The Government has just announced a consultation on allowing the general use of articulated lorries some 2 metres longer than at present, as well as permitting 48-tonne lorries instead of ‘only’ 44 tonnes. The consultation is on ‘next steps for more environmentally friendly haulage’. How can longer and heavier lorries be ‘environmentally friendly’? Well, it’s all down to the economics of business. You can get more packets of crisps in that extra 2m, or you can carry two heavy, 20-foot containers on a single vehicle. That means burning less fuel overall.
But there is little our local authorities can do to prevent such vehicles using unsuitable roads or streets. These long or heavy vehicles damage our roads and endanger people.
Originally 44-tonne lorries were only permitted to move containers from a ‘railhead’ to a local destination. Now they can go almost anywhere. The rule of thumb is that the damaging power of an axle load is proportional to the fourth power of an axle load. A 6-axle, 48t lorry will do around twice the damage of a 40t one. It would take five 4-axle 24t lorries to do the damage of a single 6-axle 48t one. Even the cost of strengthening required local authority bridges can be enormous. We need more capacity and more electrification of our railways, to carry containers from Felixstowe and hence keep them off the A14.
With 18m articulated lorries, the ‘off-tracking’ when they make sharp turns can endanger other road users and even street furniture. On a sharp turn the rear may ‘kick-out’ more than 2.5m. Just watch for a Royal Mail vehicle leaving Clifton Road. Those black skid marks you may see are often caused by an articulated lorry turning so sharply the rear tyres slide sideways!
If these changes are approved, we must restrict such vehicles to the ‘Strategic Network’ controlled by Highways England, with any exemptions on our roads and streets approved locally. In London, under specific legislation, there is a night-time ban similarly restricting vehicles over 18 tonnes. The operator gets a charge of £550 and the driver £155 for any unapproved infringement.
With ‘enabling’ of existing laws, and the introduction of a ‘required’ HGV-specific SatNav with a more limited set of routes, we could greatly reduce road damage and road danger from a wider set of goods vehicles. The Greater Cambridge Partnership is considering the use ‘bulk-break’ or ‘consolidation’ depots to enable local deliveries and collection by more appropriate vehicles in our area. That would be a real way to get “environmentally friendly haulage”.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 18 November 2020.