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Government Consultation: Raising the speed limit for HGVs

Martin Batt

The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation, with a deadline of 1st February 2013, examining the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) over 7.5 tonnes on single carriageway roads. This is an opportunity for our parish council to comment on current speed limits for HGVs, particularly in our area. 

Bramham Parish Council discussed this important issue 2nd January. The key points we considered were:

Increasing the speed limit would be detrimental to safety in the parish

There are a number of roads subject to 60mph speed limits for car and light vehicle traffic within the parish. These include Paradise Way, Toulston Lane and Windmill Hill. Although the number of vehicles over 7.5 tonnes using these roads may be fairly limited, due to the HGV restrictions in force, these appear to be regularly flouted. Any increase in speeds would present dangers to pedestrians and cyclists who regularly use Toulston Lane and Windmill Hill, for example. Situated so close to the A1M, Bramham is occasionally subject to traffic seeking to avoid hold-ups on the motorway, and the position is similar for many other rural communities on traffic “rat runs” at peak times or periods of congestion. A large number of our residents enjoy walking, horse riding and cycling, and any threat to these healthy activities caused by speeding vehicles, especially large ones, would be detrimental to the quality of life in the community. In fact, the Council believes there is a strong argument for reducing the overall speed limit on rural roads from 60 mph to 50 mph or less to ensure that safety is not compromised in future with increased traffic levels. The argument presented about the current difficulty in overtaking surely makes no sense, given that it is easier to overtake a slow moving vehicle abiding by the current 40 mph limit. The real problem is that so few larger vehicles actually obey this limit in practice, and car and van drivers will “run out of road” during dangerous overtaking manoeuvres.  Quoting from the TRRL report: 
… The maximum potential increase in the average speed would be about 3mph and the actual change in average speed could well be less. However, any increase in speed is likely to increase the numbers of accidents…

Increasing the speed limit for large vehicles will inevitably cause an increase, rather than a decrease, in accidents. The important point made by the TRRL report is that heavy vehicles are involved in more severe accidents than lighter vehicles, with their weight being a contributory factor. The police regularly cite excess speed as the major causal factor in all road accidents.

There would be a detrimental effect on the environment

An increase in average speeds by large vehicles due to a relaxation of the current 40 mph limit would increase both their fuel consumption, and their emissions of CO2 and particulates. It would also increase noise levels, but perhaps most importantly at a time of local government spending constraints, it would substantially increase the damage caused to rural roads by heavy vehicles, one of which is perhaps 50 times more damaging than a light vehicle to the structure of the road surface. A large increase in road maintenance budgets on rural roads (that were never designed to carry very heavy vehicles at high speeds) could be expected were vehicle speeds to increase.

Very limited effect on competitiveness and economic growth

The Council rejects the claim that there is a negative economic impact from the current 40mph limit for vehicles over 7.5 tonnes.  Any increase in speed will substantially increase fuel consumption and therefore operating costs. Indeed, it is ironic that the Road Haulage lobby constantly argues against any marginal increase in the costs of fuel, and yet apparently supports a measure that could have a much larger impact on costs. The argument about creating a level playing field is also hard to understand, in that surely the 40 mph limit applies to all operators and therefore should have a neutral impact on competition. If some operators are breaking the law, they should be prosecuted more rigorously. This is a road safety issue as much as an economic issue. Any reduction in vehicle journey time would immediately be counteracted by increased congestion at pinch points such as village centres, junctions and on narrow twisting or undulating roads where speeds of over 40mph are often physically impossible for very large vehicles. The figure of £30m savings used by the Minister is surely ridiculous in view of the far greater increase in road maintenance and accident costs that would inevitably result from increases in average speed.

Our conclusions

The case for an increase in speed of HGVs on rural roads has, we believe, not been made and there are convincing safety and environmental arguments for maintaining the current limit.  We are of course unable to provide hard data, so the responses are based on the council’s views as experienced drivers (and cyclists) on this type of road, in some cases for over 40 years. Bramham Parish Council will be submitting these points to DfT in January, and we look forward to an opportunity to comment on reductions in general speed limits on rural single carriageway roads.