Friday 25 July 2014

A death warrant

You probably haven't heard of Claire Perry, but she is the Under-Secretary State for Transport elected to a safe Tory seat in England, and her brief includes freight. It is worth making a note of the name because Claire Perry has just signed a death warrant for what could be scores of people who live in rural areas by increasing the speed limit for lorries on country roads from 40mph to 50mph. She would also like to increase the speed limit for lorries on dual carriage ways from 50mph to 60mph, claiming that these measures will save the road haulage industry £11 million a year.

Control over speed limits is one of the many non-devolved powers, and so although nobody in Wales voted for Claire Perry, and the coalition she is part of took just 13 out of 40 Welsh seats, Mrs Perry gets to decide how fast lorries should be allowed to drive on Welsh roads.

Two years ago on a very dark and stormy night in January I had to travel 19 or so miles to Lampeter. It was windy and raining very heavily, so unsurprisingly there was not much traffic on the A475, but I encountered two very large lorries coming in the opposite direction. One had his lights on full beam, and blinded me in what were already dangerous conditions. I had to slam the brakes on and stop.

The second came round a sharp bend on the wrong side of the road, forcing me right up against a bank. There were just inches to spare.

Whether they were driving faster than 40mph is impossible to say, but they went so fast and the conditions were so bad that the only thing I could have sworn to with certainty was that one of them was a large livestock transporter.

As local roads go, the A475 is by no means the worst, but a yellow council sign at the Horeb junction says a lot of people have been killed and injured on it in the last few years.

According to a UK Government report, the cost of road traffic accidents in Britain in 2011 was £15.6 billion. That was for reported accidents. The same report estimated that the cost of all accidents was probably around £34.8 billion. The average cost of a single fatal road accident was put at £1.87 million.

If inflation is factored in, just five fatal road accidents involving lorries would wipe out the savings which Claire Perry (or possibly the Road Haulage Association) reckons would be achieved by increasing the speed limits, quite apart from the cost in lives and human misery.

In 2013 the Campaign for Better Transport published a report which claimed that:
  • On motorways: More than half (52%) of fatal accidents on motorways involve HGVs, despite HGVs only making up 10% of the traffic on motorways
  • On A-roads: HGVs are involved in 1 in 5 fatal crashes on A roads, a ratio that has worsened over the last 5 years
  • On minor roads: An HGV is five times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a minor road than other traffic
The UK Government's own figures show that in 2010 there were 7,103 accidents involving an HGV, with 9,686 casualties and 263 fatalities.

Weighed against this, Claire Perry's £11 million is a meaningless irrelevance.

All of this, of course, is just about speed limits and road safety.

Not factored into the cost to society of cutting red tape for road hauliers is the sort of scene all of us will be familiar with as gigantic HGVs manoeuvre their way around narrow country roads.

Twice in recent months one of my neighbours has taken delivery of goods delivered by John Lewis and a bedding company in massive lorries which each spent an hour trying to get in and out of the single track road which leads to Mrs Bucket's des res, blocking the whole area off as they did so.

Having smaller delivery vehicles would be inefficient, you see.

In Cenarth (the A484 this time), the number of very large lorries struggling to get over the ancient, narrow and picturesque bridge is rising. They not only hold themselves up, thereby incurring cost, but everyone else as well (incurring cost). Not to mention the damage caused to country roads and ancient bridges and buildings as they rumble past.

And with the boom in online shopping set to continue, the problem will only get worse.

Perhaps it has got something to do with the traditionally very close links (lots of juicy donations) between the Conservative Party and the road hauliers, but whatever it is, Wales needs to be able to decide what happens on its roads, not Mrs Perry.


Jac o' the North, said...

You're absolutely right about the traditionally very close links between the Conservative Party and the road hauliers. Which is one of the reasons we don't have an efficient rail freight network.

Cneifiwr said...

It's interesting to compare the UK with Germany in this respect. In Germany HGVs have to pay charges on motorways based on a variety of factors - weight, distance travelled, fuel efficiency, etc. One of the aims is to drive more freight off the roads onto rail. They also have a ban on HGVs on motorways on Sundays, although you can get an exemption permit.

The UK always claims that regulation of road freight holds back the economy, but the Germans seem to be doing pretty well on it.

Anonymous said...

Carms CC, and I dare say other councils too, are slashing their road maintenance budgets. They are also putting a lot more children on buses, as rural schools are regarded as an unaffordable luxury. I am horrified to think of heavy lorries charging down narrow lanes wreaking havoc, meeting buses and cars on blind bends. Is there nothing we can do?

Anonymous said...

Do you remember the ''speed kills'' Government campaign( spent £ millions )? This decision seems to contradict that expensive public safety campaign.