Monster trucks are not the solution
Publication date: 21 November 2008
Haulage companies, freight transport federations, and heavy goods vehicle manufacturers have lobbied hard to promote the use of longer heavier vehicles (LHVs) – the so-called “monster trucks” or “giga liners”. But will this be good for European drivers?
Constant pressure on the haulage industry to become ever more efficient and high fuel prices have pushed the haulage industry to save money where possible. One idea favoured is to use longer and heavier lorries to increase fuel and transport efficiency. According to a recent study funded by the European Commission, these new heavier vehicles would reduce transport costs and have positive effects on road safety and the environment. There could even be annual CO2 savings of at least 5 million tonnes thanks to greater volume capacity per vehicle. Introducing LHVs would be “overall beneficial” for European society, argued the authors.
Whilst the study does not officially reflect the opinion of the Commission, it may – or may not – indicate a certain position of EU officials. And it is the Commission that decides on a proposal for revision of the weights and dimensions of lorries as defined by Directive 96/53/EC. This EU law states that member countries cannot reject or prohibit lorries from other member states that meet the limits set in the Directive. For the moment, though, the categories specified in the Directive never exceed 44 tonnes or 18.75 metres. Proponents of LHVs point to Sweden and Finland that allow 25.25 metres long vehicles on their roads. “Scandinavia is very different,” argues Egil Otter from Norwegian club NAF. He notes that Sweden and Finland mainly use LHVs in the almost uninhabited far north for timber transport. “The example is irrelevant for the rest of Europe,” says Otter. He is fairly confident that Norwegian authorities will not allow LHVs on Norway's narrow roads aside from two specific haulage routes to Sweden.
Traffic safety and infrastructure
Otter points to traffic safety as the number one problem. “LHVs would be very dangerous on normal roads,” said Otter. Infrastructure is simply not good enough for LHVs in most European countries. Additionally, recent years have seen roads being adapted so as to slow down traffic with roundabouts and narrower lanes. Widening roads again would not be in the interest of road safety. “To accommodate such big trucks you would definitely need to adapt the infrastructure,” adds Olivier Lenz from the FIA's European Bureau. “Put simply, it is a question of weight and length. Weight is bad for the infrastructure, especially bridges. Length is a problem for roundabouts and road safety,” explains Lenz.
With most European countries holding back on improvements in infrastructure, even where this can bring marked improvements in road safety, there is a further danger. “We fear budgets for roads would not increase if LHVs were allowed. This means that the additional damage to road infrastructure by LHVs would over time not be compensated in terms of financing,” says Lenz. Taxpayers, though, should not have to foot the bill for damage by LHVs to tunnels, bridges and other constructions due to the extra load. “European road infrastructure already suffers from severe and chronic under-investment. Additional damages to the road network would have a further negative impact on the mobility of Europe’s citizens,” said Lenz. He calls for these extra costs to be clearly taken into account when deciding on allowing LHVs .
More disadvantages than advantages Based numerous field trials and research studies carried-out in several European countries, the FIA sees more disadvantages than advantages. This is not only a question of risks for road safety and the already under-financed road infrastructure. A further modal shift from goods transport by road to transport by rail or water is not to be excluded. “The use of LHVs could encourage a transferof bulk goods transport to the road. The space on the road that LHVs will make free will not be to the benefit of motorists. Such a transfer would take even more road capacity away from private motorists,” warns Lenz. This will do away the benefits of LHVs , such as CO2 savings per unit of goods transported.
A Dutch study from 2006 shows LHVs generating a reduction of greenhouse gases of up to 25%. However, there is a serious risk of damage for bridges and other constructions. During the Dutch test, damage was even found in a viaduct used in trials. A German study comes to similar conclusions. It also states that capacity not used due to LHVs will be filled immediately, resulting in more lorries and damage than before. The German study together with a UK report issued reservations on safety for other road users. The UK report also noted serious implications for road network management.
For more information contact Olivier Lenz, FIA European Bureau, +32 2 282 0825.