The DfT allowed a ten year trial of 7ft (2.05 metres) longer semi-trailer trucks in 2012 (the current limit is 16.5m (54ft)) and has since extended the trial by a further five years and increased the number of vehicles to 2,800. We do not believe that the trial is adequately assessing the impact of these longer lorries on local roads or involving local authorities, which manage minor roads which make up 97 per cent of the network. The latest report reveals that 38 per cent of the longer lorry journeys are off the motorway network and yet the majority of local authorities who will be responsible for dealing with the impact of these lorries once they leave the motorways, are unaware of the trial.
The DfT needs to work with local authorities as partners to study the impacts of longer lorries on all minor roads including urban, town centre and rural roads. Because these are the roads where longer lorries are likely to incur problems, due to their extended tail swing and blind spot - which is almost double that of standard lorries when making right and left turns - putting other, more vulnerable, road users at risk.
Government statistics show that existing sized heavy goods vehicles were almost seven times as likely as cars to be involved in fatal collisions on minor roads in 2016.
The economic, safety and environment benefits for longer semi-trailers are predicated on the argument that longer lorries are used more efficiently than existing HGVs and therefore reduce the number of lorry miles. However, the trial shows that the longer lorries were only fully loaded for 37 per cent of their journeys in comparison with 36 per cent of existing sized lorries being fully loaded which is a negligible gain. Furthermore the report says the extra length was not being used at all for almost half of the journeys (46 per cent).
There is no question that longer semi-trailers save operators money, but this is because these bigger trucks result in lorries paying even less of the costs they impose on the economy and society with the taxpayer picking up the bill in terms of more road crashes, road damage, congestion and pollution. Our latest research shows that existing HGVs are still only paying a third of the costs they impose on society in terms of road congestion, road damage, collisions and pollution which results in a £6 billion annual subsidy from taxpayers.
Our concern is that current industry practise is to buy the biggest lorry allowed and use for all jobs, big or small, as borne out by this graph. So, if the Government gives the green light to these 7ft longer lorries, over time they will become the standard industry workhorse, even though they are not suitable for many minor roads.