The White Paper on transport policy (2011) set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 60% by 2050, in comparison with 1990 levels. In this context, the European Commission proposed to revise the rules on the weights and dimensions of road vehicles, to allow more energy-efficient, aerodynamic vehicles to be put on the market, and to improve road safety.
The ‘Weights and dimensions’ Directive of 1996 sets maximum vehicle dimensions and weights for national and international road transport in the EU: 16.5 metres (m) in length (18.75 m for road trains), 2.6 m in width, 4 m in height and 40 tonnes (t) in weight (44 t for combined transport, e.g. by rail and water). However, Member States are able to decide on derogations from these rules for vehicles used only in national transport. Longer and heavier vehicles (LHVs) also known as mega trucks, gigaliners, eurocombis, and ecoliners, typically measure 25.25 m in length and up to 60 t in weight. They are currently allowed in Finland and Sweden, and are being tested in Denmark, the Netherlands and some German Länder.
In April 2013, the European Commission proposed to revise the Directive. To encourage the use of less polluting engines, many of which are heavier and therefore commercially less attractive than traditional ones, trucks and buses with low-carbon technologies could exceed the current maximum weight by up to one tonne, depending on the weight of the alternative system. Furthermore, the maximum weight of buses would be raised by a tonne to take account of developments such as the increase in the average weight of passengers and their baggage. The proposal would also allow derogations from the maximum dimensions to add aerodynamic devices to the rear of vehicles or to redefine the geometry of the cabin, improving the drivers’ field of vision, safety, and comfort. The Commission intends to detail these requirements at a later stage. In addition, to facilitate the development of combined transport, the proposal suggests a derogation of 15 cm in the length of trucks carrying 45-foot containers (13.72 m) which are increasingly used in inter-continental and European transport. However, these longer trucks would only be allowed to travel up to 300 km from the port of unloading. Finally, cross-border use of LHVs would be permitted only for journeys crossing a single border, if the two Member States concerned already allow their use and if the conditions under the Directive are met (i.e. special permit delivered by national authorities, indivisible loads without significant hindrance of competition, and adequate road infrastructure).
European Parliament views
In March 2014, the EP’s Transport committee (rapporteur Jörg Leichtfried, S&D, Austria) rejected by a large majority the controversial Commission proposal to allow the cross-border use of LHVs. Although MEPs maintained the status quo on using LHVs in the EU, they urged the Commission to carry out an impact study by 2016, focusing on the effects of cross-border LHV traffic on competition, the environment, safety, the cost of infrastructure modernisation, and the distribution of transport operations by road, rail, and water. The report suggests allowing longer truck cabins, if designed to cut emissions (e.g. by improving aerodynamics) or to prevent accidents (e.g. by reducing blind spots, and by elongating the shape of truck fronts, which is believed to better absorb shocks and protect pedestrians and cyclists in the event of a collision). The Committee could not agree on what additional length would be allowed, but suggested allowing the Commission to bring forward a delegated act on this. The Committee’s text would allow a weight increase of one tonne for vehicles using low-carbon technologies. In addition, aerodynamic flaps of up to 50 cm in length would be allowed at the rear of a truck to reduce drag and emissions. Trucks for use in combined transport operations could exceed the maximum length by 15 cm, to allow them to carry 45-foot containers.