Police Camera Action

Thursday, 19 August 2010, 9:00PM – 10:00PM on ITV1

When Lorries Become Lethal

There are over 400,000 lorries on British roads and when they crash, their sheer size can cause devastation. ‘When Lorries Become Lethal’ looks at why HGV’s are one of the biggest killers on our roads and what can be done to address the problem.

Strict regulations on working hours govern life as a lorry driver. A driver is not allowed more than 10 hours on the road and must have two 45 minute breaks in this time. To make sure they stick to the rules, a tachograph is installed in the lorry and records every minute that a driver is on the road. Unfortunately, it is easy to tamper with the tachograph in order to drive longer hours, illegally.

Gethin joins the police on patrol in Birmingham as they try to reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths that occur on the motorways. Gethin witnesses PC Nairn stop a driver after his erratic driving raises suspicions. At first the driver is adamant he has done nothing wrong and claims his boss drove the first part of the journey. However, after extensive questioning from PC Nairn he finally admits to fiddling his tachograph and produces a second tachograph he has hidden in the cab.

Gethin is impressed with PC Nairn: “Amazing work by Angus. He was right to be sceptical. All of a sudden the lorry driver produced the missing tachograph from behind the seat. He’s now in a lot of trouble.”

Gethin then heads to a lorry stop where he meets two truckers to find out why they are willing to take risks when the consequences can be so severe. Shaun Graham was a trucker for eight years and admits he fiddled his tachograph when driving in Britain and Europe.

Shaun says: “I used to be told to leave the depot on a Sunday afternoon in Yorkshire and be in Vienna for Monday night. You’d have to drive down to Dover on your boss’s tachograph. Then put your own in and drive as far as you possibly could. You’re probably driving a good 15 to 20 hours but you know you can’t pull over and have a rest because your boss is going be on phone, wanting to know why you’ve stopped.”

Walla Longden has been driving lorries for over 30 years but now only works part-time. He claims he was often asked to drive beyond his legal hours.

Walla says: “I stopped doing it and I would not, under any circumstances whatsoever, go over my time. And so I practically became unemployable.”

Gethin is shocked to hear Walla’s story: “So you’re basically saying you’d become unemployable because you weren’t able to do the hours other people were doing because they were fiddling their tachos? That’s outrageous.”

Having taken his HGV test, Gethin is keen to find out how a sleep deprived lorry driver’s schedule will affect his own body. He visits the Transport Research Centre in Wokingham to take two driving tests in a simulator. During the first test, Gethin is fully alert and drives well, keeping to the lanes and driving smoothly.

He then spends the night sleeping in the cab of a lorry at a busy truck stop. Legally, drivers must rest for a minimum of nine hours before their next shift begins. Many start in the early hours when the traffic is lightest. Gethin plans to get up at 4am but struggles to fall asleep until midnight. After just four hours sleep, which isn’t unusual for some lorry drivers, he is back on the road to drive for two and a half hours.

Back at the research centre, his second driving test proves very different from the first.

Dr Mark Chattington says:”Gethin’s having a little bit of trouble at this point. He’s quite regularly crossing the white line and running onto the hard shoulder.”

Dr Chattington is looking to see if Gethin experiences a micro sleep during his test. A micro sleep is a brief period of inattention where you are not fully asleep but neither are you awake. You experience it for a couple of seconds but your body then wakes you back up again.

Soon, Gethin collides with a road user and the simulation immediately stops. During the video playback of his simulation he is amazed to see his eyes closed for brief periods when driving.

Dr Chattington then delivers the shocking news that Gethin was asleep for a total of 18 seconds when his micro sleeps are added up.

Professor Jim Horne, one of the world’s leading sleep experts, from the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre says, incredibly, Gethin’s limited four hours sleep is within the law.

Professer Horne says: “Although legally within a 24 hour period drivers must have at least nine hours continuous rest, there’s no stipulation that this rest has to be actual sleep itself. Rest is no substitute for sleep. Particularly if there’s a very noisy and cold cab environment.”

The programme covers the case of lorry driver David Walsh who caused a crash on the M61 near Manchester in 2006, during the evening rush hour. He fell asleep at the wheel and caused a devastating crash as his vehicle drifted onto the hard shoulder and then smashed into the central reservation.

Gethin meets Roger Bailey whose life has been destroyed by the accident. He was left with long term injuries and has not worked since.

Roger says: “I broke my leg in a few places. My shoulder, my elbow was broken and dislocated, my arm, my ribs were broken. Basically I was broken in two and crushed down my right-hand side.”

Also on the motorway that night was Lisa Dootson’s fiancé. Lisa remembers the events of that evening: “By half past seven he hadn’t arrived home, so I was starting to get a bit nervous wondering where he was. As I’m stood in the window waiting, a police car arrived. The police officer didn’t actually speak to me, he looked at me. I just said, ‘Do I have to expect the worst?’ And then he said, ‘Yes.’ I just fell to the floor.”

Despite an overall decline, there are still thousands of accidents involving lorries every year. Manufacturers are now addressing the issue and Gethin test drives a new truck which has an
in-cab alarm to warn sleepy or inattentive drivers when they are too close to another vehicle.

He also goes on patrol with Essex Police. PC Harry Sexton and his team are on the look-out for un-roadworthy trucks and drivers with false documentation. Gethin asks PC Sexton how many issues come to light when drivers are stopped.

PC Sexton replies: “On average, about 20 percent have something wrong with them. Either mechanical, driver’s hours or document offences. We quite often get drivers come in. They know we’re here and they ask us to give them a prohibition because their boss won’t let them stop. They’ve got defective vehicles and their bosses won’t fix them.”

Finally, Gethin also finds out how lorry drivers themselves have become victims. Police Camera Action hears shocking stories of lorry drivers being gassed and threatened with knives before thieves steal their cargo.

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