Published: 00:01, 17 October 2017
Calls are growing for more rest stops for lorry drivers after it emerged hundreds of foreign truckers are failing to take enough breaks while driving through Kent.
Startling figures obtained exclusively by KentOnline reveal an average of 82 international haulers are fined in the county for exceeding their allowed hours each month, compared to just three UK-registered drivers.
HGV drivers must keep a record of how long they have been travelling for and how long their breaks have been.
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Anyone operating a vehicle weighing more than 3.5 tonnes is restricted to driving for no longer than nine hours a day - which can be extended to 10 hours twice a week - and they must take a 45-minute break after four hours.
But figures released by Kent Police following a Freedom of Information request show hundreds are flouting the rules.
In the seven months from January 1 to July 15 this year, 542 foreign lorry drivers were fined - compared to just seven British drivers.
In 2016, 920 lorry drivers were stopped - 896 of whom were foreign-registered and 24 were UK-registered.
And in 2015, 1,128 foreign registered lorry drivers were found to have gone over their allowed hours, compared to 88 UK drivers.
Head of licencing, policy and compliance information at the Freight Transport Association, James Firth, said he was not surprised by the statistics.
He said: "The fact that these penalties are being issued shows that there's a problem and there are infringements at the roadside that pose a risk to road safety.
"What we need to have is the adequate facilities to allow the drivers to take the breaks they need to take.
WATCH: KMTV's Harry Peet looks into the situation for truckers in Kent
"The rules are there for a reason and they've been drawn up with an appropriate balance for keeping all road users safe.
"It isn't worth breaking the rules, the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) is out there and on the network and the enforcement authorities do take action."
Mr Firth said one of the reasons for the disparity could be down to the threat posed by how strongly the industry is regulated in the UK compared to elsewhere, with British drivers facing potentially harsher penalties than foreign truckers would receive in their own countries.
"The fact that these penalties are being issued shows that there's a problem," James Firth from the Freight Transport Association
"The enforcement system that we've got strikes a balance between two factors. As well as the legal deterrent there's also a regulatory system called the Traffic Commissioner which has the power to take action against lorry drivers as a business," he said.
"This regulator has teeth and they do use them and they take drivers off the road.
"Non-UK operators do have regulators but they are of different standards and strengths. Other countries rely on massive fines at the roadside but the regulation process isn't as strong as it is in the UK.
"That means with non-UK operators we'd be expecting the follow up process to be taken up in their home countries and it's clear that's not taking place."
To help with enforcing the rules of the road, police have recently been given powers to hand down punishments if they catch lorry drivers breaking the rules on rests over a 28-day period.
Last week we reported how Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson used a speech in Westminster to lobby the government to increase fines for foreign lorry drivers who choose to sleep in their cabs at the roadside.
But critics say the county has a lack of legitimate places for drivers to safely take breaks.
In Ashford, angry lorry drivers say a new ban stopping them from parking overnighton the A20 is “another nail in the coffin” for the country’s haulage industry.
LISTEN: kmfm has been talking to the Freight Transport Association
An 18-month clamping trial is being launched on Monday, October 30, which will stop HGV drivers from parking between Charing and the Drovers roundabout in Ashford.
But frustrated truckers say the ban is “ludicrous” and will be ignored.
Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke, whose constituency sees a large volume of freight traffic each day, says a new lorry park is desperately needed.
He said: “It is dangerous for everyone if a lorry driver stays on the road for too long without stopping to rest.
"This is why it’s vital the new M20 lorry park is taken forward swiftly – to provide a safe place to park up, and keep trucks out of lay-bys."
Chief Inspector Richard Smeed, from Kent Police’s Roads Policing Unit, said: "Kent Police has a dedicated Commercial Vehicle Unit that carries out regular patrols across the county to help keep the road network safe.
"As part of their role, these officers conduct random hours checks on lorry drivers for both UK and European hauliers.
"Where offences are identified, officers will take proportionate enforcement action which can include a fixed penalty notice or a court summons. Those who commit a series of serious offences also risk having their vehicles impounded.
"Drivers with a satisfactory UK address will be required to pay the penalty notice within 28 days and those without one will be made to pay the fixed penalty notice on the spot.
"Hauliers have an obligation to ensure drivers’ hours are observed and recorded and those that fail to do so, or create an environment where drivers are required to drive excessively, risk prosecution."