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Monday, August 24, 2009

Trucking hell

A call by MPs for a crackdown on dodgy foreign lorries on British roads is long overdue. It's reckoned up to 30 people a year die in collisions with left-hand drive trucks from abroad: more than one a fortnight. But before we start having a pop at foreign truckers, let's look closer to home.

We have endless debates in Britain about road safety. We've allowed the police to cash-in on the thousands of speed cameras lining our roads. I don't think I know anyone who hasn't received a ticket thanks to one of these machines, irrespective of whether their speed was inappropriate or potentially dangerous when the flashbulb fired. (The police privately acknowledge it is inappropriate use of speed that kills -- not speed per se.)

We've also banned the use of mobile phones at the wheel. And woe betide anyone who is caught chomping on a Mars bar whilst driving. The overtaxed car driver has never been so scrutinised or vulnerable to arbitrary justice. But when it comes to our swaggering army of truckers, different rules seem to apply.

It has been a matter of foaming-at-the-mouth rage for me for many years that the behaviour of the lorry drivers on our roads seems to be beyond the reach of the law. Or, rather, the law can't be arsed to do anything about it.

It's a depressing irony that these huge vehicles, which require intelligence and expertise to drive, are manned mainly by men who have the intellect of a sausage roll. And not just any sausage roll: a fat, tattooed, aggressive sausage roll that's addicted to pornography.

Jeremy Clarkson was criticised last year when he linked truckers with the murder of prostitutes. The Top Gear presenter described being a truck driver as a hard job. He said: "You've got to change gear, change gear, change gear, check mirror... murder a prostitute. Change gear, change gear, murder. That's a lot of effort in a day."

Clarkson was wrong to make those comments. Wrong because they didn't go far enough. He should have said: "You've got to change gear, cause an horrific pile up, murder a prostitute, plough into the back of a family car, murder a prostitute, have your mobile phone glued to your ear, murder, pull out without indicating, read the Daily Sport on the passenger seat, drive six inches behind the lorry in front, check mirror." I could go on.

Ask yourself how many times you're been forced to hit your brakes as one lorry attempts to overtake another on a dual carriageway. We're all familiar with the scene: two trucks abreast, with one inching slowly past its rival as traffic builds up behind. The truck drivers involved don't give a hoot about the inconvenience they're causing -- or the fact that forcing other roads users to slow down is in breach of the Highway Code.

What's worse though is what happens prior to such manoeuvres. Truckers are always in a hurry so they refuse to ease up on their accelerators. And because most HGVs are underpowered or overloaded -- or both -- overtaking safely is nigh on impossible. So they drive to within inches of the vehicle in front before they pull out. This is appallingly dangerous driving. The stopping distance for a car at 70 miles per hour is 315 feet. Imagine what it is for a 40 tonne truck. If a lorry batters into the back of your car you'll be lucky to walk away.

So why is it that the police choose not to act? Why aren't police camera cars patrolling our motorways and filming this practise? It's more than commonplace; it's the modus operandi of 99.9 per cent of lorry drivers. You might think that dealing with clear-cut cases of potentially lethal dangerous driving would be more important than dishing out speeding tickets irrespective of whether the speeding in question was dangerous, but apparently not.

The reality is that speed cameras make money and are easy policing. Tackling the moronic and criminal behaviour of truckers would require more resources so they are left to drive their behemoth killing machines with impunity.

The issue of dangerous foreign lorries driving on UK roads is deadly serious. But unless we get to grips with the innumerable hazards posed by our own HGVs, this campaign stands about as much chance as a sex worker at a truckers' convention.

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