Greater enforcement against the ‘long hours’ culture in the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) sector should become a government priority, the Unite union has said.

Unite has called on Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, to boost the resources for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), which regulates the roadworthiness of the industry’s lorries.

Unite’s call has come in the wake of the recent accidents on the M5 and M56, in which eight people died and many more were injured. Three of those that died were lorry drivers.

The union says the accidents have called into question government proposals to raise the speed limit from 70mph to 80mph, but that there are also serious concerns about the haulage industry overall.

Unite said it was concerned that some companies may be operating on “the edges of legality”. The maximum hours allowed legally is 56 hours a week and 90 over two weeks. The daily driving limit is nine hours but this can be extended to ten hours twice a week. There is a maximum working time limit of 15 hours in any one day. After 4.5 hours’ driving, a driver must take a break of at least 45 minutes.

Unite National Officer for Road Transport, Matt Draper, said:

“We have serious concerns that, potentially, a culture of long hours and unreasonable routing could be contributing to accidents. We are seeing the amount of hours drivers are expected to work continually rise, at a time when their terms and conditions are being eroded.

”Some haulage firm bosses, in a very competitive environment, are pushing at the boundaries of legality. The industry must recognise the cumulative effect of drivers working tough schedules and 15 hour days.

”We think that VOSA, which does much good work, should have extra funding so it can increase checks on HGVs – and Unite will be writing to Justine Greening to this effect. We also call for the Health and Safety Executive to investigate haulage companies scheduling practices.

”Drivers are expected to sleep in their cabs after a long shift, often by the roadside due to the lack of facilities that are taken for granted, such as washing facilities and a decent place to get some well-needed rest.”