Longer semi-trailers trial

The Government operational trial of longer semi-trailers is now underway. Under the trial, a limited number of permits have been granted for operators to run articulated lorries up to two metres longer than existing, standard articulated vehicles.

FTA lobbying

The new length gives an equivalent deck space to the current standard drawbar (rigid truck and trailer) combinations but is slightly shorter. The decision to allow the trial follows a consultation on the proposals in summer 2011, during which FTA was instrumental in lobbying the Department for Transport (DfT).

10-year trial

The trial of longer semi-trailers will last for up to 10 years, ending in 2022. This timescale is to allow those businesses participating in the trials the opportunity to cover the costs of investment in the equipment. DfT is permitting a trial of 1,800 trailers at an increase in length of up to either one metre, or to 2.05 metres. Trailers operate under Section 44 Vehicle Special Orders (VSOs). The longer semi-trailers are required to operate within the UK’s existing domestic weight limit (44 tonnes for vehicles with six axles).

A Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament announced the decision. View the statement.

Taking part in the operational trial of longer semi-trailers

Operators who have been granted permits will need to apply to the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) for VSOs permitting the operation in commercial service of the longer semi-trailers.

In order to obtain a VSO, operators must have signed the undertaking to the effect that they will present the longer semi-trailers to the Driver and Vehicle Standars Agency (DVSA) for annual roadworthiness testing; provide information to the independent monitoring body (Risk Solutions) for the purposes of monitoring the trial; ensure that drivers are appropriately trained; and inform DfT immediately if a longer semi-trailer is involved in a serious accident.

DfT has published guidance on the trial, including details of the allocation and application process for VSOs, and associated technical requirements. DfT has also written into the technical requirements that longer semi-trailers will need to comply with physical turning circle testing to ensure trailers meet the manoeuvrability requirements laid down in the Construction and Use Regulations, and manufacturers will not be able to rely on manoeuvrability compliance by calculation. The VCA is responsible for overseeing the physical manoeuvrability testing and the VSO process.

Longer semi-trailer permits were originally issued on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis and operators who had been given allocations had until December 2013 to obtain VSOs and put trailers into service, otherwise their allocations would return to DfT for redistribution. However, due to a mis-match in supply and demand on 13 September 2013, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond MP announced that the Government trial of longer semi-trailers was being opened up to allow more freight operators the opportunity to participate in the 10 year trial, enabling them to use longer goods vehicles on UK roads. The changes, which were consulted on during the summer of 2013, meant that the unused 1,250 allocations were made available to other operators not involved in the trial. Operators who already held allocations were given reserved rights to use them until 31 December 2013 and could also apply for additional allocations under the new process, subject to a maximum capped limit. Re-allocations remain valid for up to six months, by which time the operator must have provided proof that they have ordered the longer semi-trailers from a manufacturer, or the VCA has issued the operator with a VSO authorising the use of specific vehicles on the road. Any unused allocations will be returned to the pool of remaining available allocations.

Full details of the trial, including guidance for applicants on how to take part and technical requirements for the VSOs, can be found on the DfT website. Members are advised that the guidance should be read and understood on how the process works and what the allocation criteria are, before deciding when to apply for an allocation. More information can also be found on the DfT longer semi-trailer web page.

DfT second year report

The second year report published in June shows that that the longer semi-trailers are operating safely, with a lower rate of injury incidents than standard length articulated vehicles. While these are preliminary results, this gives reassurance that they are at least as safe as other vehicles. Longer semi-trailers are operating a high proportion of their journeys between regional distribution centres with the majority of mileage being motorways and major roads, therefore there is a lower accident risk. The full report can be downloaded here.

During the latter part of 2014 it is likely that a small number of allocations will be available, as unused allocations are handed back to DfT; this is part of the conditions of application that require operators to provide proof of order within a specific timeframe. FTA will discuss with DfT how the re-allocation process will work, to ensure that operators who can demonstrate that they are in a position to deploy these trailers on contracts which reap the greatest efficiency and environmental benefits will be prioritised.