MSPs increased pressure on ministers on Thursday to raise lorry speeds in Scotland in line with plans for south of the Border.
• Backbenchers urge increase from 40mph to 50mph
• Keith Brown says A9 trial “seriously considered”
Backbenchers renewed their call for a trial increase from 40mph to 50mph on single carriageways, such as the A9 between Perth and Inverness.
They believe it would reduce frustration and risky overtaking by other drivers caught in long queues behind lorries above 7.5 tonnes.
UK ministers have proposed the change for England and Wales.
Transport minister Keith Brown said an A9 trial was being “seriously considered” but speed limits in Scotland would not be changed without “established evidence”, and there were problems with a 50mph lorry limit.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart, who launched yesterday’s debate on the issue at Holyrood, said the move would also increase business productivity and cut prices.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch SNP MSP Dave Thompson said the Malcolm Group of hauliers had said lorries’ optimum speed was 50mph and their engines laboured at 40mph.
Glasgow Labour MSP Anne McTaggart said 70 per cent of lorries already broke the limit but she also highlighted that increasing it would mean more road wear and the potential for more serious crashes.
Mid-Scotland Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said a trial on the A9 “could predicate a permanent shift” in the limit.
Mr Brown said most lorry crashes were on single carriageway roads and it took longer to overtake one travelling at 50mph than 40mph.
He added that there was no evidence the higher limit would cut driver frustration.
The issue has divided police officers, as The Scotsman revealed last month, with the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents supporting a trial but the Scottish Police Federation fearing it could cause more deaths.
Mr Brown has previously told MSPs that research had shown a higher lorry speed limit on the A9 would cause a “slight increase” in deaths and injuries, but “there may be things that could be done to ameliorate that effect”.
But the Road Haulage Association, which represents lorry drivers, said there had been a “significant decrease” in crashes in New Zealand since lorry speeds were increased from 50mph to 56mph in 2005.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists said the A9 would provide an ideal pilot study.
The A9, with its mix of single and dual carriageways, has seen more than 60 deaths since 2007 with six people killed over three months last summer.
Long traffic queues regularly build up behind slow vehicles on the long single-carriageway sections.
Policy director Neil Greig said: “The anecdotal evidence of platooning [long queues behind slow vehicles] on rural single carriageways, plus the invariably fatal outcome of most poorly-executed overtaking manoeuvres, means this measure could significantly improve safety on Scotland’s rural roads.”
However, the speed increase for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) is opposed by safety groups such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Spokesman Michael Corley said: “Although we accept there would be financial benefits to the freight industry, and economic benefits to the country arising from reduced costs to the freight industry, we believe it is likely there would also be more, and more severe, road accidents and casualties.
“HGVs over 7.5 tonnes are subject to a lower speed limit than other vehicles because they are much heavier, especially when laden, and take much longer to slow down and stop than a car travelling at the same speed. When they are involved in a crash, this is also more likely to be severe.”
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, which is responsible for trunk roads, has said the A9 Safety Group, which includes police and local authorities, is examining various options to help reduce road casualty figures.