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'No evidence' for longer heavier lorries says new research

17th October 2007

A new examination of the Government’s own statistics, commissioned by Freight on Rail, undermines on the case being made for longer heavier larger lorries. 

The research, undertaken by independent transport consultants MTRU, found that rather than reducing the number of lorries needed, all previous increases in vehicle dimensions did nothing to halt heavier, larger lorries doing more mileage and driving around with ever lower load efficiency. Heavier lorries use more fuel and so the lack of any efficiency improvements has meant more CO2 emissions as a result.  This evidence undermines the Government’s justification for permitting previous increased lorry dimensions and questions the validity of current arguments for LHVs. This is crucial because the Government is currently evaluating whether to allow trials of LHVs (25.5 metres long, 60 tonne in weight).

Philippa Edmunds Freight on Rail Campaigner said, “We do not believe the argument that LHVs will lead to less lorries and less pollution. The reality is that there is no evidence to support the economic and environmental arguments to society for LHVs. Previous increases in lorry dimensions have lead to an increase in HGVs driving around less full which is the absolute reverse of what was claimed would happen. Since the last increase in maximum weights, average vehicle occupancy has been going down and over a quarter of lorries are running around empty.”

She added that “LHVs, best described as ‘roadtrains’, have huge road safety implications, are opposed by the public 1 and could in effect become travelling warehouses. The road haulage industry has a poor record in complying with existing road regulations which puts other road users at risk every day.”

The research found that 

1 There is no evidence nationally that previous increases in size of HGVs led to a reduction in traffic from HGVs either in the number of HGVs see Figure 2 page 7 and figure 5 page 11 or total HGV traffic (measured as vehicle kilometres). (figure 4 page 9 from attached report Heavier lorries and their impact on the economy and the environment - MTRU October 2007

Figure 2
GB Registered HGVs

Source: Transport Statistics Great Britain (TSGB)

Figure 4 Ratio of actual tonne kms to capacity tonne kms artics over 33 tonnes

Source: CSRGT 1995 and 2005

2 Despite several increases in maximum weight and volume, the average payload has fallen instead of rising which means that emissions per tonne carried have increased rather than decreased  see figure 2 page 5 and Fig 5 Page 9 in report. The claimed environmental benefits of LHVs rely on very high levels of load utilisation – in excess of that routinely achieved within the haulage sector.  Therefore at lower levels of utilisation the environmental performance of LHVs would be worse

3 Cheaper HGV travel would encourage more use for a combination of reasons.

  1. It would undermine rail 2 and water freight which have far lower carbon dioxide emissions, better safety record and have the advantage of reducing road congestion 
  2. Create extra HGV traffic through longer journeys, for example through more centralised distribution systems

4  Emissions from HGV traffic have grown significantly since 1990, by 25-30%, using the revised DEFRA assessment. HGV traffic is an important source of greenhouse emissions from transport, second only to cars/vans and to international aviation, (see figure 1 page 3).

There is no direct evidence that the predicted benefits from heavier and larger lorries have materialised (see figure 4 & 5 page 8/9).  The precise reasons for this need further research, but the hypothesis that hauliers always “buy the biggest” is borne out in the registration statistics, and helps to explain the lack of any discernible efficiency improvements (see figure 3 page 8). This is not to say that some individual operations, focussing on a continuous stream of bulk goods from one place to one other place, have not benefited from heavier and larger lorries.


For more details contact Philippa Edmunds at Freight on Rail on 020 8241 9982 or 07981 881410 (mobile) or by email at

MTRU is an independent transport consultancy founded in 1989 Web site: Contact Keith Buckan at

Notes to editors

The scale of these vehicles,
LHVs would be a step change from previous increase at fifty per cent longer and almost a third heavier than the current permitted 44 tonne heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).
The 60 tonne 25.25 metre super is the same weight of a Challenger tank and the length of a competition swimming pool 3

mega trucks

Link to high resolution version of this LHV photo on German road trial which shows the scale of LHVs beside other vehicles 

Please note that German Transport Ministers voted to reject LHVs on 13th October 2007 after its trials highlighted the increased risk for road safety.

Access issues
The safety and social implications of allowing LHVs onto non motorway/dual carriageway roads to access transhipment depots must not be underestimated. This is a massive issue as vehicles of this scale are totally unsuited to non dual carriageway roads, as highlighted by German trials findings.

However, unlike other European countries, the UK allows all vehicles to operate on any road and at any time unless specifically prohibited from doing so.

Road safety concerns
The impact of these vehicles if they are involved in an accident will be proportionately greater because of their extra weight, with severe implications on braking distances, stability, manoeuvrability at roundabout for example, possible jack-knifing, overtaking and reversing complications. The DfT Focus on Freight Dec 2006 stated that because of their size and weight, when they are involved in accidents the level of injury tends to be higher with HGVs, (this is at the existing weight and length limits); In 2005, HGVs were twice as likely to be involved in fatal accidents as cars 4.

Road haulage has a poor record in complying with existing road regulations
For example on major non built up single carriage roads a staggering 76 per cent of articulated HGVs exceeded their 40 mph limit by 6mph on average, with 28 per cent exceeding the limit by more than 10 mph in 2005. Even Bendy buses, which are 18 metres long, cause more than twice as many injuries as any other bus 5.

Environmental and economic benefits of rail
Tonne for tonne carried rail freight produces five times less carbon dioxide emissions than road freight.

An average freight train can remove 50 HGVs from our roads with an aggregates train removing 120 HGVs 6.

LHVs would undermine rail freight and lead to modal shift to road
Such vehicles would cause a substantial proportion of intermodal rail freight and significant quantities of bulk flows of freight to shift from rail to our congested road network and thus increase harmful emissions 7.If LHVs were not introduced, intermodal rail freight is forecasted to grow by over 60 per cent over the next 10 years.

Attached report - Heavier lorries and their impact on the economy and the environment - MTRU October 2007


1. NOP Poll August 2007 found that 75% of people opposed LHVs and that 80% favoured more rail freight instead.

2. Oxera Research for EWS found that up to 40% of aggregates and 20% of metals carried by rail could switch to road May 2007. Freightliner research showed that up to 66% of container traffic could revert to the roads.

3. Most UK competition swimming pools are 25 metres short course Olympic.

4. Focus on Freight December 2006 chart 5.2b Deaths/KSIs in accidents involving HGVs per million km travelled.

5. From the Evening Standard June7th 2007.

6. Network Rail 2007.

7. EWS report and analysis by Oxera May 2007 findings that nearly half of existing rail freight traffic in commodities such as aggregates will transfer to road if LHVs were permitted.

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