Longer lorries 'put cyclists and pedestrians' at risk as new law gives them the go-ahead on British roads

Businesses welcome new regulations but opponents raise safety and environmental concerns 

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Haulage firms will be allowed to use longer lorries on British roads from the end of this month, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said. 

The move will allow more goods to be carried in fewer journeys, according to the government, and comes despite some opponents raising fears that the larger vehicles could pose more of a threat to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as damage to road infrastructure. 

From 31 May, lorry trailers up to 61ft (18.55m) long - 6ft 9in (2.05m) longer than the standard size – will be permitted on roads in England, Scotland and Wales. The DfT said that the longer trailers means the same amount of cargo will be able to be carried in 8% fewer journeys - taking one lorry off the roads for every 12 trips. 

The DfT estimates this will bring £1.4 billion of economic benefits and save 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere over 11 years.

However, opponents say the government should be focused on increasing reliance on rail freight rather than long-distance road haulage, claiming it is better for the environment and reducing congestion.

Transport and cycling groups have also raised concern that the lorries, which have a longer tail swing and larger blind spots than standard trailers, pose more of a risk to other road users

The DfT dismissed these concerns and said that an 11-year trial had shown that they were safe for use on public roads. It said that its research found the longer lorries were involved in around 61% fewer personal injury collisions than conventional lorries, the department said.

Roads minister Richard Holden said: “A strong, resilient supply chain is key to the government’s efforts to grow the economy. That’s why we’re introducing longer semi-trailers to carry more goods in fewer journeys and ensure our shops, supermarkets and hospitals are always well stocked. These new vehicles will provide an almost £1.4 billion boost to the haulage industry, reduce congestion, lower emissions and enhance the safety of UK roads.”

(Image: NationalWorld)(Image: NationalWorld)
(Image: NationalWorld)

However, lobby group Campaign for Better Transport called the new legislation a “deeply retrograde step”. Its spokesperson, Norman Baker said: “[This] will do nothing to tackle carbon emissions or air pollution and will disadvantage parallel rail freight routes. 

“There is already a significant problem with lorries causing damage to pavements, street furniture and parked cars, not to mention the danger to other road users and pedestrians. Rather than longer, heavier lorries, the government should be investing in rail freight as a safer, cleaner and more efficient alternative.”

Keir Gallagher, campaigns manager at Cycling UK, said: “At a time when funding for infrastructure to keep people cycling and walking safer has been cut, it’s alarming that longer and more hazardous lorries could now be allowed to share the road with people cycling and walking.

“Before opening the floodgates to longer lorries rolling into our busy town centres and narrow rural lanes, further testing in real life scenarios should have been done to assess and address the risks.”

According to Cycling UK, official figures show that HGVs are involved in 15.5% of cyclist and 11% of pedestrian deaths but account for just 3.4% of traffic.

Between 2012 and 2021, 1,094 cyclists were killed in road traffic accidents across Great Britain, according to Department for Transport (DfT) figures analysed by NationalWorld – an annual average of 109 deaths. Northern Ireland is not included in the figures.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said the safety record of the larger lorries in testing was “encouraging” but the vehicles could cause problems away from motorways and other major roads.

He said: “One can imagine problems if these lorries leave the strategic roads and end up off the beaten track. Particular attention will need to be paid to diversion routes when motorways and major A roads are closed for repair, as they often are.”