trucks work successfully is Scandinavia, and data regards 25.25m trials in Europe are being collated. And considering 18.75m drawbar combination have been a part of the road network since 1991 perhaps any research might want to assess the impact that has had on the UK road network.
    Road safety, as well as how freight is moved around the country, are important issues that require proper investigation not loosely-formed but entrenched opinions. That is why the longer lorry trial is a trial, so it can collect data about the routes, safety, utilisation and productivity.

  3. Mark Moore

    As anyone who listens to traffic reports knows, HGVs are involved in a disproportionate number of collisions on motorways.

    I remember John Prescott on Top Gear sometime ago claiming that when you have vehicles travelling at vastly different speeds on the roads, that is when you have accidents (e.g. if on a busy stretch of motorway, half the cars are going/trying to go 70 and the other half are going 80, that is more dangerous than all the cars going 80).

    HGVs are limitted to 56mph, while cars whizz past them at 70mph+. I don’t know whether allowing HGVs to go faster on motorways would be safer, due to the reduction of this shearing effects or not, but that might be something worth studying.

  4. Ivan D

    I instinctively agree with a number of points raised in this article but it fails to deliver because it is relentlessly negative towards industry and typically authoritarian.

  5. Roger Sealey

    I have not had time to look at the figures in details, but what they are lacking is information on drivers’ hours, and time of day for the accidents. Unite the Union has consistently raised these issues as being major contributors to the number of HVG accidents.

  6. Clive Matthews

    I believe that there are several reasons for the increase in HGV collisions. A disproportionate number of HGV versus Pedestrian/Cyclists incidents are Construction Vehicles engaged in large projects such as CrossRail. This industry enjoys some exemptions which render their vehicles less safe to vulnerable road users such as side guards. Drivers in this industry are often on wages based on numbers of loads. As a result, paperwork and communications will be done on the move to save time.
    In general haulage the picture isn’t much brighter. Haulage companies have been squeezed almost to death by their main customer, the supermarkets. As a result, hourly rates are very low, often £7:00 per hour or even less. A living wage can only be achieved by maximising hours. Breaks are often taken whilst loading, and ‘Periods of Availability’ used to get around the EU working hours for mobile workers regs. Lower wages restrict the choice of higher quality drivers and often have to come from other areas of the EU in order to fill vacancies. I can report that it takes some time adapting to driving an HGV from the other side of the cab as margins for error are much smaller than in a car.
    Lastly, the industry is ‘policed’ by VOSA. Government funding for this as well as many organisations has been reduced. So much so that VOSA no longer exists and has been absorbed into a new organisation called DVSA. The good hauliers are seriously threatened by this weakening of an already struggling organisation as there will be little to prevent rogue operators.
    Other areas of the EU can afford to allow larger HGVs onto the roads as they have much more rigorously enforced standards than the UK. The chances of detection in the UK are possibly the lowest in Europe. If we are to demand a higher standard of HGV operation in the UK, and we should, then it starts by shaming the supermarkets and writing to MPs about the weakening of VOSA/DVSA.

  7. the cid

    stopping some of them drinking may help, picked up around 200 beer bottles on Friday at a HGV stop could not down load all the bottles of Vodka if you would like to see more check out http://www.streetlife take a look at keep our town tidy the Cid

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