Battle lines are being drawn in the UK over a government proposal to allow an increase in the length of articulated lorries. Under the plans, the maximum length of HGVs would be extended by 2.05 metres to 18.55m. There wouldn't be any change to the weight limit, although the Freight Transport Association is reported to be lobbying for an increase from 44 to 46 tonnes.
Cyclists and many other groups have been voicing concerns. UK cyclists' organisation CTC and sustainable transport charity Sustrans have joined with the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Freight on Rail, the Campaign for Better Transport and RoadPeace to fight the idea.
CTC campaigns director Roger Geffen said: "Lorries present a serious risk to cyclists – one in five of the deaths of cyclists involve lorries. Allowing even longer lorries onto our roads will mean larger 'blind spots', more tail swing and a greater risk of hitting other road users. Instead of increasing the danger from lorries, the Government should be working to reduce the threat that already exists."
According to the London Cycling Campaign, large lorries are involved in over half of cyclist deaths in Greater London despite forming only five percent of the traffic. Ministers are aware of the issue, and in April, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond expressed support for possible European legislation to protect cyclists by fitting HGVs with cameras and sensors.
However, research done for the Government – which presents a more positive view than similar research done for Freight on Rail – suggests lorry length has little impact on casualty figures. "Any increase in the casualty risk per vehicle kilometre would be likely to be so small as to be immeasurable in casualty data after implementation," says the report.
There are concerns that the new upper limit could become the standard size. If this happened, there might be no reduction in the number of vehicles on the road, no reduction in the number of journeys and possibly even an increase in emissions. However, the Government begs to differ.
Roads Minister Mike Penning's view is that firms could "use one larger truck where previously they may have needed to send two vehicles. This will help to make our haulage industry cleaner and greener as well as allowing businesses greater flexibility without compromising safety". However, the Campaign for Better Transport and their colleague groups say the plans could lead to six extra road deaths a year, increased congestion and less business for small and medium sized hauliers.
Freight on Rail (a partnership of rail freight operators and organisations, trade unions and the Campaign for Better Transport) say that rail freight has grown by 60 percent in the past 10 years and now accounts for 11.5 percent of the UK surface freight market (compared to eight percent in 1994), replacing around 6.7 million lorry journeys a year. They point out that the Department for Transport's (DfT) own research shows the bigger lorries would be more susceptible to crosswinds and tail swings, and doesn't examine the effects of tail swing or look at the increase in the driver's blind spot.
The Rail Freight Group, which has member companies ranging from Maersk to Marks & Spencer, opposes the plan and says: "It's deeply worrying that despite the huge impacts on domestic rail freight growth, the DfT wish to allow longer lorries to operate. This cuts across all their previous commitments to multimodal transport, to congestion relief and to climate change." The consultation period on the proposals has now closed.