Longing for change

Catching up with much of the rest of Europe, the United Kingdom now has longer semi-trailers on its roads, but the government is taking the new legislation seriously, keeping a sharp eye on who takes up the offer.

It’s an opportunity to move the same amount of goods in fewer vehicles, but for some, recent legislation increasing the size of semi-trailers in Britain didn’t adequately take safety concerns into consideration. For others, the regulations that go along with it make it all too bothersome. The Department for Transport began trialling the Longer Semi-Trailers (LSTs) in 2011 with the ultimate hope of helping businesses become more productive and reducing carbon emissions.

The legislation came officially into effect at the end of May this year, after more than ten years of public road trials involving 300 companies and almost 3,000 semi-trailers. The eventual green light was a significant development for anyone in the transportation industry.

LSTs are a type of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) trailer up to 2.05 metres longer than the current standard semi-trailers on UK roads. This new legislation allows trailer length to increase to 18.55 metres. LSTs are not the road trains permitted in various other countries or the 25.25 metres designs in use in some EU countries.

“On loads that don’t top out on weight, there is an obvious economic benefit in being able to get more goods on a single vehicle,” said Gary Beecroft from transportation consulting group, CLEAR International.

“It also helps with other issues such as driver shortages and the industry’s need to reduce its environmental impact,”

The British Department of Transport says the legislation is expected to reduce truck journeys by 8 per cent, taking one standard-size trailer off the road for every 12 trips, generating an expected 1.4 billion boost to the economy. It will also save an estimated 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

The existing Road Vehicles Regulations will remain unchanged with long semi-trailers simply added as a new trailer type. The Secretary of State is legally required to be notified by operators of the prospective use of LSTs which has to be done through Vehicle Licensing.

There are also caveats in place for those wanting to operate a LST s under the new regulation. They must pass the turning circle test applied to the existing 13.6 metre trailers, for which the LSTs require a steered rear axle. Operators must also include route plans and risk assessments for each route that is planned and put in place extra safety checks including driver training and record keeping.

“When you look at the legislation, it does seem heavy handed and likely to put off some operators from using LSTs,” said Beecroft. “However, it is important not to block roads by routing them down narrow roads where they get stuck.”

The move towards LSTs hasn’t been without some controversy, however, with it sparking debate about road safety and the danger the vehicles could pose to cyclists and pedestrians because of increased tail swing – the path that the rear bumper of the trailer takes, based on the overhang produced by the position of the tandem axles and how sharp the turn is.

The UK’s Campaign for Better Transport has argued that the government should be focusing its efforts on increasing train transport as opposed to larger trucks.

The Department for Transport says the trial, which carried out route modelling and specialist analysis of the impact of LSTs on vulnerable road user groups, demonstrated that the vehicles were involved in 60 per cent fewer personal injury collisions than conventional trucks. Beecroft believes the probability of tail swing risks to pedestrians and cyclists is reduced with LSTs.

“With the steering rear axle used on LSTs, the chances of a cyclist being trapped between the trailer and the kerb shouse be lessened,” he said.

The Department for Transport is now conducting a feasibility study for trialling even longer and heavier vehicles, which have already been formally approved in a large part of Europe. Beecroft said that without further action on semi-trailers, the UK is in danger of falling behind the curve. “In the UK about 77 per cent of all goods travel on road transport. It is therefore an essential service. The industry and government need to continue to work together to increase its efficiency.”

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