It’s a frightening statistic – and the figures aren’t much better on other roads. HGVs are involved in one in five fatal crashes on A-roads, and an HGV is five times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a minor road than other traffic. So it’s perhaps surprising that the government last month raised the speed limit for HGVs travelling on single and dual carriageways in England and Wales. An HGV over 7.5 tonnes will now be able to rattle along a single carriageway at 50 mph, up from 40mph. The speed limit for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes travelling on dual carriageways will increase from 50mph to 60mph.
Road safety first?
Campaign groups have criticised the higher speed limits as a threat to road safety. Gary Rae, campaigns manager for Brake, the road safety charity, said: “The relationship between speed and casualties is a proven one, so allowing the largest vehicles on our roads to reach higher speeds more often risks more deaths, serious injuries, and additional cost to the taxpayer.” They also accuse the government of failing to enforce traffic laws and of legitimising dangerous behaviour. Philippa Edmunds of Campaign for Better Transport said: “The vast majority of HGVs flout existing speed restrictions, yet the government is rewarding the road haulage industry rather than tackling this and enforcing speed limits. “This is like burglary being legalised because burglary laws can’t be enforced. The interests of the industry are being put above people’s safety.”
Department for Transport figures show that 82% of articulated heavy goods vehicles exceeded the 50 mph speed limit on dual carriageways and 73% broke the 40 mph limit on single carriageways in 2013. Rae said: “The government itself has admitted that this move will likely have no economic or road safety benefit. It sets a dangerous precedent that if traffic laws are persistently flouted, the government would rather change them than enforce them.” The arrival of even bigger HGVs has raised further safety concerns. Edmunds said: “The industry is pushing for double articulated mega-trucks to be allowed on UK roads. The UK needs to make clear that it will oppose European plans for these huge lorries to be allowed to cross national borders. “If they don’t, the UK will come under pressure from the road haulage industry to allow these 82ft monsters onto UK roads on competition grounds.”
It’s not just UK lorries that flout the laws. Almost two thirds of foreign lorries subjected to official checks over the past 12 months were found to be overloaded, according to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. A third were also taken off the road due to mechanical problems. Then there’s the high accident rate among foreign HGVs. Collisions on motorways involving overseas lorries have increased by 14% since 2012, according to figures from Accident Exchange, which arranges replacement vehicles for insurance claimants. There were nearly 1,100 crashes involving foreign lorries on UK motorways in 2014, an increase of 14.3% since 2012. Estimates put the number of foreign lorry incidents across all road types at 3,100, or nearly nine a day.
Motorways are the accident hotspots, notably the M25, followed by the M6 and M1. The statistics also reveal that lorries from Poland and Germany are the most likely to be involved in an accident. Liz Fisher, director of sales development at Accident Exchange, said: “This worrying statistic shows that a collision with a foreign lorry is an increasingly real possibility. A heavy goods vehicle in unfamiliar territory can be a danger.”