FIA Position on Longer and Heavier Vehicles
Publication date: 15 July 2008
The FIA in general welcomes measures that optimise and relieve road freight transport unless they threaten safety, the environment or the road infrastructure.
The FIA however believes that – based on the actual information, the numerous field trials and research studies carried-out in several European countries – the disadvantages related to a relaxing of the currently allowed dimensions and weights for lorries far outweigh the advantages. This in particular takes into account the risks for road safety, the already under-financed road infrastructure and the modal shift to goods transport by road.
The relaxing of the permissible weight and length of the lorries would conflict with the efforts done to improve safety on European roads. In particular the longer and heavier lorries (LHLs) meeting other traffic jeopardises road safety by leading to unsafe situations. Vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and powered two-wheelers are most at risk. Furthermore, LHLs proved to have a negative effect on the load of constructions like tunnels and bridges. These measures should not be paid by the taxpayer. The same holds for the raise in maintenance costs for bridges and other constructions, due to extra load. Considering that that European road infrastructure already suffers from severe and chronic under-investment additional damages to the road network would have a further negative impact for the mobility of Europe’s citizens. When deciding on allowing LHLs, all these extra costs should be taken into account.
FIA values the higher cost-efficiency of the LHLs, which can be up to 30%, but stresses that increased use of LHLs will lead to a rise in goods transport on the road, because the space on the road that LHLs provide will generate extra transport needs next to the chance of a change in modal shift from goods transport over rail or water to road transport. This will lead to even more congestion, less safety and infrastructure damage. In considering a relaxing of the permissible weight and length of lorries these effects must be investigated thoroughly.
As currently heavy good vehicles are loaded in average with only 50 to 60 % of the maximum permissible weight, the FIA believes that an extension of the permissible weight would not significantly contribute to solve the actual and future traffic problems.
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the world’s leading motoring and touring organisation, represents via its affiliated members, national motoring and touring organisations totalling over 100 million motorists worldwide and 34 million motorists in the European Union. Europe’s motoring and touring organisations have as their highest priority to make mobility more sustainable, i.e. more reliable, cleaner and safer while keeping it affordable for all.
As the leading European mobility organisation, the FIA and its member clubs have unbiased, consumer-orientated expertise and long experience in a variety of transport issues, including road safety, traffic information and incident management. In this respect they carry out vehicle and safety equipment consumer tests, offer driver training, run seat belt campaigns, assess the safety of mobility infrastructure and have gained through their activities a deep knowledge and know-how in the field of sustainable mobility.
Weights and dimensions of lorries have been defined by the EU in its Directive 96/53/EC. This directive states that member countries cannot reject or prohibit lorries from other member states that meet the limits set in the directive. Until now, these limits are specified for a lot of categories (M2, M3 combining trailer 0 and N2, N3 combining trailer 03 or 04), where the weight never exceeds 44 tonnes and length never exceeds 18.75 metres .
Haulage companies, freight transport federations, heavy goods vehicle manufacturers as well as vehicle superstructure constructors started around two years ago asking for a relaxing of the currently permissible length and weight of lorries. Reference was made to commercial vehicle concepts that have already been implemented in Scandinavian countries. The objective would be to allow larger and heavier commercial vehicles to drive on motorways and designated main roads.
Norway is allowing the use of such vehicles since June 2008 only on two roads from the Swedish border to a specific goods terminal in Oslo. This is a test period of 3 years that can be stopped earlier and on short notice if experiences are negatively evaluated. Sweden and Finland allow 25.25 metres long vehicles on all roads, but maps advice where not to drive. The traffic volume is very low in the districts and the roads are wide. Sweden and Finland has no mountain passes and meet no challenges as most other countries. Sweden and Finland as a reference in favour of the use of such lorries has very little relevance.
The European Commission is currently analysing thoroughly the results of current pilot projects before taking action on this matter .
Studies and field trials
The Netherlands started in 2004 a large field trial that ended in November 2006 and consisted of circa 220 lorries measuring 25.25 m and weighing 60 t. Results of this experiment have been published by Arcadis in 2006 , using the results until December 2005. The results show that there LHLs can replace 7-31% of the normal lorries, resulting in a reduction of costs for companies, but also a reduction of greenhouse gases of 10 to 25% (mass goods compared to bulk goods). A small reduction in particles was not examined, but is expected following the lower amount of kilometres travelled.
Although a higher risk for safety was not found in this specific trial, Arcadis reports that safety must be guarded thoroughly. Especially on roads other than motorways, which were not included in the trial. Problems were found at small roundabouts, small service areas and short lanes for traffic lights.
Arcadis concluded that the higher weight of the LHLs would probably not damage the asphalt, but would be a serious threat for bridges or other constructions. As a matter of fact, while the test was still running, damage was found in a viaduct that was used in the trial. As a result, the maximum load was set on 50 tonnes on that viaduct. To prevent more damage to other constructions, the maximum load is set to 50 tonnes all over the Netherlands.
In Germany, the same issues were highlighted during desk research by the Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen (BASt) . This study concentrated on damage to roads and other constructions. BASt found no extra damage to normal roads, even more, the potential of lower amounts of goods transport on the road can even relieve the load on roads. However, as BASt states in its conclusions , the capacity that is not used due to the LHLs will be filled immediately, resulting in more lorries and damage then before. For bridges, BASt comes to the same conclusion as Arcadis found in the Netherlands: the extra load on the structure will result in more or earlier maintenance of the infrastructure. In addition, tunnels can face a higher risk concerning the load of the LHL, for example the fire risks. With regard to the safety for other road users, the study recommends that LHLs should only be allowed on certain designated roads. Because of the heavy load and the long curve, mixture with other traffic should be avoided. This implies that, according to BASt, that roads that allow LHLs must have as little as possible crossings with other traffic (slow traffic, rail traffic), must avoid populated areas and the traffic lights should be adjusted (which means a reduction in capacity for the crossing).
Concerning the lorry itself, both institutions conclude that the visibility should be optimal, by lighting and signing. This should give attention when overtaking the LHL. Motorists should consider longer overtaking times. Also the brakes should be optimal, as a possible danger was found in breaking through guardrails (LHLs are heavier than accounted for by guardrails).
The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) carried a formal assessment of the likely combined effects of the use of longer and heavier vehicles on road safety, the atmospheric and built environment, and the efficiency of freight transport, including the effects on modes other than road transport. The report highlighted a number of issues making the use in the UK of longer and heavier lorries impractical, either on a permanent or trial basis. The report, commissioned by the Department for Transport from the Transport Research Laboratory, found that these lorries could lead to an increase in CO2 emissions due to goods shifting from rail to road, create serious implications for the management of the road network - as the vehicles would be unsuitable for many roads and junctions - as well as introducing new safety risks.
For more information please contact the FIA European Bureau.