You might recall the incident earlier this year where a lorry driver tried to drive under a low bridge in Middlesbrough and ended up smashing into the bottom of it. The road had to be cleared, causing a great deal of frustration for everyone who wanted to drive along it at the time, and a great deal of expense for the taxpayer. This wasn’t a one-off incident; it happened four times in a matter of weeks, at the same bridge!
It seems this isn’t a problem unique the Middlesbrough; all across the land, lorries are avoiding the sensible routes and trying to take short-cuts through town. We’ve all, at one point or another, been stuck behind a lorry driver who didn’t really know what they were doing. In some narrow, historical areas, a lorry in the wrong place can cause absolute pandemonium. The problem usually occurs when a sat-nav guides the hapless lorry driver in the wrong direction. But there has not yet been a sat-nav invented that can restore the damage inflicted when a lorry reverses into a signpost.
The Local Government Authority has been making rather loud noises about how much it disapproves of the situation. Late last month, they asked for the power to issue fines to lorry drivers who flout weight limits and drive wherever they please. As well as preventing blockages and damage to public property, the move would also help to deal with congestion and pollution, and to improve road safety standards.
This is bad news for lorry drivers, but ostensibly great news for the rest of us. Lorries that drive along streets which aren’t designed to take their weight will inflict lots of damage. Moreover, their removal will mean lots more room for smaller vehicles – which will mean plenty of van drivers hoovering up the business left behind by the poor HGV drivers. You might think that this will mean more vehicles on the road overall, which is a fair assumption – but even a convoy of a dozen large transits can get around a suburban estate far more easily than a big, unwieldy lorry.
Another suggestion put forward by the LGA is that lorry drivers should be forced to use special sat-navs which make it explicitly clear that a given road is unsuitable for trucks. Why truck-drivers should need to be encouraged to do this seems quite mysterious. You might think that the prospect of crashing your company’s vehicle into a low-hanging bridge, losing an afternoon’s custom, and becoming the laughing stock of everyone on Facebook would be incentive enough for the lorry-driver to invest in a decent sat-nav without the need for the LGA to get involved.
The necessary powers were written in the Traffic Management Act 2004, but as yet, the secondary legislation (that’s the stuff that’s delegated to bodies outside of parliament) doesn’t yet exist for councils outside of London to be able to enforce the rules. We’ll keep an eye out for developments.