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Sideswiping on motorways – Look out for foreign vehicles

Each year there are over 1,000 incidents of 'sideswiping', when left-hand drive foreign lorries, with blind spots on their right-hand passenger side, move lane on motorways and fail to see another vehicle in the lane they are entering. Car drivers in particular are urged to be alert to the possibility of foreign lorries making such manoeuvres.

This warning comes from the Freight Transport Association, one of a group of leading bodies participating in National Motorway Month, an initiative jointly promoted by the RAC Foundation, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Highways Agency, Amey, BEAR Scotland, RAC and Transport Scotland to encourage safer driving on our motorways. The campaign is running through the busy holiday month of August.

FTA says that the number of foreign vehicles operating on our roads has substantially increased in recent years, and one in seven of the heaviest vehicles in the UK at any one time is now a left-hand drive foreign vehicle – around 14,000 vehicles every day. The Association has been concerned at the operating standards of many foreign lorries and UK enforcement agencies have found increasing numbers carrying roadworthiness faults, being overloaded and with drivers exceeding their allowable hours at the wheel.

FTA's Director of External Affairs, Geoff Dossetter said, 'In general, lorries have a good safety record and are involved in far fewer accidents than cars on a mile for mile basis. However, the handling characteristics and the speeds of acceleration and braking are, of course, different from cars.

'As such car drivers should always take care to allow plenty of space when in the vicinity of heavy lorries, and to be alert to their special needs, particularly at junctions and roundabouts.

'On motorways there are special problems involving foreign vehicles and the driver's visibility on his right hand side – the side where, in the UK, he will be overtaken by a car. Blind spots in this visibility often mean that when such a vehicle moves across the road from the inside lane, he fails to see another vehicle in the second, or middle, lane and the result is a sideways collision – sideswiping.

'The message for car drivers must be to take special care when close by a foreign lorry and, after checking their own mirrors, be prepared to accelerate, decelerate or change lane quickly and safely if the need arises.'

Derek Turner, Highways Agency Director of Traffic Operations said, 'When left-hand drive HGVs change lanes on our roads, the risk of sideswiping an overtaking vehicle is increased due to a passenger side blindspot. To try and reduce the number of these incidents on our roads, we worked with VOSA on a trial of fresnel lenses. These lenses are placed on the passenger side window of the HGV, giving the driver a greater view of overtaking vehicles.

'During the winter of 2006/2007, 40,000 fresnel lenses were distributed to vehicles entering England across the Dover Straits. The early indicators are that these have a benefit in reducing sideswiping incidents. Results are being evaluated by the Department for Transport and will be announced later in the year. However, based on the early indicators, we are looking at distributing further lenses at other ports in England.'

Geoff Dossetter said, 'Lorries are the safest vehicles and motorways are the safest roads. But we must all be aware of the potential dangers, particularly when different types of vehicles with different performance abilities are in close proximity to each other. Looking out for foreign number plates, whether on a car or a lorry, is good sense. And be prepared for the unexpected. Anybody who has driven abroad will appreciate the potential confusion of driving 'on the wrong side of the road'. So it is with foreign drivers coming to the UK and we should watch out for their own confusion and steer clear.'

National Motorway Month is an initiative jointly promoted by the Freight Transport Association, The Royal Automobile Club Foundation, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the Highways Agency, Amey, BEAR Scotland, the RAC and Transport Scotland, to encourage safer driving on our motorways. The campaign runs from August 6 – 31.

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