The UK Government has given the green light for longer lorries to operate fully on Great Britain’s roads, despite concerns that this could lead to an increase in fatal road accidents. The Department for Transport (DfT) announced legislation this Wednesday that from the end of May, these supertrucks up to 18.55 meters long, which is 2.05 meters longer than the current standard size, would be permitted.

While these extended lorries have been trialled since 2011 (we ran an article way back then) and approximately 3,000 are already in operation, this move will allow any business in England, Scotland, or Wales to utilise them starting May 31st 2023. The Government claims that this shift will curb emissions, enhance productivity, and bolster supply chains. The extended vehicles will transport the same volume of goods as current HGVs but will require 8% fewer journeys, thereby transporting retail goods, waste packing, parcels, and pallets more efficiently.

This change is estimated to bring £1.4bn in economic benefits and remove one standard-size trailer from the roads for every 12 trips, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 70,000 tonnes. The government also believes that due to the type of steering axle used, longer vehicles will cause less road wear than conventional lorries.

Despite the stated advantages, road safety advocates have cautioned that the longer vehicles’ larger tail swing and extended blind spots could pose risks to other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. They argue that these features could also result in damage to roadside infrastructure – we’ve all seen the pictures of village bridges decimated by existing lorries lost by sat-nav failure.

The DfT, however, contends that the 11-year trial demonstrated that LSTs were involved in about 60% fewer personal injury collisions than standard lorries. It would be interesting to examine this data closer.  However operators will be legally bound to ensure that route plans and risk assessments consider the specifications of LSTs so with this requirement we are still some way of mass adoption.

Critics of the change, such as the Campaign for Better Transport, have expressed disappointment, claiming that they’ve done significant work to highlight the dangers and misinformation surrounding longer lorries.

Conversely, bakery chain Greggs has been operating LSTs since 2013 from its national distribution centre in Newcastle, stating that it has allowed them to transport 15% more goods than in a standard length lorry.  Roads minister Richard Holden reasserted (rightly) that the haulage sector is vital for everyday needs and that vehicles using LSTs would still have to comply with the same 44-tonne weight limit as lorries pulling standard trailers.

It will be interesting to if and when this becomes standardised over the years, or if it even will. We’ve seen in past years the standard length of a trailer move up from 12m to 13.6m in the 80s, the heights of trailers grow substantially from supercubes to megas (bridges withstanding), and widths expanded marginally.  This latest legislation now gives way to even more creative use of dimensions now and into the future. Watch this space.