Last reviewed 6 January 2016

Paul Clarke examines the key changes and challenges facing the road haulage industry in 2016.

Looking at the year ahead, one of 2015's main problems remains unresolved, with the situation at Calais having the potential to result in serious injury or even death for lorry drivers using the port.

Other issues from last year have been resolved and what follows is a summary of things to expect as we head into 2016.

Bridges and crossings

Severn: One of the benefits of near-zero inflation is that a number of annual price rises have been fairly minimal, including the cost of using the Severn Bridge and the Second Severn Crossing. The drivers of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and buses who were paying £19.60 per east-to-west crossing in 2015 will need just an extra 20p for this year's equivalent journeys.

Thames: Until 12 February 2016, Transport for London (TfL) is seeking views on proposals to construct river crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere in East London.

However, drivers need to be patient as the contract for work will not be awarded until 2021, and it is likely to be 2025 before the new bridges/tunnels are in use. TfL also invited comments (until 29 November 2015) on the proposed Silvertown Tunnel. Construction is expected to begin in 2018 with the earliest opening date being 2022.

Great Ouse: The Ely southern bypass is a proposed new road connecting the A142 at Angel Drove to Stuntney Causeway, including bridges over the railway line and the River Great Ouse and its floodplains. The area around Ely station is currently heavily congested with lorries and other larger vehicles not able to use the low underpass.

The earliest possible completion date is late 2017.

Forth: subject to favourable weather conditions and no further defects being identified, the Forth Road Bridge should re-open to HGVs and vehicles weighing more than 7.5 tonnes by mid-February. The Scottish Government has promised to work with hauliers to discuss what operational support will be available to them during the period when they cannot access the Bridge.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) said that it would make a case to the Department for Transport (DfT) for an extension to the relaxation of drivers’ hours, which otherwise ends on 6 January 2016. For anyone tempted to break the rules, the Bridge authorities have conformed that police will be patrolling on both sides of the river and will be using static and mobile cameras to enforce the restrictions.

Driver conduct guidance

Having consulted on the contents during 2015, the Traffic Commissioners have issued revised statutory guidance on vocational driver conduct which came into effect on 1 January 2016. Setting out the standards for professional lorry, bus and coach drivers, the guidance also explains how the Commissioners (and staff delegated to act on their behalf) propose to deal with driver conduct cases.

This will be of particular interest to transport managers given that, as well as a new approach to their working hours, the latest document now gives details of what they are expected to do. New guidance is also included on driver conduct, including case studies which operators can use to train and educate employees. They will also wish to see the updated Statutory Document No 3.

Operation Stack

Proposals to create a permanent lorry waiting area adjacent to the M20 at Stanford in Kent (in order to reduce the queues of lorries along the M20 caused by Operation Stack) are open for consultation until 25 January 2016. But when will construction start? According to Highways England, that will be as soon as possible: "We will be able to provide a more detailed timetable as part of any next stage consultation." See ("M20 lorry area FAQs", produced by Highways England, for more details.

Road marking

At some point during 2016, a new bridge marking system will come into use, giving height, width and length limits in both imperial and metric measurements. Figures for 2014–15 show that more than 1600 bridge strikes were reported at rail-over-road bridges and, according to the DfT, a number of younger lorry drivers may have been confused by the existing display of imperial units of measurement. Single signs showing both measurements are likely to be introduced gradually, when current signs need replacing.

Road safety

Drivers of HGVs caught using their mobile phones while behind the wheel will face a fixed penalty notice of £150 and six points on their licence under new plans unveiled by the DfT. If the proposals are confirmed, they will mean that lorry drivers caught twice within three years will lose their licence to drive. Even if caught once, they will face problems with getting insurance. Among other measures contained in the DfT's road safety statement are trials of HGV platoons (where vehicles move as a group) to investigate their potential use on UK roads and their effects on other traffic.

The Department expects these trials, which will be conducted with Highways England, vehicle manufacturers and the haulage industry, to commence in 2016.

Tachographs

EU Regulation 165/2014 on tachographs will finally come into force in all 28 Member States on 2 March 2016 when it will replace the 30 year-old EU Regulation 3821/85. There seems little reason to get excited, however, as a further three years will be allowed before the new generation tachographs have to be introduced. The 2014 regulation is aimed at helping to tackle fraud by making the tachograph more resistant to tampering as well as allowing for easier enforcement. It also aims to reduce administrative burdens through more automated technology. Furthermore, it strengthens standards that workshops must meet in order to install, check, inspect and repair the tachograph.

The DfT has played down its significance as regards the UK, saying: "We do not anticipate that there will be significant changes to tachograph centres as a result of the new (EU) regulation because we already consider that these centres operate within strict requirements which meet the new EU requirements."

Trailblazer apprenticeships

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has given its approval to an HGV Trailblazer Apprenticeship Scheme with Nick Boles, Minister for Skills, approving the HGV Driver Standard.

The new Apprenticeships will be introduced in September 2017 when existing schemes and funding will cease. “Guidance for Trailblazers” is available from GOV.UK but it should be noted that this does not specifically mention the HGV scheme. Groups of employers (trailblazers) are working together to design new apprenticeship standards that respond to the needs of their industries. More than 1200 large and small employers are already involved in a wide variety of industry sectors with all the approved standards listed here.

This list includes "large goods vehicle drivers". The Road Haulage Association (RHA) points out, however, that BIS has failed to make clear whether the apprenticeship includes the costs of licence acquisition and has promised to lobby hard for this as "an LGV apprenticeship that doesn’t cover the cost of the licence is like having a truck without an engine".

Unfit to drive

Until 10 February 2016, the General Medical Council (GMC) is seeking comments on a revised draft of its guidance for doctors on confidentiality. The draft states that concerns about patients’ fitness to drive should be reported to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), or the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland, when issues cannot be resolved between the driver and doctor.

The revised guidance is due to be published in 2016 and early responses from the profession suggest that it is unlikely that the recommendations on reporting fitness problems will be reversed. The GMC has produced a shortened version of the consultation document which is aimed at the general public and can be found at www.gmc-uk.org.