Faster Lorries For The UK Roads

In a move that can only be described as counter-intuitive, the British government has announced that there is going to be a fundamental overhaul of the speed limit policy for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s) which will now be able to go a lot faster in the name of road safety. Not since the days of Barbara Castle in 1966 has there been such a change to speed limits in Great Britain.

In the UK, the current speed limit on a single carriageway road in the country for vehicles over 7.5 tonnes is 40mph; this will be increased by 25% to 50mph in a bid to stop the rolling road block of trucks that use these roads, a situation that leads to increasingly dangerous and sometimes fatal overtaking manoeuvres by the frustrated throng of drivers bottled up behind the dawdling leviathans.

It is thought that HGV’s could also get a hurry-up on dual carriageways with a Department of Transport consultation launched to raise the limit on these roads to 60mph from 50mph. The changes would see lorries travelling at the same speeds as coaches and caravans.

The changes to the rules for HGV’s on single carriageways will come into force from early 2015 and bring England and Wales into line with other European countries, such as Denmark and Norway, although it is not clear if this will also be the same for the other country in the UK, Scotland. If the consultation for dual carriageways gets the go ahead, the laws will change at the same time but until then, the existing limits remain.

The Minister for Transport, Claire Perry, said, “We’re are doing all we can to get Britain moving and boost growth. This change will do exactly that and save our haulage industry £11 million a year. Britain has one of the world’s best road safety records and yet speed limits for lorries have been stuck in the 1960s. Current speed limits for HGVs were introduced around 50 years ago and need to be updated given improved vehicle technology.”

Geoff Dunning, from the Road Haulage Association, said the move will be supported by hauliers and their drivers. He added, “The current limit is long out of date and the frustration it generates causes unnecessary road safety risks.”

It is not all positive feedback, though, as the announcement has been criticised by road safety charity, Brake, as it believes drivers are already using country roads as race tracks. It recently revealed one in three drivers (33%) admitted to driving too fast for safety on country roads, by speeding, taking bends fast or overtaking.

Julie Townsend, Deputy Chief Executive of Brake, said, “Put simply, when vehicles travel faster, it takes them longer to stop, increasing risk. It is very well evidenced that increases in speed equal increases in crashes and casualties. At the same time, the road safety justification for this move is dubious: we are not aware of evidence it will help tackle risky overtaking, which should be addressed through other means. Pronounced speed differences between traffic can pose a risk, but the way to address this is by preventing car drivers going too fast, not speeding trucks up. The minister says she wants to get the country moving, but we ask at what cost to road users and the environment?”

Brake said it was concerned for rural residents “blighted” by fast traffic and for cyclists and pedestrians out enjoying the countryside. Of course the current speed limit and regulations were established in the 1960’s and there have been colossal improvements in safety systems, such as brakes and road surfaces, along with major improvements in fuel and emissions performances, so perhaps Brake is not keeping abreast of the times.

The objections from Brake has fallen largely on deaf ears over at the Department for Transport, who defended the decision to up the limit and said it was urging English councils to use local powers issued last year to impose tighter speed limits on roads that have heavy pedestrian or cyclist traffic or where the road has tight corners or blind spots, leaving some obvious wiggle room for the local councils to influence road speeds as they wish.

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