Campaign for tighter lorry curbs launched

Relatives of accident victims attack test cuts and lenient sentences fo r operators of defective vehicles
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The Independent Online
Relatives of victims of road accidents involving lorries have launched Brake, a campaign to press for tighter control of illegally operated vehicles, which they say are responsible for 50 deaths a year.

Mary Williams, who gave up her job as features editor of Commercial Motor magazine to launch the campaign after her mother was killed by a lorry, said: "Why are operators ignoring the regulations? Because they know that they can get away with it."

Ms Williams's mother, Sue, a university lecturer, died nearly three years ago when a 38-ton tanker ran down a hill in Baslow, Derbyshire, and overturned on her car, which was stationary. The driver was sentenced to 200 hours' community service and the owners of the vehicle, which had defective brakes and steering, were fined £2,300 but allowed to stay in business by the traffic commissioner.

The campaigners say that between 700 and 800 people are killed each year in accidents involving heavy goods vehicles and that research by the Transport Research Laboratory suggests 7 per cent of the lorries involved had a defect which contributed to the tragedy.

Brake is particularly critical of the level of punishment meted out by the courts and issued details of cases in which only light penalties were imposed, even when the crashes were fatal.

After six people were killed in the Sowerby Bridge disaster in West Yorkshire in September 1993, when a defective tipper lorry crashed into a bus queue and a shop, the owner was fined £5,000 and was stripped of his operating licence only in December 1994after local protests.

Glenn Rooke, whose wife, Angela, was among those killed at Sowerby Bridge, is seeking a judicial review to bring corporate manslaughter charges against Fewston Transport, the owners of the lorry.

In another case, Anette Olsen-Hammond was killed in her car in St Austell, Cornwall in March 1993 when a defective lorry driven by an unlicensed haulier ploughed down a hill. He was fined £300 for a string of offences including having brakes that were working to only 11 per cent of their efficiency.

The campaigners say that planned cuts to the Vehicles Inspectorate will reduce the number of tests being carried out on lorries. Brake believes they are already insufficient because one in four lorries fails its annual inspection, a figure which suggeststhat many carry defects for long periods before they are tested.

Brake wants improvements in the level of safety enforcement and tougher controls over vehicle licensing, maintenance and driver training.

Ms Williams said that the 20 per cent cuts to the Vehicles Inspectorate being implemented would reduce the number of inspectors from 270 to 220: "We want those cuts reversed immediately," she said.

The campaign has the backing of the two main organisations representing hauliers - the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association - both of which have been pressing for inspectors to have the power to confiscate unlicensed lorries immediately.

Brake also has the support of both main opposition parties. At yesterday's launch, Michael Meacher, Labour's transport spokesman, said most of the measures that could tighten the control of hauliers, such as confiscating lorries, increasing fines and bringing corporate manslaughter charges, came within the scope of Parliament rather than the European Union.