Column - March 2012
The cry for bigger heavier lorries never stops
The road haulage industry continue to lobby for bigger heavier lorries despite the fact that it is hard to understand why larger lorries are justified when they do not fill existing sized lorries. In fact, the Government own figures show that almost half of lorries are not constrained by weight or volume and round 27% of lorries are driving around completely empty. Despite this the Government gave the go-ahead for 2 metre longer lorries on the grounds that the measure would lead to more efficiency and reduce pollution even though there is no evidence that previous increases in lorry dimensions led to HGVs carrying more per journey or national reductions in HGV traffic 1.
The reality is that the 2 metre increase in lorry length and 17% increase in trailer length will become the standard lorry on UK roads. 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.
The Government assessments significantly under-estimated the safety, road congestion and environmental impacts of longer lorries on society and the economy and put certain lorry industry interests ahead of road safety and carbon reduction. While big logistics operators and their customers will undoubtedly be able to make use of the extra volume and will be able therefore to increase their efficiency, (typically operators tied to supermarket logistics), who lobbied Government for this increase, the bulk 2 of freight operators and users are not big companies or big hauliers, and these will lose out by having to buy and run new longer vehicles for general use, mostly not utilizing the extra capacity. In fact only 41 of the 318 responses to the DfT consultation supported the increased 2 metre length.
In terms of infrastructure costs, the increased repair and maintenance costs to local authorities, which manage 98% of road network in terms of miles, have not been taken into account. The bridge strengthening exercise to cater for the existing 40/44 tonners, funded by the public, is still not completed.
In order to justify the bigger lorries the DfT research concluded that the 2 metre longer HGV would not be any more dangerous than existing HGVs per mile driven by ruling out any impacts of longer lorries from most collisions and ignoring the effect of the increased tail swing and larger blind spots when turning. In fact the DfT research has not evaluated how this longer HGV would behave in urban areas on tight right and left hand turns at all. Our urban road geometry is not designed for these longer HGVs which will have inferior manoeuvrability to existing HGVs.
Elements of the road haulage industry continue to lobby hard for mega trucks, despite public opposition and a weak argument when all the external costs including congestion are taken into account. The proponents’ case is predicated on mega trucks, which would be fifty per cent longer and a third heavier than existing trucks, delivering a significant reduction in vehicle kilometres. The assumptions for safety and environmental improvement depend entirely on the prediction of a dramatic reduction in vehicles kilometres on the premise that 2 mega trucks would replace 3 HGVs. However, their calculations ignore the dynamic effects in terms of distorting the intermodal competition which would significantly increase the demand for road freight and undermine sustainable alternatives. They are also derived from very high levels of load utilisation – in excess of that routinely achieved within the haulage sector. So until there is a rational basis for all existing HGVs to be used more efficiently it is questionable how assumptions can be made that mega trucks which the European Commission admit will be more dangerous than existing HGVs, will have higher utilisation than existing HGVs.
However, the European Transport Commissioner intends to impose a new interpretation of the directive controlling weights and dimensions of HGVs without consulting the Parliament or the Council of Ministers to allow cross border traffic between member states of mega trucks of 25 metres between consenting countries. and would be a sudden change of view from Commission who as recently as Dec 2011 said that cross border traffic of mega trucks was not legal. This undemocratic approach would also mean that the Commission was ignoring its own consultation which only closed on 27th February. The new interpretation would reverse the previous legal services interpretation, reconfirmed as recently as December 2011 and contradict the consistently strong view of the Commission that cross border traffic is illegal and that any legislative change could only take place after thorough impact analysis (ie research to establish the likely impacts of this change of policy)
However, it this international traffic is permitted, it will be difficult for the Government to resist pressure from the road haulage industry to allow them to come to the UK, despite its claims to the contrary.
1. For a review of recent relevant statistics see Freight Update, MTRU, November 2010,
2. Lorry fleets of 10 or less vehicles make up almost half lorry fleet in UK Source Vehicle and Operator Services