The government has released an important report into trailer safety in the UK in response an ongoing campaign by Bristol South MP Karin Smyth and the parents of 3-year-old Freddie Hussey who died when he was hit by a runaway trailer in Bedminster in 2014.
Working closely with Donna and Scott Hussey, Karin has been pushing for action in Parliament to address the problem of ill-fitted and faulty trailers as well as raising awareness among motorists. In April, Karin launched the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Trailer and Towing Safety, which will consider the report in its next meeting in September.
Both the Hussey family and Karin have welcomed the report as a key step forward in the campaign and the report’s author Michael Ellis MP, Minister of State for the Department of Transport, in turn thanked the Hussey family and Karin for their role in improving trailer safety.
“No family should have to go through what Freddie’s family has,” said Karin, “We’ve seen some significant progress this year with the launch of the new trailer and towing safety parliamentary group and I’m really pleased that the government now recognises the importance of improving trailer safety. This report marks another crucial step in protecting families in Bristol South and across the country from further harm by defective trailers.”
Until now, there was a lack of data to show the full extent of the problem but following Karin’s intervention to secure an amendment to the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018, the government pledged to gather this information. The report released today is the result of this.
Data gathered from 2017 showed that there were 20 collisions involving trailers which resulted in injury or death and which were a result of a vehicle defect; something which would’ve been identifiable if present at testing. It is recognised that this figure may be higher as it is based on current reporting methods, which may not capture every relevant incident.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) carried out hundreds of spot checks over a six month period to help inform the report – analysis of this revealed that half of the light trailers (between 750 and 3,500 kgs) stopped did not comply with basic safety standards.
Karin said: “As soon as we started looking into trailer safety, it became clear that the Hussey’s weren’t the only family to have lost a loved one due to faulty trailers. The latest figures have confirmed what we suspected. The report estimates 1.4 million trailers are in use in the UK – many of which are light trailers – if half of these are defective, that poses a huge risk to road users. We need action to address this before another family has to suffer.”
“It is clear, including from roadside checks by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) undertaken for this report, that many light trailers are used on public roads in a defective state,” said Mr Ellis. “A focus must be maintained on driving up the safety of these trailers.”
The report went on to look at the existing laws and guidelines around trailers and considers whether these are sufficient in light of a number of tragic incidents involving trailers, including the death of young Freddie.
The report explores ways to improve these standards – considering registration and testing requirements, but deems this not to be a cost-effective way of reducing the number of trailer related incidents, most of which it puts down to driver error.
It instead suggests that awareness raising and more spot checks could help – commending the #TowSafe4Freddie campaign launched in Freddie’s memory as a great example of this. The DVSA will continue to undertake checks, including more caravans over the summer months, to check compliance.
Karin said: “I very much welcome this report which outlines some of the main issues and offers us a valuable first step in gathering relevant data to gain insight into the extent of the problem of defective trailers. I thank the Minister for giving this the attention it deserves and his team for creating a comprehensive first look at the issue. However, it is clear that more data is needed. The report noted that more caravans use the roads in the summer months than in the winter when the DVSA carried out these checks.”
Donna and Scott Hussey said: “We were initially disappointed that, despite 50 per cent of light trailers being found to be defective, the government had no plans for registration or testing. The report clearly shows there is a problem with unsafe trailers and proved the need for safety checks. We are pleased that the government has collected the data and delighted that further checks will now take place to gather a truer figure, which we believe may be even higher. We don’t think the government should rule out registration and testing.
“When this first happened, and as the police investigation grew and after the court case, we had so many questions such as why was a trailer with a faulty hitch allowed to go out on the road in the first place. We couldn’t understand how, in a health and safety conscious country, there was no requirement on what was classed as a small trailer to be checked. We can only hope that, after collecting further data, change will come and this can be prevented from happening again, as sadly we know it has happened before and since.
“It’s heart-breaking that this could have been prevented and we would still have our beautiful son. He would be coming up his 9th birthday and we can’t imagine how different life would be. We have missed out on so much and seeing our son grow up over something that could have been prevented. The only positive is that we can prevent this happening to another family and save lives in Freddie’s name and memory. There is still a lot of work that can be done.”
Karin added: “I’m pleased that the report includes consideration of compulsory registration and testing and recognises that this is required in several other European countries, including Italy. I don’t think we should be ruling this out. I know that the Hussey family is keen to explore this further and it’s something we will discuss again at the next trailer and towing APPG in the autumn.”
Mr Ellis concluded the report, saying: “This report is an important milestone with data underpinning it and is not itself an endpoint in the consideration of how to improve public safety effectively in relation to light trailers. I look forward to working together with those involved in trailer safety to ensure that momentum is maintained in this area, and that trailer safety continues to improve.”
You can read the full report here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/trailer-safety-report