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Government accused of misleading public on road safety threat of longer lorries

21 June 2011
Campaign groups are warning that Government plans to allow longer lorries on UK roads could lead to more road deaths and put small hauliers out of business.

Campaign for Better Transport and Freight on Rail – backed by Campaign to Protect Rural England, CTC - the national cyclists’ organisation, Friends of the Earth, Living Streets, RoadPeace and Sustrans – warn that contrary to Government claims, plans to increase lorry lengths could lead to six extra road deaths a year, result in more road congestion and lose small and medium sized hauliers up to £1.8 billion over 5 years.

Review of Government proposals for longer semi trailers, an independent report commissioned by Freight on Rail, is being released on the day (Tuesday 21 June) the Government consultation closes on proposals to extend maximum lorry lengths by 2.05m and allow lorries up to 18.55m on UK roads. The report demonstrates that significant flaws in the Government’s own research have led it to seriously underestimate the dangers posed by longer lorries.

Government estimates are based on the assumption that longer lorries will result in fewer road trips, but previous increases in length and/or weight have simply resulted in the same amount of lorries on the roads but with lower loads.

HGVs are already almost four times (384%) more likely to be involved in fatal crashes on local roads than cars. The Government research however, concluded that longer lorries would lead to a zero increase in fatalities by ruling out any impact of longer lorries from most collisions and ignoring the effect of the increased tail swing and larger driver blind spots when turning4. The independent report discovered a more accurate figure might be six extra deaths per year and between 4 and 8 per cent more collisions.

Campaign for Better Transport's chief executive, Stephen Joseph, said: "The Government’s research is misleading and inaccurate. All the evidence points to longer lorries being more dangerous, having a negative impact on road congestion and the environment while providing very little economic benefits - in fact they could be the final nail in the coffin for smaller hauliers. The Government needs to re-examine its own figures as a matter of urgency."

Campaigners also point out that the Government is ignoring its own statistics which show that the new lorries will become the default length for the industry, and not a few large niche providers as claimed. By playing down the negative impact of the new lorries on rail freight, the Government has also ignored the impact of increased congestion which will result from more lorries on the roads.

Philippa Edmunds, Freight on Rail manager, said: “Longer lorries will undermine low carbon energy-efficient rail traffic, particularly the emerging supermarket trade which has the highest potential growth. The Government’s own figures state that the 2m increase would reduce consumer rail freight growth by two thirds by 2025 and is likely to result in a downward spiral for rail freight.”

If the Government allows the increase, campaigners argue it could be the thin end of the wedge with ‘megatrucks’ from Europe - huge HGVs up to 25.5m long and weighing 60 tonnes - around the corner. These lorries would be too big for the UK’s traditional towns and villages and would result in more collisions, more congestion, damage to verges, hedges and buildings and increased road maintenance costs for hard pressed local councils.

Notes to Editors

For a copy of the report, Review of Government proposals for longer semi trailers, please contact the press office.

1. Review of Government proposals for longer semi trailers has been produced by MTRU. MTRU has been at the leading edge of transport planning for over a decade, producing a series of ground breaking reports for government, working with local communities and environmental groups, and undertaking independent research.

2. Statistics show that hauliers tend to buy the largest vehicle permitted and use it for large and small loads, irrespective of the impact on efficiency and consolidation (p22 chart 3 of the report).

3. This is due to a combination of size, lack of proper enforcement of drivers' hours, vehicle overloading and differing foreign operating standards (MTRU using Department for Transport figures).

4. Despite collisions normally being caused by a combination of factors, Government figures assume 85 per cent of those involving HGVs are unaffected by length. For example, in relation to fatal crashes within 20m of a junction, one of the largest categories, 99 per cent were assumed to be outside the scope of the research.  By including these, and some of the other collisions ruled out by the Department for Transport, longer lorries could cause an additional six fatalities and increase overall collisions rates between 4-8 per cent.

5. The Government’s central case is built on the prediction that road operators will increase their share of goods traffic as a result of introducing longer lorries, despite its stated commitment to increase rail freight which is backed by the public and has grown in market share from 6 to 11 per cent since 1996. Between 27 to 32 per cent of the environmental benefits of longer trailers are assumed to be gained by running fewer trains. By 2025, 84 per cent of the industry operational savings would be from lower rail costs.

6. Fleets of ten or less vehicles make up almost half the overall lorry fleet in UK (Vehicle and Operator Services Agency).

7. A 25.5m lorry is two car lengths longer than the bendy buses currently being phased out in London.

8. 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).

9. Freight on Rail is a partnership between the rail trade unions, the rail freight industry and Campaign for Better Transport. It works to promote the economic, social and environmental benefits of rail freight both nationally and locally.