Highways England to manage Britain’s motorways and A-roads

Written on April 17, 2015

New company Highways England have been responsible for running both motorways and major trunk roads since April 1st, 2015, assuming responsibility from the Highways Agency.

Highways England will be given new longer-term funding, enabling it to plan ahead and to invest in both skills and equipment.  As a result, it’s hoped that essential work will speed up and that costs to the taxpayer will decrease.

The move is the first of a number of changes being made within the road maintenance sector in order to save the taxpayer around £2.6 billion during the next ten years.

Transport Minister, John Hayes, said:

“This marks a significant way forward in how our strategic road network is delivered and managed.

“These reforms will mean the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads upgrade for decades. Ensuring we have well maintained roads and motorways is essential to a modern transport system that will boost our economy, create jobs and give more choice about where we live and work whilst delivering billions in savings.

“I am clear that Government will set the strategy, gauge its implementation and direct necessary changes. Highways England will be answerable to Parliament, fully accountable for its work and will report to ministers.”

The Road Investment Strategy was announced in the government’s Autumn Statement, and included plans to spend £15.2bn on 84 new road projects to help enhance connectivity.

Government will also tackle long-standing problems in the UK’s road network, such as creating a new strategic corridor to the South West via the A303 and adding a 1.8 mile tunnel at Stonehenge.  It’s also committed to adding an extra lane to key motorways in order to boost connectivity between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Yorkshire at a cost of £4.5bn.

The government’s commitment to new spending on roads amounts to the tripling of annual investment by 2021, with the total figure expected to reach £3bn.

Operators worried about road safety law regulation

Written on April 15, 2015

According to new information from the Freight Transport Association (FTA), fleet operators are currently substantially concerned about their authorities’ capabilities of meeting new road safety laws.

The body made a proposal to Department for Transport (DfT) consultations for more vehicles to be brought under operator licensing and annual test laws.

In their response, the FTA stated that members operating vehicles that would be affected by such a change – which would include things like mobile cranes and electric cars – were comfortable with the requirements it would bring.

It did highlight concerns whether the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) ’would be able to meet the increased demand for tests’, and also expressed reservations about being sent on a ‘paper chase’ by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner.

James Firth, FTA head of road freight and enforcement policy, said:

“DfT estimates suggest that each proposal will bring another 40,000 vehicles into O-licensing and testing respectively – that is a 10 per cent increase in testing capacity needed in an already strained ATF network.”

The FTA has previously stated that the Government should start to investigate the accreditation of any non-DVSA employees as part of the annual testing.  This could also help to increase available capacity and deliver increased flexibility to customers.

“FTA members who operate vehicles affected by the proposed O-licence changes are happy with putting these vehicles onto their licences, therefore impacting factors like proving a larger financial standing and applying the same inspection and maintenance regime – many already do this voluntarily as best practice,” added Firth.

“What worries them is that when they have to apply for an increase in authorisation or a new operating centre, they are subjected to a forensic level of scrutiny of their operations by Traffic Commissioners, even when they have a good history of compliance.”

Employers to gain early access to DVLA licence-checking service

Written on April 13, 2015

UK employers will obtain early access to the new electronic licence-checking service a full month before the paper counterpart is abolished on June 8th.

A number of different industry bodies and associations have already been testing the online portal alongside the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and it’s hoped that it will be made available to all employers by May 8th in order to make the transition to electronic-only licensing easier.

DVLA programme manager, Dudley Ashford, said:

“What we’re really trying to do is provide the opportunity for users to be well-versed in this new service, to understand how it’s going to impact their day-to-day operations and to provide any feedback on how we can enhance the service to make it an easier transition.”

The new online service – the Share Driving Licence – places the licence holder in complete control of their information.  They’ll be required to create a one-time access code to get to the service, and they will then be required to enter the last eight digits of their licence number.

Once they are logged in, they’ll be able to see their licence status, their endorsements and which vehicles they’re permitted to drive.  The driving licence shown on screen will be both date and time stamped, and downloadable as a PDF, with the information being accurate at the time of download.  Any driver receiving endorsements will have their record updated within 24 hours.

The DVLA has said that the new online service will ‘initially’ be free to fleets, and will help to improve risk management through giving employers access to ‘real time’ driving data.

A particularly notable surge in business has been demonstrated in licence checking companies, with the DVLA market share for electronic checks increasing by 71 per cent during 2014.

The View Driving Licence service, which was first launched in October 2014, has already been viewed half a million times.

Problems with particulate filters could push companies towards petrol

Written on March 31, 2015

Driver ignorance could end up pushing petrol costs back on the agenda of fleets if diesel particulate filters (DPFs) continue to present issues.

Vehicle manufacturers have said that there is only one major issue with DPF technology at this time: when the exhaust doesn’t heat up enough to burn off collected soot.  This can then block the filter and cause the dashboard warning light to come on.  This particular problem is more common during shorter trips in stop-start environments.

A DPF has been a standard fit on new cars since 2000 when the Euro 5 exhaust emission standards came into force.  Many cars registered before the new regulations came in were also fitted in anticipation of the changing standards.

The aim of the laws were to deliver an 80 per cent reduction in soot emissions, but the technology is known for causing some problems.  AA patrols are regularly called out to cars showing a warning light as a result of a partially blocked filter.

Jo Hammonds, fleet manager for Mears Group – which operates around 1,200 vehicles in the M25 area – said:

“For the larger vans it’s not so much of an issue as you will have to take diesel, but for the car-derived vans do we go for a 1.1-litre to 1.2-litre petrol or a 1.4-litre diesel?”

“Petrol is very much back on the agenda and I think problems with DPFs will sway policy for us in central London.”

The Salvation Army were one fleet to switch to petrol in 2010.  Fleet co-ordinator, Peter Bonney said that DPF problems began with some of the Euro 4 technology.

“We understood Euro 5 was bringing them in, but what we didn’t know was to achieve Euro 4 some manufacturers had fitted DPFs,” he said.

“Manufacturers were not communicating what the issues were with us.”

The AA currently advises the importance of reading the relevant section of the handbook in any vehicle where a DPF is fitted so the driver can understand which actions they need to need if the warning light shows.

Fleet registrations are instrumental to period of growth

Written on March 26, 2015

The UK new car market grew by 12 per cent during February, with 76,958 cars being registered.  Fleet business registrations accounted for a substantial 59.1 per cent of the market, at 45,519 units.

According to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), February was the 36th straight month of growth, marking the first time that the UK has seen three years of simultaneous expansion.  The previous record was 26 months in the late 1980s.

The number of new cars registered has been on the rise since March 2012, with the country continuing to react positively to the recession.  Consumer demand has been driven by both exciting new products and attractive finance deals.

Figures for 2015 so far show that 143,287 fleet registrations were made overall, out of a total of 241,814 cars.  This gives fleets a market share of 59.2 per cent; an increase on the figure of 54.7 per cent taken last year.

Mike Hawes, chief executive for the SMMT, said:

“Three years of continuous growth in the new car market is remarkable and reflects the strong upturn in the confidence of UK car buyers since the recession.

“Registrations of fleet and business cars have outpaced the private market in February, reflecting the increased business confidence across the UK.

“With most fleet car buyers on a three-year replacement cycle, many of those cars purchased at the beginning of the current growth period are now due for replacement.

“Over the course of 2015, however, we are expecting a more stable market to emerge given there has already been an extended period of consistent growth.”

Phil Harrold, automotive partner for PwC, said:

“The three years of consecutive growth is really welcome news for the UK automotive industry and the direction of travel of these latest figures for new private car registrations is unsurprising given the relatively stable market and positive consumer sentiment.”

“However, the size of the increase in fleet and business registrations is more surprising and is more a reflection of where we are in the cycle of business fleet replacement. Therefore we wouldn’t expect business registration increases to be maintained at this level over the next few months.”

Government ‘asleep at the wheel’ over new technology

Written on March 24, 2015

A new parliamentary report has argued that Britain is likely to miss out on a ‘smart car’ revolution because of a lack of government awareness on the technology.

The lack of a plan to exploit technologies could cause the UK to miss out on chances to help improve road safety, cut down pollution and even create new jobs.

The six-month investigation – carried out by MPs – is likely to be seized upon by road safety campaigners and technology firms, both of whom will want road safety, the increase in road deaths and under-investment in local roads to become election issues.

‘Motoring of the Future’ was published by the Transport Select Committee, and called for a far greater use of telematic technology – that is, data from performance stats on fuel economy, speed and movement information being transmitted digitally to both insurers and manufacturers.  Such technology is currently used by both luxury car makers as well as Formula One racing teams.

The report also warned that even where telematics technology is used, drivers are often unaware, and that the insurance industry as it stands is reluctant to make their data available to both road safety experts and campaigners.

Kenny Leitch, telematics director at insurance firm RSA, said that the technology was so far having a ‘profound’ impact and that it was important for the Government to put ‘the right regulatory framework’ in place to ensure road users benefitted from it.

The report also highlighted the lack of a central government policy designed to make use of other modern technologies such as radar-guided cruise control, automatic emergency braking and stability systems – all of which could help to reduce emissions and cut the number of deaths on Britain’s roads.

How does the 2015 budget relate to motorists?

Written on March 20, 2015

Company car drivers are to face a three percent year-on-year hike in company car tax from 2019/2020, with the Government claiming that the rates for ultra-low emission vehicles will rise at a slower rate than previously announced.

Chancellor George Osborne has been accused of discouraging potential take-up for ULEVs following the changes to company car tax rates announced in last year’s budget.

Drivers of plug-in vehicles especially are to be targeted with substantial year on year increases over the next four years or more.

The announcement meant that benefit-in-kind tax rates will rise at a significantly faster rate during the next four years than for cars with higher emissions.

The Chancellor appeared to have recognised the potential fall-back for this approach, and announced that he would now look to slow year-on-year increases in ULEVS, and increase year-on-year change for cars emitting more than 75g/km at a faster rate.

Andrew Hogsden, senior manager for Fleet Consultancy at Lex Autolease, said:

“The announcement that BIK rates will rise by 3% in 2019 makes it even more important for businesses to identify vehicles with low CO2 emissions that are both fit for purpose and attractive to drivers.

“They should also consider new and alternative technologies, which will become increasingly available by 2019, as well as best in class traditional fuels.”

The planned fuel duty increase that was originally planned for September 1st 2015 has also been cancelled.

By the end of 2015/2016, the Government will have eased the financial burden on motorists by around £22.4 billion, equating to an overall saving of £675 for a typical motorist, £1,400 for small businesses and as a much as £21,000 for hauliers.

The fuel duty will have been frozen for five years by the end of the 2015/2016 financial year, the longest freeze for more than two decades.

As part of his Budget, the Chancellor also announced support for road hauliers.  The Government is planning to review the speed with which HGV driving tests and medical assessments take place, and will look at options in which the process can be accelerated.

The Chancellor also singled out driverless cars as being a definite investment opportunity, with £100 already being ear-marked for funding.  The Treasury plan to enhance the development of both driverless technology  as well as the systems required to adopt it.

Stealth cameras still seen as revenue drivers

Written on March 16, 2015

The use of ‘stealth’ speed cameras has led to them being viewed as a revenue raising tool as opposed to a deterrent, according to new research from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM).

The warning has come following the release of new grey cameras in place of the previous highly visible yellow ones that were mounted onto stretches of the M25.  The new cameras have also been introduced on the M1, M3, M6 and M60 motorways.

The Highways Agency Digital Enforcement Camera System (Hadecs3) enforces variable speed limits on motorways during periods of congestion, but still targets drivers when the speed limit is 70mph.

Tim Shallcross, head of technical policy for the IAM, said:

“The widespread use of mobile cameras, and lately the introduction of fining people for exceeding 70mph on sections of managed motorways, reinforces the perception that they are revenue raisers.”

The majority of speed cameras were grey when they were first introduced, but regulation to make them more of a deterrent came in during the 1990s and they were made yellow to increase visibility as a result.

“It is hard to understand why camera partnerships or other safety camera operators are now going back on this policy,” continued Shallcross.

“We have worked hard to promote the safety benefits of cameras and the current tendency to make them inconspicuous risks undoing much of that work.”

The Highways Agency has defended the new cameras, however, claiming that they are more visible than the previous grey models, and that there are clear signs in place wherever the cameras are based in order to raise awareness.

A spokesman for the Agency said:

“Hundreds of thousands of motorists use this stretch of the M25 every day. The vast majority are sticking to the speed limits and are experiencing better journeys as a result of smart motorways.

“There are clear signs where cameras are in place and the new cameras are more visible than the previous versions.”

Dave Nichols, professional engagement officer for road safety charity Brake, also voiced his disappointment at the change, saying:

“Our own surveys have shown that the majority of people accept that speed cameras do a good job of reducing speeds and saving lives, and almost two in three drivers said more enforcement, including cameras and traffic police, would persuade them to take more care on the road.”

HGVs without safety to be banned in London

Written on March 13, 2015

Transport for London (TfL) and Mayor Boris Johnson have agreed to ban any lorry without safety equipment from entering London, in a bid to protect cyclists and pedestrians across the capital.  The proposed Safer Lorry Scheme received 90 per cent of the votes in a recent public consultation.

Traffic orders to implement the scheme are currently in the process of being published, and the installation of road signs at the London boundary have also begun.  Police officers are being trained to check vehicles and information campaigns targeting drivers and hauliers are being rolled out.

The scheme will start to be enforced from 1 September 2015, the date by which all warning signs are expected to be in place.

All roads in Greater London with the exception of motorways will be covered, and all vehicles above 3.5 tonnes will be included. To enter the area, HGVs will need to be fitted with sideguards to protect cyclists from being dragged under the wheels, and also with Class V and Class VI mirrors to improve driver visibility.

The scheme will be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the HGV Taskforce and the Metropolitan Police will all be responsible for enforcing it, with a fine of £1,000 the penalty for a breach.

London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, said:

“Improving the safety of London’s roads is a top priority. We know that a large number of cyclist deaths and serious injuries involve a relatively small number of trucks and lorries that are not fitted with basic safety equipment.

“Such vehicles are not welcome in the capital and the Safer Lorry Scheme will see them effectively banned from our streets.

“The lives of thousands of cyclists and pedestrians will be much safer as a result and I urge all operators of HGVs to get on board and make it a success.”

HGVs are disproportionately represented in terms of fatalities in the capital.  Three out of the 14 cyclist deaths to occur in the capital during 2013 involved HGVs.

Mobile phone detectors to roll out across Norfolk

Written on March 9, 2015

New signs capable of detecting mobile phone use by drivers are to be rolled out across Norfolk, following a successful trial.

Designed by safety sign designer Wescotec, the new Mobile Phone Detection System (MPDS) is a movable sign capable of identifying the use of mobile phones for texting or calls.

A sensor monitors oncoming vehicles and then sends information to another sign placed further along the road, which will flash red when phone use is detected.

Road safety manager, Iain Temperton, said:

“We have been trialling the MPDS at a number of locations in Norfolk and it’s proved to be a flexible and extremely useful piece of equipment that we’re now ready to roll out across the county.

“The system can’t detect whether it’s a passenger using a phone in a vehicle or whether a hands-free device is being used. But of course, those people don’t need to be worried if they get a flash from the sign.

“But for those drivers who are on their mobiles, the system is a powerful, effective and very public reminder that they have been detected, and that they are putting those around them at real risk by doing so.”

Chris Spinks, Chief Inspector for Norfolk and Suffolk roads policing, said:

“I welcome any innovations in technology which can be used alongside traditional methods to improve safety on our roads.”