While a lot of public attention has been focused on the proposed changes to HGV access to London, there are several schemes designed to improve both road safety and traffic congestion that will have a significant effect on the UK road haulage industry.
Here’s the DMG Freight Services guide to planned and potential road alterations in the year ahead.
Charges per mile or on exhaust emissions?
A scheme that could charge road hauliers for each mile they travel has been put together by the Department of Transport. The potential plan includes a contentious idea such as a public consultation on upping the HGV levy which was imposed on all drivers of heavy goods vehicles for the past four years. The original scheme was designed to ensure that heavy goods vehicles made an appropriate contribution to cover depredations to the roads resulting from unexpectedly heavy use.
The revised levy is being linked to the creation of a new major road network which will create new bypasses, widen roads and improve junctions on roads being maintained by local authorities and could benefit nearly 5,000 miles of A-roads which the local authorities themselves can bid to improve.
Road use increased by 2.2% in 2016 and is expected to have increased by over 2% again in 2017, putting strain on commuters but also reducing the profits of road hauliers who have to factor increased congestion and slower journeys into every trip. Multi-drop drivers are also placed under greater stress both by the increase in commuter vehicles and the reduction in HGV parking availability as a result of pedestrianisation of city centres and increased use of multi-story parking.
Solar LED road studs
LED (light emitting diode) road studs are being installed on many major British roads, to improve safety and reduce the risk of bad weather accidents. Old-fashioned cats’ eyes, which were specifically designed in the 1930s to help drivers cope with foggy conditions, are being phased out in favour of the new operate for ten days with just four hours of solar charging. This requires a change in the law, as the traffic regulations previously stated that ‘reflective road studs’ must be installed, limiting the use of solar technology as the LEDs are not – technically – reflective but light-producing.
LED studs have already be utilised on over 400 accident black spots, but the latest generation of LED offers an even more sophisticated approach to traffic flow, they change colour in synchronisation with nearby traffic lights, giving drivers a clear indication of which traffic lanes are moving and which are stopped. The first major junction to employ the new technology is Switch Island in Merseyside, where 49 vehicle collisions in two years have led to a focus on improving road discipline and preventing lane drift. Switch Island is the junction of the M57, M58 and three A-Roads, used by over 90,000 vehicles every day, nearly a third of which are light or heavy goods vehicles. The Hindhead Tunnel in Surrey is another road where LED lights are being used to guide drivers into safer lane usage.
Motorway traffic lights to ease congestion
Every logistics manager knows that congestion is a huge, but often unpredictable factor, in planning effective movement of goods and materials. In the UK, traffic jams and roadworks often create substantial negative impacts and Highways England has launched a trial to explore whether traffic lights can be used to ease the situation. 61% of motorists say congestion has worsened in the previous 12 months and in the same period the traffic data organisation Intrix recorded 1.35 million traffic jams on motorways and A roads alone.
The £7 million trial will begin with new traffic lights controlling traffic on the Croft Interchange link road joining the M6 and the M62 in Cheshire. In a second phase of development, traffic lights will be used at the end of the link roads joining the M6 to the M62 eastbound. Cameras will monitor the traffic movements for the year in which the trial is taking place.
In a similar vein, Highways England is increasing speed limits around motorway roadworks to 60 miles per hour in most circumstances. This proposal is designed to balance the needs of motorists with the safety considerations for those working on roads, especially teams carrying out night works when much road haulage takes place.
For hauliers the unexpected imposition of speed restrictions on roads undergoing maintenance can dramatically alter their journey times and while Highways England attempts to give advance warning of roadworks, it is much more common for commuter roads to be posted with future work dates than for motorways or A roads.
Taller Traffic Lights for HGV drivers
A further scheme intended to improve traffic flow at Switch Island includes traffic light installation at five metres or above – in other words taller than both HGVs and double-decker buses, to ensure that all drivers approaching the junction can see when lights are changing.
As HGV design has changed radically in the past two decades, many drivers have found that they have to duck in their cabs to see the changing lights which doesn’t only slow traffic, it can reduce safety. Even PSV vehicle design, which has led to greater security for passengers, has had the unintended consequence of leaving drivers above traffic light height.
Traffic innovations to help road haulage move efficiently
In line with the taller traffic lights which are being considered for many high volume routes, coloured friction surfaces are being considered for several major multiple use junctions to give road haulage, cycle paths and car pool drivers clearer access lanes to highly contested junctions.
Better signs are also in the pipeline – reflective signs are designed to operate at specific height levels, usually factored for car drivers, so the development of LED lit signs that are tiltable, offers a new opportunity for the Highways service to experiment with angled signage that works as well for HGV drivers as for traditional commuters.