UK road surfaces worsening according to RAC figures

Written on October 31, 2017

The quality of UK roads is declining according to newly-released figures from the RAC’s Pothole Index, a 12-month rolling average of pothole-related breakdowns. The total number of vehicle faults caused by potholes attended by RAC patrols increased by 31% in the second quarter of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.

Patrols reported up to 3,565 instances of vehicles suffering damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs or distorted wheels in Q2 – all issues which can be attributed to sub-standard road surfaces – in contrast with the 2,725 breakdown cases reported last year.

David Bizley, RAC chief engineer, warned that the increase represents an unfortunate surprise after what has been a relatively dry and mild winter.

“This year’s weather has been so much milder and drier than in the equivalent six months last year, and for this reason we should have expected the numbers for the second quarter to be lower,” he said.

“A short-term reversal in the fragile improvement in surface quality of the UK’s roads may not seem much to be concerned about, but we fear it would only take a spell of very cold or wet weather for the improvements of the past year or two to evaporate, and for the nation to find itself in a situation when we would once again be seeking emergency funding from Government to address the worst affected roads.”

The first quarter of 2017 showed a similar increase in damaged vehicles, with RAC patrols attending 63% more pothole-related breakdowns than during the same timeframe in 2016.

Earlier this year the Government announced investment of £70million to be shared across local highway authorities outside of London, bolstering the £50million pothole repair fund revealed in 2016’s Spring Budget.

However, previous figures established in the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey – released by the AIA (Asphalt Industry Alliance) – indicate that local authorities may require sums exceeding £12billion in order to adequately update road networks.

The Pothole Index points towards a generally worsening picture of UK roads following five consecutive years of improvement by Government. As of Q2 in 2017 the index stands at 2.2, an increase from the Q1’s 2.08 which was notably the lowest recording since Q4 of 2016.

The rise to 2.2 also represents the first index increase seen since the start of 2016. Though falling short of the index peak of 3.5 between January and March 2010, both Q1 and Q2 figures for 2017 demonstrate some of the most substantial rises since recording began in 2006.

Bizley added: “While there is now long-term investment in place to maintain and improve our major roads, local roads still play a vital part in enabling the economy and remain motorists’ number one transport investment priority for central Government.

“They must not be neglected and this is why we are still calling on the Government to recognise their national significance and to mirror their approach to major roads and ring-fence a dedicated fund for this purpose.”

Road deaths reach four-year peak, prompting calls for investigation branch

Written on October 26, 2017

New Government statistics released by the Department for Transport (DfT) show 1,792 people were killed in road collisions in the UK last year. This represents an increase of 4% since 2015 and the highest yearly total recorded since 2011.

A further 24,101 were seriously injured in collisions – a rise of 9% since 2015 – although this increase has been partly attributed by Government to changes in the way police forces report on collision data.

The data also shows that no reduction in deaths of people on foot, bikes or motorbikes has been recorded since 2012.

Jason Wakeford, road charity Brake’s director of campaigns, said: “On average, five people continue to lose their lives [in road collisions] each and every day – a deeply worrying figure which has not improved for some six years.

“Progress on road safety has stalled, pressing the need for a road collision investigation branch, similar to those already in existence for air, rail and sea, so that lessons can be learned to prevent future crashes.

“Only through in-depth investigation, at a national level, can solutions be found to stem the needless deaths on the roads every day.”

The statistics additionally reveal how new drivers continue to be disproportionately involved in a significant number of collisions. Consequently Brake is pushing for a gradual licensing system to be introduced, enforcing minimum learning periods and limitations on newly-qualified motorists. This approach – allowing new drivers to improve their skills over a greater timespan – has been implemented in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and parts of the United States where youth road casualties have been radically reduced.

“We are also calling for a review of speed limits on rural roads – where most deaths occur – and for Voluntary Intelligent Speed Adaptation, which helps drivers keep within the limit, to be fitted as standard to new cars as part of proposals being considered by the European Commission,” Wakeford continued.

“The increase in road casualties reinforces the need for the establishment of a UK Road Collision Investigation Branch to gather and make available better data to provide the evidence base to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our roads.

“Every single person killed on our roads represents a tragedy and it is imperative that road safety is given the same level of attention as that of air and rail.

“It is essential that future casualty prevention strategies are informed by latest trends such as the digital revolution and rapid development of vehicle technologies, change in mobility habits and the rise in active travel such as cycling.

“Only this way can we ensure that casualty prevention strategies are not only fit for purpose but future proofed too.”

A great cause for concern, statistics show that the amount of children killed in collisions has increased by 28% since 2015, with 2016 seeing a total of 69 deaths of under-15s. Out of all road casualties involving children (15,976 in total) 38% involved pedestrians and nearly a quarter (22%) were injured or killed during the afternoon school run hours between 3pm and 5pm.

RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) is calling for greater investment in teaching life-saving road safety skills to children. Their proposed measures include road safety education in schools, practical pedestrian training for children, wider provision of safe cycling and walking routes to schools, as well as greater promotion of the safety benefits of driving at 20mph in built-up areas.

Nick Lloyd, RoSPA road safety manager, said: “When there’s an increase in traffic with economic growth, generally casualty statistics do tend to go up, but this in no way justifies these shocking figures.

“Britain traditionally has one of the best road safety records in the world, but we must focus our efforts through effective education, engineering and enforcement if we are to make our roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

“These statistics demonstrate the need for motorists to be extra vigilant when travelling during school-run hours – young children can be impulsive, so there is a need to be constantly aware of what’s happening around the car. More than 90 per cent of road crashes involve human error, which demonstrates the need for drivers to concentrate at all times, watch their speed, and avoid distractions.

“We also urge parents to kit their children out in high-visibility gear for the school journey, especially as the nights are now drawing in.”

RoSPA suggests that these statistics suggest the need for Government to review proposals for introducing Single/Double Summer Time (SDST), projected to provide an extra hour of daylight in the evenings around the time of the typical afternoon school run.

Richard Cuerden, academy director at TRL (Transport Research Laboratory), indicated the findings would further motivate TRL’s team of engineers, psychologists and scientists to improve their understanding of road collisions and work to prevent future tragedies.

A small silver lining can be found in the statistics, showing that the number of motorcyclists killed has reduced from 365 to 318 despite a rise in overall motorcycle traffic, suggesting that motorcycle safety initiatives are having some effect on driver behaviour.

Debate surrounds proposed council powers to combat congestion

Written on October 24, 2017

Local councils are keen to secure more powers to tackle increasing levels of congestion on their roads, as average speeds throughout British city centres continue to decline.

The Local Government Association (LGA) believes councils should be given powers to penalise motorists for moving traffic offences e.g. junction-blocking as well as introduce workplace parking levy schemes without the need for a government green light.

The LGA has also demanded that localised roads get the same long-term infrastructure funding as that received by Highways England and Network Rail. The Association reiterated the importance of maintaining and improving Britain’s local road network as further congestion could hit the national economy by £300bn a year by 2030 – equating to a tenfold increase of today’s costs of £30.8bn per annum.

Cllr Judith Blake, of the LGA transport division, said: “When the average motorist is spending a working week every year sat in traffic on major roads, and losing almost £1,000 in the process, it’s clear councils need to be able to do more to tackle this growing problem.”

Today, the average speed on the UK’s A-roads stands at just 25.2mph, one per cent slower year-on-year, the LGA reported.

More alarmingly, a study of motor vehicle speeds in London carried out by In-car Cleverness discovered that average speeds even five miles from Central London plummet to just 8mph. Meanwhile average speeds within a mile of Central London now register at just 5mph.

It’s a similar case north of the border in Edinburgh as drivers are forced to drop their speed to less than 7mph near the centre of Scotland’s capital.

Paul O’Dowd, head of sales, In-car Cleverness, said: “The figures paint a stark picture of how everyday commuters, drivers and even businesses are struggling to get around or operate in some of the biggest hubs in the UK.”

The 2.5 million roadworks carried out on the nation’s local roads annually are consistently blamed for employees’ failure to get to work on time and for delayed deliveries, leading to higher costs for businesses. However, the government is considering plans to allow local authorities to charge utility companies by the hour to carry out works on specific routes, encouraging them to avoid working on busy roads and at peak hours of the day.

Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, said: “This would not only improve journeys and cut congestion but also save businesses from the increased costs they incur as a result of traffic on our roads.”

Connected and autonomous vehicle hub ‘Meridian’ launched

Written on October 20, 2017

The UK government has announced a new industry-led hub, designed to speed up the evolution of connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies.

The hub, named Meridian, was unveiled by Climate Change and Industry Minister, Claire Perry at the Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle Show. The hub is funded both by the CAV tech industry itself and the government’s £100m investment programme.

One of the first initiatives to derive from the scheme will be a new centre of excellence for driverless car testing, which will be positioned along the M40 corridor between Coventry and London. The cluster is hoped to grow intellectual capital and position the UK as ripe for foreign investment.

Meridian was founded off the back of calls for evidence by the Centre of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles last May for the UK to demonstrate ways of improving its CAV testing facilities.

Jim Campbell, launch director, Meridian, said: “In order for CAVs to be fully adopted they need to function seamlessly on all roads.

“Meridian will focus on integrating and connecting these vehicles with complex environments in the UK and around the world.

“For this to happen we need all industries, and government, to work together on the same technologies and the same standards. For this to happen collaboration is key.

“Meridian will give the UK the power to innovate CAV technology faster and more decisively than ever before, creating a test bed of facilities throughout the UK. This UK-wide operation will enable the UK to become globally competitive in CAV technology and open up new opportunities in the supply chain.”

The UK government published its new Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) Global Market Value report which forecasts the global CAV tech sector could be worth £907bn by 2035.

Some of the key takeaways and predictions from the report include:

• The UK aims to position itself as industry leaders in CAV technologies, valuing the UK market at £52bn by 2035.
• More than 27,000 jobs could be created in the UK by 2035 resulting from the production of CAV technology, including many new highly-skilled jobs in the automotive industry.
• Almost three-quarters (70%) of jobs linked to CAV tech production will be highly-skilled and technical roles in software-related sectors.

Dataforce reports true fleet market shrinkage for fifth successive month

Written on October 18, 2017

New data from Dataforce has found that registrations in the UK’s true fleet car market have declined for a fifth month in a row, falling by 2.9% in the year to date, down by 10% in August alone. The entire market, whilst recording 76,000 registrations in total, was down by 6.4%.

Special channels recorded undesired growth of 20.9% with OEMs and dealerships growing their registrations by almost two-fifths (38.8%) to the highest ever volumes in August.

Two vehicle manufacturers appeared to buck the trend at true fleet OEM level, achieving growth rates of more than 20%. Ford were ranked first, with British manufacturer, Vauxhall in second position. Volkswagen moved into third place with a 27% increase, swapping places with Mercedes-Benz who slipped down to fifth.

Audi cemented their fourth position for a fourth successive year, with BMW and Nissan ranked in sixth and seventh position respectively. Toyota, in tenth place, experienced the best growth with 29.7% more registrations.

The UK’s overall new car market was down 9.3% in September, with the SMMT blaming uncertainty regarding the future of diesel cars and reduced consumer confidence.

Mike Hawes, chief executive, SMMT, said: “September is always a barometer of the health of the UK new car market so this decline will cause considerable concern.

“Business and political uncertainty is reducing buyer confidence, with consumers and businesses more likely to delay big ticket purchases.

“The confusion surrounding air quality plans has not helped, but consumers should be reassured that all the new diesel and petrol models on the market will not face any bans or additional charges.

“Manufacturers’ scrappage schemes are proving popular and such schemes are to be encouraged given fleet renewal is the best way to address environmental issues in our towns and cities.”

Clarity over company cars and salary sacrifice provided to fleets

Written on October 16, 2017

September’s Finance Bill provided clarity to fleets on proposed changes to company car tax bands and car salary sacrifice schemes.

A total of eleven tax bands for ultra-low emission vehicles will apply from 2020, according to the Finance Bill.

The correct percentage for benefit-in-kind tax on zero emission cars will be set at 2%, while cars generating CO2 emissions between 1g and 50g per kilometre is set to vary between 2% and 14% depending on how many zero-emission miles each vehicle can travel.

For ULEVs with CO2 emissions between 70g/km and 74g/km, the maximum tax value will increase by one percentage point to 19%.

Cars with CO2 emission figures of more than 75g/km will be taxed the lesser percentage of A) 20% plus 1% for each 5g/km of CO2 emissions exceeding 75g/km, or B) 37%.

All of the above tax changes will apply from April 2020.

David Hosking, CEO of Tusker, has also provided some insight into the Government’s plans for salary sacrifice rules following months of negotiation between Tusker, its tax advisors, HMRC and HM Treasury. The changes, according to Hosking, are in support of the Government’s objective to provide fairer revised tax structures without undermining environmental policy.

Hosking said: “The changes to salary sacrifice put in place by Government protects cars while eradicating the arguably abusive salary sacrifice schemes when some employees had been using the legislation to save tax on wine, drones and even double-glazing.

“This move by Government is to be applauded as it prevents take-up of abusive schemes without harming car schemes that have always been taxed fairly and environmentally, is the right thing to do.

“Under the new rules, the finance rental for the car and all other costs should be separated. However, it appears that many have misunderstood the new legislation and this point has all but slipped under the radar.”

He added: “Tusker strongly supports the Government’s initiative as it means that all company cars are taxed appropriately and the charge for the additional benefits and services does not apply to these company cars. As a result, salary sacrifice car schemes are as attractive as they have always been.”

£2m in parking penalties for company car and van drivers during 2017

Written on September 28, 2017

Company car and van drivers accrued private parking penalties costing up to £2.21million in the first half of 2017, according to data collected via Lex Autolease’s fleet of 378,000 leased company vehicles across the UK.

The report reveals an increase of 16% in the amount of company car and van drivers who were fined for parking on private land in the first half of the year.

The findings also showed that, compared to the first half of 2016, the quantity of motorists penalised for driving offences between January and June increased by 9%. The overall bill for businesses during this period came to £5.67million, representing a year-on-year rise for the average cost per driver by 13%.

The amount of drivers fined for offences such as driving while on the phone or breaking the speed limited was also up 2% compared to the first six months of 2016.

Overall, company drivers committed 102,397 total offences between January and June as opposed to the 81,944 recorded during the same period in 2016.

Guy Mason, operations director at Lex Autolease, said: “It’s clear from the findings that businesses will be feeling the effects of the fines and penalties that drivers are increasingly racking up.

“While there are issues with poor signage in some private car parks, businesses would benefit significantly from a greater focus on driver awareness and education to change behaviour. Putting in place mandatory training schemes for employees may also help.”

Vehicle emissions cut by 70% with new hydrogen additive technology

Written on September 26, 2017

A new range of hydrogen additive products, reducing engine emissions by up to 80% and offering fuel savings up to 20%, has been released by British manufacturer CGON.

Developed at its research and development facility over the last eight years, CGON’s road-tested and independently-verified technology reduces emissions such as CO2, HC, NOx, PM and PM considerably.

The system works, CGON says, by introducing small quantities of pure hydrogen directly into the inlet chamber of the engine where it combines with the conventional mixture of fuel and air. The resulting combination provides a more complete combustion cycle by offering a burn which is both cooler and faster.

As a consequence, almost all waste gases from the combustion process are eradicated and less fuel is consumed, leading to significantly reduced emissions and fuel savings of up to 20% according to UK road tests.

The product, a recyclable hydrogen additive box, can be attached within the engine bay and used with any fossil fuel engine including diesel, LPG and petrol. Used in a diesel engine, the much cleaner emissions acquired help to reduce stress on the particulate filter, leading to reduced overall maintenance time.

The unit doesn’t store any hydrogen on board, instead creating the required amount on demand. The unit is kept topped up every 6,000 miles with an electrolyte solution patented and produced by CGON, with a 250ml pouch costing up to £5.

Simon Johnson, CEO of CGON, said: “Air quality, especially in cities, is one of the great challenges of our time. You can’t open a newspaper without reading about vehicle emissions in urban centres around the world.

“More than 100,000 cars fail their MOT each month on emissions alone in the UK. CGON’s ezero technology tackles this problem head-on by reducing particulates and NOx.

“We have completed testing of hundreds of vehicles at certified MOT stations and recorded an average 80% reduction in overall emissions, while also giving the consumer the added benefit of improved fuel efficiency.

“Independent testing by Emissions Analytics verifies our own testing, showing a huge reduction in emissions.

“Our patented technology generates hydrogen at an extremely low current with no hazardous bi-products.

“We have completed millions of miles of testing and the result is a credible and independently verified, low-maintenance product that could literally change the air we breathe, improve air quality on a global scale and save thousands of lives every year.”

The company’s leading consumer product, the ezero1, is aimed at small engines such as passenger cars and vans. Tested independently by Emissions Analytics’ Portal Emissions Measurements Systems (PEMS), the ezero1 has demonstrated reductions of 91.3% in PN (Particulate Number), 47.9% in NOx and 50.6% in NO2 emissions.

The ezero1 can be fitted to a standard combustion car in about one hour for around £459 (including VAT). The ezeroH1 and ezeroH2 models available are aimed at small coaches or light goods vehicles all the way up to HGVs and buses.

Electric vehicle drivers in London warned of ‘charge rage’

Written on September 21, 2017

Road rage could soon be replaced by ‘charge rage’ on London’s streets if rising demand for electric car charging points is not met, according to a recent report from London Assembly member Shaun Bailey, titled Clearing the Air.

The report indicates that the scale of charging point installations in the UK is greatly unsatisfactory compared to the rapid rates of electric vehicle uptake. This fact is driving fears of ‘charge rage’, as seen in United States media, where drivers have become embroiled in aggressive disputes over shortages of electric charging points.

Figures from the Department for Transport show electric car sales in the UK are increasing by 172% each five years. At current installation rates, it is predicted that by 2031 enough charging points may be available to achieve a ratio of one per every fifteen electric cars on the road.

Contributing further to the issue, it is said that many of the sockets currently being installed are of ‘standard’ or ‘slow’ quality, only capable of charging vehicles over a period of between six and eight hours.

The report recommends the Mayor of London support the industry by investing £30million in rapid charging points, capable of providing a vehicle with 80% of its charge within 30 minutes.

Shaun Bailey, author of the report, said: “This report found London is not preparing to provide the right number and quality of charging points to meet predicted demand and on current levels drivers could be left squabbling over sockets.

“The adoption of electric vehicles would go a long way to improving London’s air quality. In contrast, the Mayor’s plans to expand the ULEZ will have a negligible impact on emissions.

“That is why I’m urging the Mayor to abandon those plans and instead invest some of the money in improved electric charging infrastructure.”

One quarter of businesses fail to conduct regular vehicle safety checks

Written on September 18, 2017

According to research by TomTom Telematics, a quarter of businesses in the UK do not regularly conduct safety checks on vehicles used for business purposes.

Gathering data from senior managers at 400 UK businesses, the study also revealed that while a majority of businesses do check driver documentation such as licence and insurance details (89%), only 43% perform such checks more than once per six months.

Fifteen per cent of respondents confessed their companies check documentation only when a new employee joins, failing to schedule further follow-up checks. 21% of companies operating grey fleets – vehicles used for business purposes but owned by employees – do not conduct any checks on drivers’ insurance documentation at all.

Beverley Wise, UK & Ireland Director at TomTom Telematics, said: “Ensuring vehicles and drivers are roadworthy is a fundamental requirement for any organisation that expects employees to drive for business purposes.

“If organisations are to safeguard employees and protect themselves from risk, it is important to have comprehensive systems in place not only for ensuring checks are conducted frequently but also to ensure findings are properly recorded and acted upon where necessary.”

Further responses showed 60% of those who manage to check driver documentation do so manually as opposed to electronically.

Wise added: “Since the paper counterpart to the photocard licence was abolished more than two years ago, endorsements and disqualifications have only been recorded electronically.

“Therefore, businesses should strongly consider moving from manual to electronic checks to ensure they are building a more comprehensive picture on driver risk.

“Ultimately, businesses need to keep on top of the process to ensure they have all the relevant information they need.

“Technological systems can help in this respect by setting schedules and notifications for checks and collating results.

“Telematics also helps facilitate the move to a more proactive approach to vehicle safety by reporting fault codes, allowing maintenance to be conducted before problems become serious.”