Commission proposes face-lift for lorries

  • New rules allow for smarter design to improve safety and cut emissions
  • Cross-border use of ‘megatrucks’ allowed between consenting countries

The Commission has proposed new rules on the weights and dimensions of lorries which would make them safer and more fuel-efficient. If approved by the European Parliament and member states, the new rules would allow for more rounded lorry cabs, removing some of the causes of accidents involving lorries. A more aerodynamic design of the cab and the use of aerodynamic devices at the back of trailers will improve fuel economy. In its proposal the Commission also confirms its controversial 2012 decision to allow cross-border use of 25-metre ‘megatrucks’. T&E has said Europe needs ‘better trucks, not bigger trucks’.

Lorries represent 3% of vehicles in the EU but are responsible for 25% of road transport emissions. Steep emission cuts from lorries are needed to meet the EU’s climate objectives, but over the past 20 years fuel efficiency improvements in lorries have been minimal. The improvements to the cabin and the allowance to use aerodynamic devices at the back of trailers could reduce emissions from long-haul lorries by 8-10%. This would save hauliers over € 1500 annually and would also cut emissions by around 10 megatonnes every year.

T&E policy officer William Todts said: ‘This is a welcome step towards driving lorries into the 21st century. We need lorries to be cleaner, safer and more fuel-efficient. This proposal is a move in the right direction but much more needs to be done. Commissioner Hedegaard promised a robust truck and CO2 strategy – we’re still waiting.’

The proposal also has important impacts on road safety. T&E has said for a number of years that the ‘brick-like’ front of lorries has serious safety implications, as a collision with a moving lorry is equivalent to driving into a wall.  A 2011 study by the FKA consultancy in Aachen, Germany, demonstrated that a better-designed lorry front with a rounded nose and better forward vision could save several hundreds of lives each year.

The Commission’s package published on 15 April also says that longer lorries will be allowed to cross borders between consenting member states. This proposal seeks to firm up the ‘reinterpretation’ announced last year by the EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas which lifted the ban on cross-border use of lorries more 18.75 metres. This decision was strongly criticised as a first step to wider use of so-called ‘megatrucks’ in the EU, which it is feared will lead to a shift of freight from rail to road with higher emissions and more dangerous roads as a result.

Todts added: ‘The Commission wants to remove a key barrier to EU-wide use of megatrucks, but won’t do anything to rein in their negative impacts. For example, EU law prohibits charging them for their additional infrastructure and air pollution costs, and there are no guarantees for road safety whatsoever. That’s not acceptable.’

The proposal will now be discussed by MEPs and ministers. Unless deliberations run into serious delays, it could be adopted before the end of the current Parliament this time next year.