Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Road Haulage Association Ltd (RTS 46)



  The Road Haulage Association (RHA) was formed in 1945 to look after the interests of haulage contractors in various areas of the country, in effect, amalgamating local organisations that had been established. The Association has subsequently developed to become the primary trade association representing the hire-or reward sector of the road transport industry. There are now some 10,000 companies in membership varying from major companies with over 5,000 vehicles down to single vehicle owner-drivers.


  The road haulage industry plays a pivotal role in the United Kingdom economy carrying over 80 per cent of all domestic freight. In 2000 this amounted to:

    —  1,038 million tonnes carried in hire-or-reward vehicles;

    —  556 million tonnes carried in own-account operators' vehicles;

    —  a total of 1,593 million tonnes moved by road transport;

    —  152 billion tonne kilometres on road transport;

    —  an average length of haul of 49 kilometres for rigid vehicles, 134 kilometres for articulated vehicles and 94 kilometres as an overall average.

  There are around 52,000 businesses in the industry and between them they operate some 423,000 vehicles over 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight.


  Modern day lifestyles are heavily dependent on the ready availability of efficient freight transport. Without it retailers would not be able to offer the range of produce that they do throughout the year at acceptable prices (items that previously would have been available only on a seasonal basis) and manufacturers' costs would be higher, leading either to more expensive goods to the consumer or to the loss of business to competition from abroad. Those who would wish to reduce the movement of lorries on the roads must accept therefore that society in general would need to be prepared to accept some very significant changes to lifestyles. That said the industry is constantly seeking ways to improve its efficiency and effectiveness and to reduce the impact that it has on the environment and on the community in general.


  Safety is of paramount importance to those involved in the industry. Successive Governments have made great efforts to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads and this should remain a key priority. The haulage industry is very heavily regulated in this area, primarily through the requirements of the Operator Licensing system: vehicles have to meet very stringent safety standards; speeds are limited; operators are regularly checked on their maintenance records and general management practices; drivers must have special licences to drive the vehicles and (even in advance of the Working Time Directive) their working times are heavily regulated. The system is "policed" by a network of Traffic Commissioners who have powers to restrict, or indeed revoke, an operators' licence if the requirements of the system are not met fully.

  The vast majority of hauliers respect these rules and regulations. But as with any other industry there are inevitably a few "cowboy" operators who routinely flout the law. Such illegal operators not only damage the reputation of the industry as a whole and pose a safety risk to other road users, they also deprive legitimate operators of business. The RHA believes therefore that enforcement of these regulations is essential and is pleased that further powers, which allow for the impounding of vehicles operated without an O licence, have now been introduced.


  Government figures give the following data for HGVs (figures for 1998):

    —  13,278 injury accidents involving HGVs;

    —  576 deaths in these accidents;

    —  2,692 serious injuries.

  In 1998 KSI (killed and seriously injured) casualties were 50 per cent fewer than in 1997 and were at their lowest level for more than 20 years. HGVs account for far fewer casualties than cars, although because of a truck's dimensions, accidents that do involve HGVs are likely to be more serious. Whilst accident involvement for HGVs has remained fairly constant since Government road safety targets were first introduced in 1987, this has been achieved despite an increase of HGVs traffic of 50 per cent over the same period.


  It is difficult to assess precisely how many accidents are directly caused by speeding. However, it is common sense that excessive or inappropriate speed will increase considerably the risk of being involved in a serious accident. As with all other classes of vehicle, statistics demonstrate that there is an element of non-compliance with speed limits amongst HGV drivers. The RHA does not condone any kind of illegal operation including the breaking of speed limits. However, we believe that the current speed regulations for commercial vehicles may actually be contributing to the problem and possibly introducing an increased risk of accident.

  Speed limits for goods vehicles vary quite considerably from those that apply to cars as follows:


Built up areas
30 mph
60 mph
70 mph
70 mph
Goods Vehicles (<7.5 tonnes)
30 mph
50 mph
60 mph
70 mph*
Goods Vehicles (>7.5 tonnes)
30 mph
40 mph
50 mph
60 mph
* 60 mph if articulated or towing a trailer.

  In addition, goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are required to be fitted with speed limiters which are set to permit maximum speeds of 60 mph for vehicles between 7.5 and 12 tonnes, and 56 mph for vehicles over 12 tonnes.

  The speed limits detailed above have been in force without revision for many years now. However, vehicle technology has advanced considerably in this same period. Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) have been compulsory on new commercial vehicles since the early 1990s—as a result a large proportion of the current fleet would be fitted with them. Despite this, on a single carriageway road attracting a national speed limit of 60 mph, HGVs are required to travel at or below 40 mph. Not only does this seem inappropriate to many drivers (which inevitably means more people are tempted to break the law) but we believe it may actually be causing more accidents as other vehicles (whose drivers are not aware of the limits for HGVs) take unnecessary risks in an attempt to overtake what they consider to be excessively slow-moving vehicles.

  As such, the RHA believes that the time has now come for the Government to undertake a fundamental review of commercial vehicle speed limits taking into account both the new technology that is now available and current road conditions etc. In particular, we would like to see the current limit of 40 mph for single carriageway roads increased to 50 mph.

  We are also concerned at the increasing tendency for highway authorities to reduce speed limits on main roads seemingly without any real justification. A prime example is the A556 between the M6 and M56. This particular road is a dual carriageway at the beginning and end and in the middle it is a four lane (two in each direction) A road signposted as 50 mph. This means that commercial vehicles must comply with a 40 mph limit. Many drivers have been found to be speeding on this section of the road as they keep pace with the general traffic flow not realising that the road is an A road rather than a dual carriageway. The RHA believes stringent criteria must be applied when highway authorities seek to make changes to speed limits. In addition, signing must be clear for all road users to avoid drivers being caught as a result of confusion rather than illegal activity. The key point is that speed limits must be, and must be seen to be, appropriate to the particular road conditions.


  Efficient enforcement plays a key role. As well as increasing compliance, it also helps to promote fairness—operators who comply with speed limits may suffer a commercial disadvantage compared with those breaking the limits. That said, we are concerned that the increasing use of speed cameras is causing some problems. Whilst penalising those found to be breaking the law is crucial, in the case of speeding, we believe enforcement activity is far more productive if it deters people from acting illegally in the first place. Speed cameras can only be an effective deterrent if they are clearly visible to drivers and are well signed.

  We are pleased that the government accepts this position, as indicated by its recent announcement. However, the RHA are concerned that implementation of the new rules will be unduly lengthy and that existing cameras will not be considered a high priority. We believe that the policy must be implemented across the board (existing cameras as well as new ones) as soon as possible.


  The RHA believes that educating road users about the behaviour and characteristics of other road users and vehicles can play an important part in reducing accidents whether they are caused by speed or by other factors. This is particularly important for vulnerable users such as cyclists and pedestrians. The RHA has worked with both the CTC (Cyclists Touring Club) and RoSPA to produce educational leaflets aimed at educating both cyclists and lorry drivers about each others' needs. The leaflets are disseminated widely by organisations and copies are enclosed for the Committee's information.

January 2002

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