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Vehicles: Heavy Goods Vehicles

Volume 755: debated on Tuesday 8 July 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to strengthen the enforcement of drivers’ hours and construction and use regulations with respect to heavy goods vehicles.

My Lords, the Government have plans to strengthen enforcement, including: continued targeting; introducing four new purpose-built Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency check sites; using the joint DVSA and police HGV task force in London set up last year; and a fixed-site automatic number-plate recognition camera network. We are consulting about proposals to use financial penalty deposits for historical drivers’ hours offences, developing plans for some specialised vehicles, and working to get more serial offenders to traffic commissioner inquiries more quickly.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that comprehensive Answer. I would like to know when some of these things are going to happen, but they sound really good. My reason for asking was that I recently met an HGV driver who had driven on trade plates from the south of England to Edinburgh, and then back to the south of England and back to Edinburgh, within 24 hours. I hope that these regulations will stop that kind of thing. Will the Minister confirm exactly how it could be stopped in the future?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important issue about trade plates. Vehicles which have not yet been put into service are exempt from the EU drivers’ hours rules and so do not need to use a tachometer. However, drivers of these vehicles would need to comply with the GB domestic drivers’ hours rules, which restrict driving to 10 hours a day with a duty limit of 11 hours a day. Obviously, for enforcement, without the tachometer we are very much dependent on intelligence. I have passed the noble Lord’s information back to the various authorities to pursue. Intelligence is an important part of enforcement here. We also rely heavily on whistleblowers. Drivers are encouraged to report any breaches of these rules to the DVSA on its helpline, which is 0300 123 9000. All calls will be treated in confidence and driver anonymity is ensured. I will confirm to the noble Lord the various processes that follow on from the receipt of that information.

My Lords, is the explanation of the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the very powerful attraction of Edinburgh?

Can the Minister tell the House how many people are employed countrywide in the enforcement of these regulations? How many prosecutions have there been under these regulation over the past 12 months? If she does not have that information to hand, I would be happy to read about it in Hansard.

I will be delighted to follow up with any gaps. The noble Lord will be aware that an important task force in London, the new Industrial HGV Task Force, which is made up of eight officers from VOSA and eight from the Metropolitan Police, was launched in September 2013. That has been extremely effective in increasing enforcement. The task force is running a whole series of exercises. Between 1 October and 27 June, it stopped 2,798 vehicles: 764 were compliant—about 27%;—1,232 prohibitions were issued; 724 fixed-penalty notices were issued; and 35 vehicles were seized. Somewhere here, if I can find it, I have more general information; I will write to the noble Lord with that.

Can the Minister tell the House whether she has information about how many people have been killed or seriously injured by drivers who were driving outside the limits, and whether for the latest year—if figures are available—she has any evidence of what happens to such drivers?

Accidents that involve HGVs have been falling for the past five years, although slowly. In 2013, there were 6,524 reported accidents, of which 270 were fatal. That has fallen by 8% since 2009. Where evidence exists to show that an HGV driver is at fault, he is reported for prosecution. We do not hold the numbers of those prosecuted and the results of those prosecutions, but we will refer that to the Home Office to see whether it has further detail.

My Lords, 90% of goods in this country are delivered by road most efficiently. That is ever likely to be so because the alternative—to send them by rail—is a three-stage journey that is entirely uneconomic in a small country such as ours. Therefore, will the Minister resist any pressure to raise transport costs, which affect us all, particularly when advocated by members of the rail lobby?

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord’s question is rather out of scope. Safety on the roads is an issue on which we have to be both vigilant and effective.

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s answers were rather too long for the House. However, they were not too long for me, because I agreed with them.

Is my noble friend aware that I had a heavy goods vehicle licence during the war, and that there were no restrictions at that time?

My Lords, the Question was about the use of trade plates and in what circumstances truckers would want to use them. Is there not a restriction on the amount of time they can run on trade plates?

I will write to the noble Lord with more detail on that. This is about vehicles that have not yet been put into service, so the various restrictions are around that. I will send him more detail on that.

My Lords, at what point does the Minister think she will be in a position to mandate the use of sensors on HGVs to detect cyclists? It cannot be done immediately, but at some point we should be able to do that. When does she think she will be able to do that?

The noble Earl is quite right that that will be an important safety development. At the moment the sensor equipment we have that reliably detects other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists is still in development. Unfortunately, some of the systems treat a tree as if it were a cyclist, and of course, once you get wrong information, the driver begins to ignore it. Therefore we are pursuing these issues very rapidly, and the department will welcome any uptake of effective systems by vehicle owners. However, vehicle registration is at the EU level, and mandatory fitment will need to be agreed with the other member states.

My Lords, will the Minister consider amending the construction and use regulations to remove the exemption for skip lorries and cement mixing lorries from the requirement to have a safety bar? These are the vehicles which are killing many bicycle riders now.

My Lords, there are constraints on some of these vehicles, but the noble Baroness is right to say that there are special vehicles which are exempt. We have been looking at reducing those exemptions, and I will be glad to keep her up to date with where that process is going.