Longer lorries a danger for all

This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 98.

Back in March 2011, the Department for Transport started consultations on proposals to allow longer trailers for articulated vehicles. This seemed to be ‘low key’ and many were unaware that it was happening.

Some may know that in a previous existence whilst working at the then TRRL (Transport and Road Research Laboratory) I developed a computer model to predict the space required by such large vehicles. More recently, I was asked by cycling interests, at somewhat short notice, to attend a meeting with DfT along with representatives from LCC (London Cycling Campaign), CTC (not now an acronym for Cyclists Touring Club) and BMF (British Motorcycle Federation). I was very concerned that DfT had no one with technical expertise at that meeting, and that they failed to understand some technical issues.

Following that meeting, with the help of others, I prepared a press release for the campaign:

Cambridge Cycling Campaign has very serious concerns about Government proposals to permit longer articulated vehicles on all our roads.

Such vehicles are not only a danger to those on bicycles, but to car drivers, pedestrians on footways, and even innocent street furniture!

Currently articulated trailers are restricted to 13.5 metres. The proposed new length would be just over 15.5 metres.

For technical reasons ALL the extra length will be to the rear of the ‘effective position’ rear axle. This causes much extra ‘tail swing’, which was what killed a pedestrian on a footway in Cambridge in 2007. Tail-swing (I used to call it ‘kick-out’!) is where the rear end of the vehicle moves in the opposite direction to the turn. Think of it as turning while carrying a long plank over your shoulder. Even cars in adjacent traffic lanes could be vulnerable to such turning, as the HGV driver cannot see them, and car drivers do not expect such ‘kick-out’.

There are EU tests for manoeuvrability, based on legislation passed in Germany and Italy some thirty years ago, but this is really only of relevance for trunk road junctions and does not model the effects of long vehicles making sharp turns on our congested urban networks.

The consultation has closed but the Campaign has had exchanges with the Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, and I’ve corresponded with my MP Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire).

I’ve worked with both CTC and LCC, and with ‘Freight on Rail’ (part of the Campaign for Better Transport) to expand on some issues. Local Transport Today had some quotes, and LCC used parts of my letter to Andrew Lansley as a ‘News’ item (see: lcc.org.uk/articles/cambridgeshire-traffic-enginner-warns-of-dangers-of-longer-lorries-to-cyclists-and-pedestrians ).

We know the information we produced has been seen widely.

The chair of the London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee has written to DfT expressing concern that the effects of such vehicles have not been fully costed.

I’ve recently attended another meeting with campaign groups, and it seems that an announcement may be made by DfT at about the time this Newsletter goes to print.

Even significant parts of the road haulage industry are against such changes. Smaller firms with fewer vehicles would find it costly and inappropriate to use longer trailers for all trips, with only the large firms gaining economically.

The only hopeful sign is that this may be a trial of a limited number of vehicles, as has occurred in Germany and Northern Ireland. It also may be that campaigning groups will have a further opportunity to lobby against such changes if they are proposed as a permanent measure.

Jim Chisholm