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Report claiming benefits of longer lorries is flawed, say campaigners

21 September 2017

Campaigners have reacted angrily to the publication by the Department of Transport of a report which claims that longer semi-trailers can reduce congestion, pollution and collisions.

Freight on Rail is concerned that the report, which was compiled by Risk Solutions and is five years into a 15 year trial of the 7ft longer lorries on UK roads, is based on flawed data and incorrect assumptions and ignores important safety factors.

Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail manager, said:

“Despite what the Department for Transport claims, longer semi-trailers are not the answer to reducing collisions, congestion or pollution and are actually more dangerous than standard HGVs on urban and town centre roads, because of their 7ft tail swing and extended blind spot.

"Given that all the safety, environmental and economic arguments for longer lorries are based on them resulting in fewer but bigger fuller longer semi-trailers, Risk Solutions should be analysing the usage and loading patterns of existing lorries to find out what will happen in real life if these longer semi-trailers are allowed in general circulation. Instead it is using modelled data and planning to scale up the trial figures even though the trial participants are not representative of the haulage industry because the operators involved are self-selecting, the majority of whom are large operations who use specialist drivers.  

“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 and this is simply unacceptable."

Freight on Rail has a number of concerns about the way the Report has been complied. They include:

  • Using a flawed assumption that increasing lorry sizes will result in fewer, better loaded trucks on the roads when there is simply no evidence to show this is achievable once the longer lorries are in general circulation. Currently only 34 per cent of HGVs on the roads are fully loaded by volume and 30 per cent are travelling around completely empty. Current industry practice is to buy the biggest lorry available and use for all jobs, big or small. (see chart) Even load data from the trial fails to support this claim with the trial lorries fully loaded for only a third (34 per cent) of their journeys with the extra length not being used at all for around half of their journeys.
  • Using origin and destination post codes to model likely routes, instead of more accurate GPS data, means it is impossible to understand to what extend these vehicles' movements compare to standard vehicles, especially on urban roads. For instance, models ignore unforeseen circumstances which can lead to diversions, probably the most dangerous part of any route.
  • Ignoring or discounting safety concerns surrounding the increased tail swing and blind spot of these longer lorries - which is almost double that of standard HGVs when making right and left turns - when negotiating urban roads. Many urban and town centre roads in the UK are not able to accommodate such large vehicles, forcing them to perform movements that put other, more vulnerable, road users at risk such as entering adjacent lanes and swinging over kerbs, traffic islands.

Freight on Rail want to see future reporting using real GPS data so that the trial can establish the exact routes and types of roads the longer semi-trailers are using with special attention to urban and town centre use. We also need a rational explanation of why longer semi-trailers, which are even bigger than standard HGVs, would get better utilisation than existing ones, when allowed in general circulation, given that the whole case for longer semi-trailers is predicated on this argument.

For further information please contact Richard Watkins on 020 7566 6494 / 07984 773 468 or richard.watkins@bettertransport.org.uk

Notes to Editors

  • The Department for Transport (DfT) allowed a five year trial of 7ft (2.05 metres) longer semi-trailer trucks in 2012 - the current limit is 16.5m (54ft). It has since extended the trial by a further five years and increased the number of vehicles to 2,800.
  • The Report states on page 92 that by using modelling Risk Solutions are not claiming that these are the actual routes taken for each longer semi-trailer journey, nor that this model could be used to propose routing for actual longer semi-trailer operations.
  • Data collected during a partial demonstration of the new longer vehicle at the DfT testing facility MIRA at Nuneaton, Warwickshire on 14 April 2016 showed the rear tail-swing when turning corners was significantly greater than normal HGVs, up from 1.7m (5.5ft) to 3.3m (10.8ft) under normal road conditions. Campaign for Better Transport and the Technical Advisers Group used software to simulate how these longer lorries would perform when undertaking a standard left hand turn after the DfT refused to physically demonstrate the manoeuver, only performing a less acute turn despite repeated requests to be fully transparent about the effects of the vehicles. A graphic showing the effects of the left hand turn is available to download here.
  • In fact, 94 per cent of UK HGV fleet operators had fewer than 10 vehicles and approximately 50 per cent of operators were owner drives licensing just one vehicle. Source – Energy and Utility skills report 2013.
  • Many operators said the trailers not suitable for ad hoc or general operations because of access and problems with manoeuvrability in tight spaces. In fact two thirds of operators said they were avoiding destinations where there were known access problems (page 26 4.47 and 4.51, page 27 4.51).
  • Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).

This chart shows that hauliers buy the biggest truck allowed and use it for all jobs small and large.

DfT Road Freight Statistics Goods moved by GB registered articulated vehicles by type and weight of vehicle 1990-2015 table RFS0107

From Domestic Road Statistics 2015 issued in August 2016






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