New Clause 31

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 20 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

HGV safety requirements

‘All HGV's, registered in the UK, shall, by 2007, be fitted with an audible warning system that shall sound if the driver exits the vehicle when the brakes are not applied.'. —[Mr. Paterson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second Time.

The new clause addresses a problem that hauliers brought to my attention. It may seem obscure—not many people know about it—but it kills approximately seven people a year. It happens when a driver hitches the tractor unit of a semi-articulated trailer to a stationary trailer, often in a yard.

When the airbrakes have no air, they are applied. Therefore, a parked trailer in the yard will be safe and secure with the brakes on, because there is no air coming through. When the tractor unit is reversed up, the driver will sense a big clunk as the big, greasy black disc—the fifth wheel—connects to the coupling on the trailer. What should happen then is that the driver applies the handbrake so that the whole unit of tractor and trailer is connected. Sadly, that often does not happen. Instead, with the trailer airbrakes still not connected, and because the driver feels that the unit is stable, he jumps across the catwalk and connects the suzie hoses that introduce air to the air brakes. Immediately, the air brakes come off. At that point, because the handbrake is not applied and the air takes the trailer brakes off, the whole unit begins to move. For self-preservation the driver should sit tight, but all too often he jumps down, frantically scrambling for the cab to try to apply the handbrake in the vehicle. Alternatively, the whole unit runs backwards and crushes someone else in the goods yard.

It seems extraordinary that that happens and yet is not a matter of huge public contention, because I am told that up to seven people a year are killed in that way. The solution that we propose is terribly simple. The proposal is to fit an alarm to every heavy goods vehicle so that when the driver jumps down from the cab without the brakes on, an alarm goes off—a simple, common-sense solution.

I am all for reducing costs to hauliers, but retrofitting a kit for £100 on a rig that may cost £100,000 is not unbearable. DAF, Mercedes-Benz and Scania are now fitting such devices as standard, and the new clause has real merit because it would save lives. The problem is an ongoing one that has had very little public attention, and I hope that the Minister has listened carefully and will take action.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport 2:45, 20 Ebrill 2006

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing the issue to my attention, because it was not one of which I was aware. When I first read the new clause I could not quite see his point; I thought that he was seeking an audible warning if a driver leapt out of the cab when driving along the motorway. Further investigation has led me to conclude that there is a problem.

The problem can be resolved voluntarily. The hauliers who have gone to him can solve it in a number of ways: either by retrofitting the equipment in their vehicles, or by issuing instructions to their staff to follow a certain protocol, such that when hitching a trailer or working around a vehicle the staff should personally check to see that the parking brake is applied. Both measures would provide a resolution.

As the hon. Gentleman said, I understand that the devices are fitted as standard to some vehicles, and perhaps we need to encourage that for all new vehicles. However, the sort of regulation that he suggests cannot be introduced unilaterally in the United Kingdom; it would have to be a matter for European-type approval. We need to work with the Commission and with European colleagues to make them realise the benefits of including the provision in future changes to regulations. I am certainly prepared to raise it with them and to put it on the agenda if it is not already there.

With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am pleased that we have brought some new information to the Minister’s attention and that he understands the problem. Given that the competence is a European one, and given his assurance that he will raise the matter at European level to see whether it can be pushed through, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.