Companies whose drivers hit bridges in their lorries will be hauled before the traffic commissioner and could face “exceptionally harsh” punishments, according to road transport solicitors.

Backhouse Jones said Network Rail has become “fed up” of the number of bridge strikes by HGVs and the rail operator had now set up a system in which it notifies the traffic commissioner’s office as soon as an incident is reported.

Network Rail said there are on average five bridge strikes by lorries every day and it’s costing the taxpayer £23m every year.

Mark Davies, solicitor at Backhouse Jones, said: “If you had a bridge strike this time last year then it would not have gone any further than the obvious inconvenience of hitting the bridge and the damage it causes your vehicle.

“But if you’re unfortunate enough to have had one in the last few months or going forward then the reality is that the traffic commissioner is now going to be calling you to a public inquiry.

“You may have a completely impeccable record, there will be no other issue for the traffic commissioner at that public inquiry but a bridge strike is enough.”

He added: “I think it’s fair to say Network Rail have had enough and they have got in touch with the traffic commissioners and made them aware of the scale of the problem.”

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Backhouse Jones director, Jonathon Backhouse said he’d recently dealt with a case where a driver hit a bridge but it wasn’t marked as a low bridge because the sign had been stolen: “That was a driver that hadn’t had a single significant accident in 30 years of driving, no points on his licence, he had almost an exemplary driving record and yet the traffic commissioner thought that because he had hit this bridge, which was unsigned, the starting point [for disqualification] should be between three and six months.

“We persuaded them to do a lot less than that in the end and reduced it to a fortnight.

“My personal view is that was exceptionally harsh but that gives you an idea of just how they are approaching this issue.”

The firm of solicitors warned operators they would also be called to the public inquiry along with their driver and TCs would come down hard on both.

“What they are looking to see is actual engagement regularly with the drivers about low bridges and about being aware of the height,” added Backhouse.

“My personal view is [to do] anything that keeps jogging the driver’s memory that it’s an issue, so that as soon as a sign appears about a bridge it just triggers in their mind that they have got to be careful.”

In June, Network Rail warned lorry drivers to always know the height of their vehicles after repeated strikes of a bridge in the Bordesley Green area of Birmingham forced a nearby road to close for five months.

And earlier this year, the senior traffic commissioner Richard Turfitt hinted that TCs would soon start coming down hard on companies for failing to route their vehicles correctly.