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Heavy Goods Vehicles

Volume 532: debated on Thursday 15 September 2011

4. What assessment he has made of the potential road safety implications of increasing the maximum length of heavy goods vehicles. (71831)

In March I published a feasibility study and impact assessment on longer semi-trailers, undertaken by consultants including the Transport Research Laboratory. The research, which is available in the Library, includes consideration of the potential road safety implications.

Many streets in my constituency are already unsuitable for long heavy goods vehicles, and the thought of even longer vehicles trying to get down narrow city streets will horrify many people. As the Minister knows, blanket lorry bans are not possible in many urban areas, for all sorts of reasons. May I urge him to think again, and to reject the proposal to allow even longer lorries on to totally unsuitable streets in urban and rural areas?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but he should note that because the turning wheels of longer semi-trailers are at the back, their turning circles are much tighter than those of existing lorries. I know that because I used to drive heavy goods vehicles myself. However, I will look into the points made by the hon. Gentleman, and we will announce our proposals when the House reconvenes next month. Then at least the industry will know exactly where we are going.

Has the Minister considered the environmental impact of very long vehicles, particularly in relation to small rural roads, and the safety implications for pedestrians and cyclists of elongated public service vehicles in the form of articulated buses?

We have indeed considered the environmental impact of longer semi-trailers, and have concluded that there will be less pollution in the community. There will be fewer lorries, because the longer lorries will be able to carry more cargo than can be carried now. We considered carefully whether longer semi-trailers posed a risk to cyclists in particular, and the risk is not there.

I know that the Minister is in some pain this morning owing to a tooth abscess, and I do not want to add to his discomfort, but people—motorists, cyclists and pedestrians—are frightened by heavy goods vehicles, and longer vehicles will cause even greater anxiety. Given the 40% cut in road safety funding and the results of the Department’s own consultation, which suggest that the number of casualties may be marginally higher if longer vehicles are introduced, will the Minister ensure that the road safety element features highly in his consideration? Surely it must be at the top of his agenda.

It is very kind of my shadow opponent to worry about my abscess, but I promise him that the NHS dentist will look after it for me.

We will carefully consider the road safety implications of longer semi-trailers, but we must sweat our assets better on the roads. We are not going to introduce heavier weights, and we are not going to introduce the mega-trucks whose introduction has been proposed to us. We will look carefully at the length of trailers to ensure that more products can be taken around the country with the same weight, the same fuel and fewer emissions.

Surely the best way of improving road safety is to put all transport on to rail, but will my hon. Friend tell me how safety can be improved on roads such as the A64? What specific plans does he have in that regard?

I shall have to write to my hon. Friend about the A64. As for moving more transport on to rail, the industry rightly says that trains often take goods to the rail hubs, and trucks—which will now be the longer semi-trailers—take them from there to the distribution centres and supermarkets. When the longer vehicles are introduced, there will be fewer traffic problems, fewer lorries and more rail transport, which is what we want.