Illegal lorries blamed for high road death toll

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The Independent Online
Almost a quarter of lorries involved in accidents are being operated illegally, according to a Department of Transport study.

The research, slipped out by the Government last week but highlighted yesterday by Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, paints a picture of an industry in which illegal operators are left virtually unpoliced and are causing three or four deaths a week.

Initiated as part of the Government's attempt to cut 20 per cent from transport department spending, it finds that far from being over-regulated, the overseeing of the haulage industry does not command public confidence because "it is felt too easy for an operator to run vehicles illegally".

Road hauliers are supposed to register with one of the country's eight offices of Traffic Commissioners but according to the report there is a considerable proportion of hauliers who do not. It says that the Department of Transport reckons the widely quoted figure of 9 per cent is too high, but offers no alternative estimate.

The report suggests that these hauliers are much less safe "because 24 per cent of all accidents involving a heavy goods vehicle involve one for which no operator's licence can be traced".

A working party was set up five years ago to attempt to tackle the problem of illegal operators but, according to the report, "its achievements have been modest". It says that "more must be done to ensure that the potential penalties, particularly where businesses have already been convicted of illegal operation, or banned ... are such to be a real deterrent."

Mary Williams of Brake, the pressure group set up after a series of serious crashes involving lorries, said illegal operators only had to pay fines: "There is no deterrent. And, even when they are caught, the Traffic Commissioners' records are not co-ordinated between areas or computerised, which means that hauliers can just lie."

t Efficiency Scrutiny of the Traffic Area Network; Stephen Curtis; Department of Transport.