Fuel tanker drivers in the UK have voted in favour of industrial action over contract terms and safety in a move that could potentially bring crippling strikes across Britain.

Members of the Unite union who work at seven major hauliers voted by nearly two-thirds in favour of industrial action, according to union spokesmen.

The drivers move around 90% of the nation's fuel to petrol station forecourts, according to some estimates, and a strike could potentially disrupt supplies to nearly 8,000 petrol retailers around the country.

The threat of a strike has already compelled the coalition government to prepare to use emergency powers and put the armed forces on standby to work as replacement drivers in the event of disruption.

The last major industrial action by road hauliers in Britain brought the nation to an economic standstill in 2000 and nearly toppled the government of former prime minister Tony Blair.