Checks by inspectors from Vosa, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, have revealed that foreign lorries are three times as likely as British-registered vehicles to be breaking safety regulations (see table in Gallery).
Vosa, which among other tasks is responsible for lorry licence applications, conducted a series of spot checks on heavy goods vehicles travelling near the ferry and Chunnel ports in Kent and in Surrey, and the results make alarming reading.
Over three days, 1594 vehicles were stopped, and almost a third of the vehicles (499) were issued with prohibition notices to prevent them from being driven. Of 446 heavy goods vehicles checked, prohibitions were issued against 145. Of 419 trailers, 147 were given prohibitions, and of 240 vehicles weighed, 30 were overloaded.
The drivers were almost as bad as their vehicles: of 729 stopped, 177 had exceeded the maximum time permitted without a break (six hours) or the maximum number of working hours in a week (an average of 48 hours).
Among the worse cases was a Hungarian trailer issued with a prohibition for an insecure nearside third axle wheel. The wheel had three nuts missing, while the others were very loose, were not mating with the wheel face, and the spigot was badly worn due to the movement between wheel and hub.
A Portuguese vehicle noted when it entered the UK at Dover was then stopped the following day, apparently being operated by a different driver. However, investigations revealed that it was the same driver, but he had falsified his name on two sets of Tachograph records to enable him to exceed drivers’ hours rules.
At the moment, Vosa can only order drivers who have exceeded their hours to stop in lay-bys for 24 hours, but when the new Road Safety Bill becomes law next year they will be able to issue on-the-spot fines and clamp vehicles.
Vosa plans a massive increase in the number of checks on goods vehicles this year: a new scheme is being launched by transport minister Stephen Ladyman next week.