Comment: To reduce road deaths, transfer more freight to the railways


Supporting rail freight is a great way for the Government to reduce road deaths as HGVs are disproportionally involved in fatal road crashes because of their size and scale.

The latest Government figures show that HGVs are almost six times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal collisions on minor roads.

These figures have been consistent: in the previous two years, HGVs were more than six times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents on minor roads.

In 2014, on motorways, HGVs were involved in almost half (45%) of fatal collisions, although they only accounted for 11.6% of the miles driven on them. Between 2010 and 2014, lorries were almost 10 times more likely than cars to be involved in a fatal collision in London.

Another contributing problem is the lack of compliance with existing road safety regulations, which puts other road users at extra risk. HGVs driven by UK drivers had a 59% overloading rate in roadside checks in 2013 and 2014.

In 2015, the Government increased the HGV speed limits on dual carriageways and single carriageway roads on the basis that it was commonly broken; 82% of HGVs were exceeding the 50 mph limit and 73% exceeded their 40 mph limit. This seemed to us the wrong justification for increasing speed limits, as speed and greater kinetic energy worsen collision outcomes.

Furthermore, we remain very concerned about the safety of the 7ft longer semi-trailers, under Department for Transport (DfT) Trials, on many urban roads. While longer semi-trailers are acceptable on the strategic road network, they are totally unsuitable for many of the capital’s urban roads, which they will need to use to access depots.

The longer semi-trailer rear tail-swing on normal left and right hand turns is almost double (up from 1.7m to 3.3m) that of existing standard length 44 tonne HGVs, making them dangerous on minor roads for other vulnerable road users, especially pedestrians and cyclists. Even Risk Solutions, which is carrying out the trial evaluation for the DfT, states that it cannot judge the safety of LST’s on urban roads.

Rail has an expanding share of the long distance trunk consumer traffic, which carries freight in a safer greener way than HGVs. However, there is suppressed demand for these rail services because of lack of capacity on the rail network, with each train slot coming free being used immediately.

Therefore the Government should continue to fund the Strategic Rail Freight network as a priority to improve road safety, reduce congestion, road damage and pollution.


This graph shows HGV involvement rate in fatal crashes on different road types, based on the percentage of miles they represent, has increased as cars become safer.

DfT research states that, because of their size and weight, when they are involved in accidents the level of injury tends to be higher but we believe that it is ignoring its own statements and figures which show the scale of danger that HGVs pose.

Philippa Edmunds is Freight on Rail Manager at Campaign for Better Transport

This is the second of a series of articles to mark Road Safety Week.


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