Page last updated at 09:44 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 10:44 UK

MPs urge foreign lorry crackdown

Lorries in traffic jam on M6, UK
Safety standards of foreign-registered vehicles are of particular concern

MPs have called for the agency in charge of safety-testing lorries and buses to be given extra powers to get unsafe foreign vehicles off the road.

The Commons Transport Committee said non-compliance among overseas vehicles was unacceptably high.

Nearly 47% of foreign vehicles stopped were found to have dangerous defects, compared with 37.5% for UK vehicles.

The committee says the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) needs more resources.

Its report, which looked into the enforcement activities of VOSA, said the agency needed more access to ports to prevent dangerous vehicles from entering Britain.

Committee chairman Louise Ellman MP said: "Britain has some of the safest roads in Europe but more must be done to ensure compliance with our safety standards for lorries, buses and coaches."

She said VOSA was "recognised as a model of best practice" but it "lacked sufficient access to our ports to inspect vehicles and drivers effectively".


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The agency was also "hampered by some of the data-sharing regulations", she said.

"With many unsafe foreign-registered lorries and drivers entering the UK, it is crucial that VOSA can share information with colleagues in other European countries to bring cowboy operators to book.

"Better arrangements are needed so that the tracking methods used so effectively to nail non-compliant British vehicles can be employed to target foreign-registered lorries and coaches."

Licensing rules

Licensing rules for buses and coaches also need to be tightened, the report said.

Loopholes were endangering the safety of passengers by enabling some bus companies to operate unfit vehicles by transferring public service vehicle (PSV) licences between vehicles, it claimed.

1.67 million foreign-registered vehicles in UK in 2008, down from record 1.72 million in 2007
Foreign-registered vehicles account for more than 80% of heavy goods traffic leaving the UK
Prohibition rate among Czech HGVs subjected to roadworthiness tests in 2007/8 was more than 60%. Polish and Hungarian vehicles exceeded 50% and Belgian, German and Italian vehicles were more than 40%. The UK rate was 37.5%
Defective UK vehicles more likely to be identified, due to targeting of known offenders and the annual testing system
Source: Transport Committee

The study concluded it was hard to prove who was using a given vehicle at a particular time - or if a specific vehicle had passed the required annual test.

A spokesperson for VOSA said it welcomed the report which "highlights the valuable enforcement work" carried out by the agency.

The agency had already made "significant progress" in some of the areas mentioned, he said.

"We have successfully introduced new enforcement powers enabling our examiners to issue on the spot financial penalties to drivers from the UK and abroad.

"Since spring 2009 VOSA has issued around 8,000 fixed penalty notices, of which around 60% were to drivers from outside the UK," he added.

Chief Superintendent Geraint Anwyl, chairman of the National Roads Policing Intelligence Forum, said HGV drivers were often a danger.

"We have circumstances where drivers have been falling asleep. They've been driving excessive hours.


"And we've got vehicles which, frankly, shouldn't be on the road because in particular the trailers of these large goods vehicles are in such dangerous, dangerous condition," he added.

He said some recent changes, including the introduction of graduated penalties, had helped but there was still "an awful lot more work to do".

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the Conservatives have been calling for a safety crackdown for years and accused Labour of failing to take the safety problems around foreign lorries seriously enough.

She added that the report proved these lorries were a major gap in the effectiveness of Labour's road safety strategy.

Freight Transport Association spokesman Jo Tanner said while the UK fleet is recognised as the safest in Europe, there was "continuing concern" over rogue operators from overseas.

"VOSA's detection rates are good, but how are these vehicles able to make it so far from their home nation unchallenged?

"The committee is absolutely right in encouraging greater collaboration and information-sharing between agencies, not only on this side of the Channel, but on the continent too."

We asked for your views on the issues raised in this story. Please find a selection of your comments below.

One of the problems I regularly see is that of the tractor part of the vehicle carrying different licence plate to that of the trailer. I have even been forced off the cycle track by lorry drivers that think they can park wherever they want.
Bob K, Basildon, UK

38% of UK vehicles are un-roadworthy or in need of work? Given the percentage of UK vehicles on the road to foreign ones, I would say that we should be getting our own house in order first.
Richard, Newcastle, Staffs

Yes, road safety is important but why is Europe so dependent on heavy lorries? Our logistics networks are overly centralised and we haul freight unnecessarily (often backwards and forwards to low wage regions) in order to cut costs. And much of this freight should be on the rail network! But where are the policy decisions to change this? I don't see much happening.
Alan Searle, Cologne, Germany

There may be problems in foreign registered vehicles, but do they really think that 38% of British HGVs being unfit for the road is acceptable and even a target? Are they serious? These are the biggest and most dangerous vehicles on the road and half are not mechanically safe - nice to know when you're being tailgated by one in heavy traffic on the motorway. In my experience about half of HGV drivers are not fit to be on the road either.
KEV613, Hampshire

As a road user, this is something I have been banging on about for years. I have been cut up and nearly killed several times on our motorways through foreign lorry drivers who just do not know how to drive in the UK. I personally believe that all foreign vehicles should be tested before being allowed on the UK roads, I also think they should pay an entry toll to use our roads as we do in most of Europe.
Andy Sevenson , Derby

While the report highlighted that nearly 47% of foreign vehicles stopped were found to have dangerous defects, compared with 37.5% for UK vehicles. Given that there are more UK lorries on the UK roads this means the actual number of unsafe UK lorries on the road is greater than the foreign lorries, and this should be of great concern to all road users. Also what the report fails to identify is that more than 10% of UK lorry drivers are working 60 hours or more a week. Until this is reduced our roads will never be safe.
Roger Sealey, Oxford, Oxfordshire

British van and lorry drivers are subject to tachograph legislation which means they can only work for 14 hours a day and only nine of them are allowed to be spent driving. Foreign drivers are allowed to spend hours driving over here from anywhere in the world and then continue to drive on British roads unchecked. This is seriously endangering the lives of every other person on the road and also giving lorry drivers a bad image as unsafe drivers. This is ridiculous and every day the government allows this to continue simply devalues the lives of our drivers. In addition to this ,foreign lorry drivers do not need to have tax on their vehicle - so British workers and companies are getting done over yet again.
Faith Jones, Warrington, Cheshire

I'm more surprised and shocked by the fact that 38% of faulty trucks were British - and that's just the ones that were looked at. We must assume that the majority of trucks on the road today are operating with at least some faults. We may have the safest roads in Europe, but for how long if this menace is allowed to continue? The standard of truck driving is as bad as the trucks themselves; everyday on the roads I see trucks 'tailgating' other vehicles - in an effort to keep their speed up and avoid having to change down gears, trucks speeding, drivers talking on their mobile phones, and occasionally reading papers laid on their steering wheels. It's time we had in-cab cameras to record everything that drivers do and we need to spend more on ensuring that more trucks are stopped and examined. Substantial fines should be imposed on hauliers who flaunt the rules and dangerous drivers jailed for at least six months.
Brian Stephenson, Gateshead UK

I joined the Kent Traffic Police five years ago and in this time, our police patrols have been slashed by more than half. We now, regularly only put out three or maybe four cars for the whole of the county of Kent. As Kent is the 'Gateway to Europe' we used to frequently work both independently and with other agencies on proactive road-checks, targeting all commercial vehicles, foreign and domestic. Now we never have enough officers to do it. Kent Police have created a Commercial Vehicle Unit but this is only a team of two officers - and they were taken from the regular Traffic Patrol strength anyway. Robbing Peter to pay Paul! I love the job I do but I wish we could go back and have greater numbers on our teams. Unfortunately Government initiatives such as PCSOs and HATOs (motorway equivalents) are designed to save money but policing presence and skills are being lost as a result.
James Galbraith, Hildenborough, Kent

I travel to work past some large warehouse and the foreign plated lorries are a constant hazard, weaving, poor signalling, stopping in the most dangerous places including on roundabouts.
Ross, Leicestershire

The issue is not just with the vehicle. The drivers are ignoring speed limits. This is particularly where average speed limits area enforced by cameras. Driving through such restricted zones was the first time in over 30 years of driving that I have known fear when behind the wheel of a car. I was intimidated by foreign registered lorries tailgating then overtaking. Just because I was maintaining the limit set at the road works. They of course will never be caught and punished. Our wonderful police force now only pursues those of us with cars registered and kept legally.
Ian Smith, Chester, Cheshire

Speak to residents of Kent about their experiences on the A2/M2/M20. Some of the foreign, usually Eastern European, lorries you see are scary. Really unused to driving on the left and not much better at roundabouts, with a very relaxed attitude to speed limits and not afraid to intimidate you if you get in their way. Worst example? Lorry, at night, no working rear lights, reversing out of a layby back on to a dual carriageway. My wife saw it just in time and managed to swerve out of the way.
Simon, Ashford, Kent UK

I agree the rules should be tightened. A colleague of mind was hit by an overseas lorry while she was travelling in the fast lane on the M25. When the police arrived she was advised that there was no point pursuing this in an insurance claim, because it was highly likely the insurance company could not trace the driver of the lorry.
A Stewart, Cheltenham

The A55 North Wales Expressway is a major route for foreign drivers/lorries travelling to/from Ireland. We who live on Anglesey or travel the Expressway frequently literally take our lives in our hands due to the foreign lorries and drivers. In general, the UK drivers are ok but in particular, the Irish drivers seem to be a law unto themselves. They drive well in excess of the speed limit, 'on a mission' to catch the connecting ferries to the Continent from southern England or deliver their loads somewhere in England and get back with the return load for the next ferry back. There are plenty more locally who will corroborate this story. I myself had a very lucky escape late last year when an Irish driver tried to sideswipe me by cutting in front of me where the Expressway goes from two lanes to one for the Britannia Bridge to the mainland. However, worse was to come a mile later when he undertook me at well in excess of 75mph and the slipstream pulled my lightweight Renault Clio into him and spun me at 65mph - luckily spinning me off onto the nearside verge but wrecked my car. What did the Police do? Nothing - didn't check his tachograph, nobody seriously injured, foreign driver, too much paperwork... I still have nightmares and am several hundred pounds out of pocket still. What did the driver repeat several times in front of the Police? 'When can I go, I've a ferry to catch in Poole.' And still the Police said nothing but let him go with me sat shaking... Get tough on these drivers please.
Clive Briscoe, Cemaes, Anglesey

I travel about 60 miles a day on the M25 and most of the lorries are foreign. I can't judge whether their vehicles are roadworthy but some of the drivers are definitely not. They text, read papers and gaze at the scenery, all whilst weaving into the next lane. I once saw one watching something on a portable DVD player which was propped up on the dashboard! In the two and a half years I have been making this journey, I have never, ever seen the police pull over a foreign lorry driver for unsafe driving.
E, Kent, UK

I am a retired HGV1 driver with over 40 years' safe driving experience. I have seen many accidents involving foreign lorries in the UK. Our vehicles are limited to 56mph, but many foreign lorries are not as they fly past our trucks. The worst culprits are Irish and Italian trucks. I agree that the VOSA should be given the powers to check all foreign trucks at the point of entry to the UK, and not have to wait until they are already a hazard on the roads. Also, all foreign trucks should be weighed on arrival as I am sure that many of them are overweight. I also think that all foreign trucks should pay a toll for using UK roads. At the moment they don't pay anything to repair the millions of pounds worth of damage they do to our roads each year. Plus many of them buy cheap fuel on the Continent so avoiding paying any UK fuel tax. It is no wonder that UK hauliers cannot compete with them, and are going out of business, so losing British jobs!
Douglas Fisher, Thailand. Ex. Brighton England

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