Thursday 25 March 2010

Lawless lorry drivers

Yesterday I saw this tipper truck driver belting along the A503 past Walthamstow Town Hall, the driver steering with one hand while chatting on a handheld mobile phone. Yes, a tipper truck – the kind of vehicle which is repeatedly involved in killing cyclists. It’s hard to believe that this lawless yob driver is likely to pay much attention to speed limits or Advanced Stop Lines or the safety of cyclists at road junctions.

And seven days ago I spotted this skip lorry driver cruise into an Advanced Stop Line at red on the A104 at the junction with Orient Way. Yes, just eight days after a driver from this same firm crushed to death a cyclist in Hackney its drivers are disregarding cycling safety. (Compare my photo with the one shown here.)

Of course nobody should be surprised that London’s roads are packed with criminal lorry drivers, because criminality is an institutionalised feature of the road haulage industry. Here are a few facts about lawless heavy goods vehicle drivers, given on the Department for Transport website, relating to the most recent year for which figures are currently available, i.e. 2008:

Over 85 per cent of them exceeded the 50 mph speed limit on dual carriageway non-built-up roads

Over three-quarters (77 per cent) exceeded the 40 mph limit on single carriageway non-built-up roads.

Between 43 and 52 per cent of HGVs exceeded the 30 mph speed limit.


The road haulage industry is out of control but nobody wants to talk about it, least of all politicians or senior police officers, with one honourable exception:

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker said: "It seems the police and the Government are now prepared to accept lawbreaking on a massive scale.

The vast majority of lorry driver crime goes undetected and unpunished (and even when the consequences are appalling, the driver’s punishment is conventionally lax).

Ironically, because the Metropolitan Police has largely abandoned traffic policing, lorry drivers are only likely to be punished when they break parking regulations, which is enforced by local authorities. No surprise that we find the powerful and influential Freight Transport Association whining that

Operators are being unfairly inundated with Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) for violation of parking and loading and unloading restrictions. Several FTA members have reported paying sums in excess of £1 million a year in London.

That is an index of lorry drivers' contempt for parking restrictions, which is on a scale that matches their flouting of road traffic law, not a sign of “unfairness”.

And let's not forget that as far as London is concerned

over 70% of ALL the lorries inspected by the Met Police Commercial Vehicles Inspection Unit since 2005 have been found to have some form of illegal defect; overloading, underinflated tyres, faulty tachographs, drivers exceeding their legal hour limit, drivers being illegal workers or unlicensed, doors held together with wire coat hangers as they speed down narrow residential streets; that sort of thing.

Leaving aside the industry's institutionalised contempt for road traffic law and public safety, the profits of the road haulage industry are lavishly subsidised out of the public purse, because the industry doesn’t pay for the damage it causes:

The external cost of a single heavy goods vehicle in terms of public health, noise, and wear and tear on the roads, can reach £28,000 a year.

(A figure worth bearing in mind the next time an uninformed petrolhead grumbles that cyclists "don't pay road tax".)

What is to be done? Protesting about the status quo is a start, and as you probably already know, tomorrow there’s a London cycling demo relating to HGV fatalities.


By the way, I emailed a complaint about the tipper truck driver. It carried no identification that I could see on the side but it did say MOTORWAY MAINTENANCE on the back, so I sent this to the Highways Agency:

Is a tipper truck bearing the words 'MOTORWAY MAINTENANCE' at the rear a vehicle for which the Highways Agency bears any responsibility?

I was disturbed to see the driver of a tipper truck reg. KE03 DPU using a handheld mobile phone and steering with one hand while driving at speed today at 11.04 am on Forest Road E17 (A503), passing the Town Hall, driving east. The driver was male, possibly in his late 20s or 30s. The vehicle was carrying a full load of what looked like earth. It had no company markings that I could see but at the rear it bore the words MOTORWAY MAINTENANCE.

Perhaps you could enlighten me as to what standards the Highways Agency requires of road haulage drivers who do work for the agency.

The Highways Agency replied the same day:

The presence of a sign on the vehicle stating Highways Maintenance is a legal requirement for all vehicles that can be used for highways work regardless of whether they are council or Agency managed but it does not mean that the vehicle in question is affiliated with ourselves.

[That wasn’t what I wrote, of course. I never said it bore the words ‘Highway Maintenance’ but rather 'Motorway Maintenance.]

Our vehicles are very clearly livered with markings stating they are part of the "Highways Agency" which clearly follow the design on our website at

We are responsible for managing, maintaining and improving the strategic road network in England on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport. The 503
[sic] does not fall under this category and there is no reason for any of our contractor's vehicles or workmen to be present or travelling along this road.

I would recommend reporting the actions of the driver the vehicle you saw to your local police station.

I’m prepared to believe it wasn’t an official Highways Agency vehicle, but a lorry bearing the words ‘Motorway Maintenance’ does sort of seem to suggest it might be involved in work on a motorway, and all motorways, as far as I’m aware, are the responsibility of the Highways Agency. Maybe the LCC's HGV expert Charlie Lloyd would know if the Highways Agency is evading the issue; I unfortunately don’t.

As for reporting the driver to my local police station. People drive past Walthamstow police station all day long chatting on handheld mobile phones.

And anyway the last time I reported a criminal lorry driver to a police officer, who also witnessed the criminality, no action whatsoever was taken. I still have a vivid memory of the smirk on the officer's face as he said "I'll look into it." I deduced from his barely-concealed amusement that he had no intention of doing anything - and sure enough, when I followed it up, he hadn't.