Lorry management and control

From voluntary approaches to traffic restrictions and operator licensing

Better information and partnerships

Creating better information about suitable lorry routes can be a good first step to take. First of all, ensure that existing traffic orders and physical measures that restrict lorries are recorded on OpenStreetMap - see the mapping your area section. As it becomes more reliable, its data is increasingly used by Satnav providers as it is free. Then check to see if there are any maps of advisory routes for lorries in your area. An example of a lorry map can be found on the Gloucestershire County Council website. It’s a good idea to promote it where lorry drivers might see it, for example rest stops and service stations.

The process of involving lorry operators with local communities to work out the best routes through an area can help everyone see others’ point of view. This is at the heart of Freight Quality Partnerships, which can also cover other issues such as considerate driving, training, use of lower emission vehicles and compliance with loading restrictions and speed limits. These partnerships can cover a town or as wide an area as London. They can also help promote better logistics, such as sharing lorries to reduce empty running.

Although it was first published by the Department for Transport in 2003, A guide on how to set up and run Freight Quality Partnerships (pdf) is still the best guide available and there is also a further report setting out case studies. More recently, the Freight Operator Recognition Scheme in London is a standard that operators can sign up to. By encouraging local authorities to require their contractors to sign up and making it a planning condition that any lorry traffic to a site is part of such a scheme, its influence can spread. Quiet delivery schemes encourage deliveries to take place at night when roads are quieter but while ensuring residents’ sleep is not disturbed.

Even if the majority of lorry drivers try to do their best, those that don’t still cause problems for other road users and local communities, while undercutting reputable haulage businesses. So restrictions and enforcement do have a role to play.

Traffic restrictions

Traffic restrictions are a key tool to manage lorry routes. Point restrictions, such as over a weak bridge or in a high street are common. They can also be used for rat-runs where there is little risk of diversion onto other unsuitable roads. Weight restrictions are usually easiest to enforce but width restrictions can be useful, backed up with physical pinch-points, where there is sometimes physical damage to verges or buildings. These can be difficult to introduce where passage is required for emergency vehicles, however.

Traffic restrictions are made through the highway authority approving a traffic order and then installing signs to give effect to it. Nationally approved traffic signs cover :

  • weight restrictions of 7.5 or 18 tonnes maximum gross weight
  • width restrictions
  • length restrictions
  • no articulated vehicles
  • large vehicles with older engines that have not had pollution control equipment fitted (low emission zones)

Possible exemptions to these restrictions that are allowed to be signed are:

  • except for access - it can sometimes be unclear how large the area that can be accessed is
  • except for permit holders

Wider lorry control zones are more appropriate to cover networks of minor roads in residential areas or the countryside. They can be combined with advisory routing strategies. So while Gloucestershire has advisory routes for much of the county, it has introduced the Cotswold Lorry Control Zone to cover much of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Only lorries that are delivering to or picking up from a business in the area are allowed to drive in it. Similarly you could have an absolute restriction on all vehicles over 7.5t, such as through narrow historic streets, within a larger zone that restricts vehicles over 18t 'except for access', for example delivering to local businesses. 

Some schemes make having a permit a requirement and then use this to ensure drivers keep to certain rules such as to prevent unnecessary journeys. The London Lorry Control Scheme is the biggest example and controls vehicles over 18t from using most of London’s roads at night. Lorry restrictions are currently enforced by police outside London but CPRE has been lobbying for an existing law to be brought into force. It would allow them to be enforced more effectively by local authorities using cameras and detector loops in the road or civil enforcement officers (formerly traffic wardens). 

Other controls

Other controls on lorries include operator licences (O-licences) and planning conditions. Most operators of vehicles over 3.5t, including coaches, are required to have an O-licence from the Vehicle & Operator Service Agency (VOSA). These can control the operations of particular distribution centres, such as movements of the lorries, the timing of these movements, the type and number of vehicles and where lorries may be parked. There are provisions that enable local authorities and residents to object or make representations on environmental grounds when these licences are being applied for or renewed. If you want to object to these licences, see if you can persuade a local resident or local authority to object for you. Anyone can make a complaint about a breach of an O-licence, however. VOSA offers a limited on-line search facility for licences and publishes information about making complaints.

Planning conditions can control the use of lorries used for construction of a development as well as traffic accessing it once completed. Conditions can include routes, hours and types of vehicles as well as providing safe alternative routes for walking and cycling. Your local planning authority is responsible for enforcement.

Lorry watch schemes are community led schemes to help enforce controls on lorries. They operate much like community speed watch schemes and so it’s worth finding out more about these in the tackling speeding section. Although lorry watch schemes tend to focus on traffic restrictions they can also be used to gather information that is relevant to O-licences and planning conditions.

Taking a photo of offending vehicles, even if just on a mobile phone camera, can help secure evidence. Many lorry watch schemes involve infringements of traffic restrictions being reported to the local Trading Standards, who will then consider enforcement action. Don’t forget that you can use the findings of lorry watch schemes to generate interest in the local media and call for more action by your local authority, such as more enforcement and greater restrictions.

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