Foreign drivers and safety

This morning on Radio 5 Live, the BBC’s AM rolling news/discussion station, they were discussing the topic of whether immigration was good for “your wallet” or not, a somewhat inflammatory topic inspired by yet another anti-immigration report by Migration Watch, claiming that the economic benefit was the equivalent of 4p per person. One caller made the point - with which I’ve got some sympathy as I’m in the same line of work - about his one-time employer who made his entire driving staff redundant and then used an agency to recruit drivers cheaply from Poland. The drivers, he said, did not need to pay rent, instead living in their truck cabs the whole week and only spent money on food, the rest of the money being transferred home.

Among other objections was the fact that these drivers tend to cause more accidents than native British drivers, something he claimed was borne out by insurance statistics. This is not the first time I heard about cheap foreign drivers being linked to danger, and I see an awful lot of bad truck driving in my work.

My work involves driving along what must be one of the most treacherous bits of road in London: the A40 Westway. There are actually two very different stretches to the Westway, the new, elevated eastern section (which was formerly a motorway, downgraded a few years ago when it was realised that legislation transferring roads in London to Transport for London did not include motorways, so four short bits of motorway were changed to primary route status), and the old western section which never was a motorway. It starts at White City and finishes at Savoy Circus (the junction with Old Oak Common Lane).

The quality of the road itself is appalling; not the surface, but the shape of it, with three lanes squeezed into space probably more suited to two (in both directions) and two pedestrian crossings at which the outside lane abruptly narrows and then widens again afterwards, to make room for pedestrians on the central reservation. The road is often jammed up, particularly westbound which narrows to two lanes west of Savoy Circus, but when it isn’t it is really quite dangerous. When I am in a truck and overtaking another truck, I often have to straddle the two other lanes because the lane next to the truck I’m overtaking isn’t wide enough.

All this would not be so bad if it were not for the behaviour of some truck drivers, particularly tipper drivers, who do a lot of the things you shouldn’t do on a narrow road like the Westway - such as overtaking on the inside, speeding and driving in the outside lane (illegal on a 3-lane road in a truck bigger than 7.5 tonnes). Then you get the people who pull out of the side roads in front of you, and the frantic lane-switching, on the bit of the Western Avenue just east of Savoy, but the narrowness of the old Westway makes stupid behaviour all the more dangerous. And it makes me wonder why the police do not crack down on this idiocy.

I don’t, of course, know for a fact that all, even most, of the culprits on the Westway are foreigners. But the apparent increase of recklessly-driven trucks, especially eight-wheel tippers, over the past few years combined with the availability of eastern European drivers leads me to think that the two are related. I’m not against immigration given that a lot of the jobs they do are jobs natives won’t touch, and that some of them are actually white-collar workers (such as in the IT field) who take above market pay, but surely there should be some sorting of the wheat from the chaff when it comes to dangerous jobs?

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