On 24 July the Government announced that the speed limit for HGV vehicles (in excess of 7.5 tonnes) on rural roads is to be increased from early 2015 from 40 mph to 50 mph. Apart from trade associations and those involved in the logistics sector, this announcement was met with dismay. It was clear that the basis of the decision was to reduce travel times for trade and haulage companies.
Notwithstanding the outcry caused by this announcement, the Government went on to advise they were consulting on whether to increase the speed limit for such HGV vehicles on dual carriageways from 50 mph to 60 mph. The consultation ends on 5 September 2014, and whilst we will need to await the announcement after the close of the consultation, the outcome can probably be anticipated.
On reviewing the consultation paper it is evident that the underlying reason for the consultation is a logistics and business decision and little regard is given to the safety of other road users. The first paragraph to the consultation paper states
“The freight and logistics sector is an essential part of the UK economy employing around 2 million people. Improving the conditions for growth in the logistics sector is a key element of the Government’s growth agenda. To facilitate this, it is my aim, where possible, to free professional hauliers from unnecessary regulation and to get freight moving more efficiently on our road”.
The consultation is further justified by indicating that the current speed limit does not work anyway as over 80% of HGV drivers break the speed limit (with the average driving at 53 mph) and that it is not only logistically impossible to prosecute offenders but also it is suggested it would be unfair to do so. It is not entirely clear where the logic in that argument lies. If a car driver is caught doing 32 mph in a 30 mph zone they are prosecuted for speeding, so why should an HGV driver avoid prosecution for driving at 53 mph when they should be restricted to a maximum of 50 mph?
It is further suggested that it is unfair for HGV vehicles over 7.5 tonnes to be different to other vehicles such as a coach, a van and a car towing a trailer or caravan. However, the answer is obvious. They are different. They are heavier, they are more difficult to manoeuvre and stopping distances are longer. A key fact overlooked is that an HGV vehicle can and will do significantly more damage than other vehicles in a high velocity impact.
Whilst some dual carriageways in their build may be akin to a motorway, the fact is they are not. The access to a dual carriageway is often very different to a motorway where vehicles are controlled by slip roads. That is often not the case on a dual carriageway with vehicles entering often from a minor road at a stationary position. The consultation paper also does not take into account the different type of road users on a dual carriageway as opposed to a motorway, for example, learner drivers, cyclists, walkers and even horse riders, should they be so brave. These roads are different to a motorway and that is the very reason why the limit for an HGV vehicle has been less for so many years.
Further, the fact that the consultation paper asks for response from a number of groups, with road safety groups and other road users coming towards the bottom of the list is indicative that the consultation is aimed at those groups for whom it would be an advantage for the speed limit to be increased, such as trade associations and haulage companies. However, is a 10 mph increase in the speed limit and the extra profit it may bring in for those companies worth the price of the likely increase in serious injuries and deaths that will arise on the UK roads as a result?