• Commissioner’s legal u-turn opens the door to megatrucks

    Lorry road trains as long as medium-sized aircraft could be permitted to travel throughout Europe, following an unprecedented reinterpretation of existing law by European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas.  Sustainable transport campaigners Transport & Environment say the change is undemocratic and undermines the Commissioner’s own key objectives for the transport sector of reducing emissions and boosting rail freight.  


    In a letter sent on Thursday to the chair of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee Brian Simpson, Commissioner Kallas outlined his plan to let member states decide between themselves on the length of lorries that can cross their national borders.  Currently member states are only able to operate so-called ‘megatrucks’ within their own territory.  The road industry has long been pushing for the cross-border ban to be lifted because of the huge cost savings and international nature of modern logistics.  

    William Todts of Transport & Environment said: “This move will bring down the cost of road freight dramatically, which will lead to more traffic as any economist will tell you.  Worryingly, the Commission has done nothing to counteract the negative impacts on safety and environment that these gigantic lorries will have.  Fundamentally, when an unelected Commissioner can change the law on a whim it undermines the democratic process.”

    The Commissioner’s transport white paper, launched last year to great fanfare aims to cut transport emissions by 60% by 2050 and shift 50% of ‘medium distance intercity passenger and freight journeys from road to rail and waterborne transport’.  

    “The Commissioner’s decision is incomprehensible.  This move goes directly against the objectives he endorsed only a year ago. Lifting the ban on megatrucks will see road freight numbers increase and that will obviously harm rail freight which is generally more efficient on long distances,” commented Todts.

    Transport & Environment has repeatedly warned of the likely ‘domino effect’ of piecemeal cross-border deals which could give the green light to road trains of any length as the European maximum limits would no longer apply. Scandinavian countries, already heavily dependent on megatrucks for the forestry industry, are likely to move first, but others will feel competitive pressure to follow.

    The bizarre nature of the move is underlined by the confusing picture that Kallas’s three-page letter paints.  It begins by acknowledging that legal interpretations are up to the EU’s Court of Justice, and then concludes by inviting the European Parliament to have its say when the Commission publishes a revision of the relevant laws on lorry weights and dimensions later in the year.  

    Transport & Environment is calling for lorries to be made more aerodynamic and safer by allowing slightly longer, rounded cabs, as an alternative to longer, heavier and more dangerous megatrucks.  

    Notes to editors:

    • The EU’s current rules for international transport say no lorry can be longer than 18.75 metres or have a fully laden weight greater than 40 tonnes.
    • In March 2012, Shearman & Sterling, experts in EU transport law, were asked by T&E and others to look into the legality of the Commission’s approach. They concluded that a failure to follow the ordinary legislative process would breach essential procedural requirements and could be challenged before the European courts.
    • Find out more about T&E’s concept for smarter, more aerodynamic lorries at: https://www.transportenvironment.org/publications/smarter-trucks-better-not-bigger