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Dangerous, dirty and damaging - New research reveals impact of HGVs

25 February 2015

Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) cost the UK economy £6.5bn each year in increased road crashes, dirty air, pot holes and other impacts.

According to new research carried out for the Campaign for Better Transport, HGVs meet less than a third of the costs they impose on society. HGVs are upto 160,000 times more damaging to roads than cars, five times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal accidents on local roads and pay nothing for their contributions to air pollution.

Philippa Edmunds, Campaign for Better Transport said

“These new figures show that HGVs are paying less than a third of the costs they impose on society. It's no wonder there are so many pot holes on the roads.

"With lorries so heavily subsidised, it is difficult for rail and water to compete, even though they would reduce road congestion and road damage as well as being safer and less polluting. Government urgently needs to address these distortions.”

The research focuses on what HGV costs are and to what extend taxes and charges cover these costs. It evaluates the different accepted Government methods, marginal external cost and fully allocated cost model, and assesses the scale of undercharging using different assumptions with the following conclusions:

  • The cost of road collisions involving HGVs is undervalued given that HGVs are five times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal accidents on local roads
  • Congestion is not properly measured as the analysis uses undervalued figures to calculate the cost of delay imposed on others.
  • The impact on air pollution are not counted as all, even though Rail freight produces almost 90 per cent less PM10 emissions than road freight and up to fifteen times less NOX emissions  – DfT Logistics Perspective Dec 2008 P8 paragraph 10.
  • The largest HGVs, including all articulated vehicles and the heaviest rigids, impose high costs which, are not recovered by a very considerable margin.  This leads to poor economic efficiency and misallocation of scarce resources.
  • Government statistics show that 29 per cent of HGVs are driving around completely empty . Around 29 per cent of HGV travel is empty running and 47 per cent of those carrying goods are less than full (either by weight or volume). 


1. 'Heavy Goods Vehicles – do they pay for the damage they cause?' was carried out by the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit (MTRU) for Campaign for Better Transport. Both this year's figures and the original report can be downloaded from the Campaign for Better Transport website.

2. The total annual subsidy to road freight of £6.5bn was calculated by multiplying the number of articulated vehicle miles in 2012 (8.1 billion) by the marginal cost gap figure (66.8) to produce a figure for the failure to meet external costs of almost £5.4 billion. This does not include large rigid vehicles (up to 32 tonnes gvw), which, when includes bring the figure to £6.5billion.