MPs urge crackdown on unsafe foreign trucks

MPs today called for the agency that carries out safety checks on lorries on Britain's roads to be given more powers after a high proportion of unsafe vehicles were found to be foreign-owned.

A report by the House of Commons Transport Committee found almost half of vehicles examined in Britain and registered overseas were unroadworthy or deficient in some way, compared with 38 percent of UK vehicles.

Foreign-registered vehicles account for more than 80 percent of heavy goods traffic in Britain.

"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," said the committee's chairman Louise Ellman.

The worst offenders were Czech-registered Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers, 60 percent of whose trucks failed roadworthiness tests in 2007--2008, the report said.

Polish and Hungarian vehicles failed more than 50 percent of safety checks, while German and Italian lorries had serious safety flaws in more than 40 percent of cases.

By comparison the number of UK-registered vehicles failing safety tests was 37.5 percent.

The committee was reporting back on its investigation into the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), charged with safety-testing lorries, buses and coaches.

The report concluded that the agency must be given additional powers and resources to get dangerous vehicles and drivers off the road.

It said the lack of access to ports to carry out inspections before dangerous trucks get onto UK roads and the sharing of information with other agencies both at UK and EU levels was a particular concern.

MPs also said that current data protection legislation was a hindrance to successful targeting of foreign-registered vehicles.

"The work of VOSA is also hampered by some of the data-sharing regulations. It is clear that 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," Ellman said.

"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 also," she added.

The Information Commissioner's Office, which regulates the Data Protection Act, denied claims of deficiencies in current data-sharing legislation. "We are surprised that it has been suggested that data protection legislation might prevent VOSA from sharing information with its European colleagues", a spokesperson for the ICO commented.

"The Data Protection Act plays a very important role in protecting our personal information and justifiable reason would always be required before personal information is shared. However, data protection does not prevent sensible information sharing with appropriate safeguards. Therefore, it would not prevent VOSA sharing relevant information with similar authorities in Europe in order to identify unsafe lorries and drivers."

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