Ministers are taking forward controversial plans to allow longer lorries on UK roads, despite two deaths involving the vehicles last year.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has also launched a consultation on proposals to start a trial of heavier HGVs on UK roads, which could see the maximum weight of some HGVs increased by four tonnes to 48 tonnes.
The DfT began a trial of longer semi-trailers (LSTs) for articulated goods vehicles in January 2012, which was due to last 10 years.
The DfT has now said that ‘off the back of positive results’ from the trial, it proposes to end the trials early and consult on whether LSTs should be allowed to permanently operate on roads across the UK.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘These trials clearly show the benefits for business and the environment of using longer trailers. By determining the next steps to get them on our roads permanently, we can benefit industry and our economy, boost safety and cut emissions.’
The DfT said the trial ‘has shown that they’ve saved lorry drivers travelling millions of miles – cutting emissions and boosting productivity.
‘In the past year alone, the 2,600 vehicles involved in the trial have saved lorry drivers 33.5 million miles and 48,000 tonnes of CO2 – equivalent to taking over 20,000 cars off the road.’
However, some have questioned the assumption behind these claims, including that the potential to carry larger loads will result in fewer vehicles.
The most recent report – up to the end of 2019 – states that ‘more than half of the operators are running their trailers at or near their maximum efficiency’, which it describes as the ‘highest savings group’.
However, the report also discloses that fewer than two in five trailers (39%) are in this group. Around the same amount are in an 'average savings' group, for example ‘some retail sector deliveries to stores, where the cargo sizes can be driven by just-in-time delivery to the store of exactly what is demanded’.
The report also states that the longer trailers were involved in fewer personal injury collisions (based on both the amount of freight carried and the distance actually travelled) compared with standard HGVs.
However, in 2019, there were two fatal incidents involving LSTs, the first such incidents during the trial.
The trial involves longer semi-trailers of 14.6 metres and 15.65 metres in length (17.5 metres and 18.55 metres total vehicle lengths respectively) but still within the UK’s existing domestic weight limit of 44 tonnes for vehicles of six axles.
When it comes to increasing the weight to 48 tonnes, some industry voices have warned it would require stronger, more resilient roads.
Joe Quirke, chairman of infrastructure company Britpave, said: 'What is needed is a construction solution that can successfully meet the demands being placed upon it. The way forward is to design specific truck lanes where the road is specifically constructed to meet the demands of heavy traffic loads.'