The European Commission has published new proposals which would relax current restrictions on heavy goods vehicle design, in a bid to reduce fuel consumption and save the lives of pedestrians and cyclists – while also requiring member states to step up their game in the enforcement of overloading.
The new proposals, which must be agreed upon by the European Parliament and individual member states before becoming law, would allow exemptions to both the current maximum length and weight of vehicles for environmental or safety reasons, but not in order to increase HGV load capacity.
Currently, the lack of a derogation for environmentally friendly features within the limits for vehicle dimensions and weights means those resulting in an increase in length or weight can only be installed to the detriment of a vehicle’s commercial load capacity. This, the EC explained, disincentivises manufacturers from incorporating a range of energy-efficient features into their vehicles.
The proposed exemptions would therefore promote the development of more streamlined, rounded truck cabins by manufacturers, possibly incorporating energy absorption structures to protect other road users during collisions, and also allow the use of aerodynamic flaps at the back of trailers.
If passed into European law, they would replace existing specifications for HGVs dating back to 1996, and could allow the new-look trucks to appear on roads as early as 2018.
The EC has estimated that these measures would reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 7-10 per cent – yielding an approximate €5,000 per year saving in fuel costs for a long-distance truck covering 100,000km.
In addition, the Commission said, the current ‘brick shape’ found on cabin fronts can increase the severity of injury to road users, and also reduces the driver’s sideways field of vision, creating a blind spot at junctions. A more rounded cabin would help mitigate these problems, and reduce the risk of serious injury in a low-speed collision.
EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas, who is leading the initiative, said: “A brick is the least aerodynamic shape you can imagine; that’s why we need to improve the shape of the lorries on our roads.
“These changes make road transport cleaner and safer. They will reduce hauliers’ fuel bills and give European manufacturers a head-start in designing the truck of the future, a greener truck for the global market.”
The Road Haulage Association said it: “supports measures that will improve fuel efficiency of trucks as well as road safety and will be engaging fully in consideration of the proposals.”
Meanwhile, the plans received backing from London’s transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy, who commented that the current EU rules prevent the introduction of innovative designs. The new measures would also relax weight limits for vehicles in certain circumstances, in order to accommodate heavier environmentally-friendly batteries – or indeed heavier passengers.
“The proposed directive plans to authorise a weight increase of one tonne for vehicles with an electric or hybrid propulsion, to take account of the weight of batteries or the dual motorisation, without prejudice to the load capacity of the vehicle,” the Commission confirmed in its proposal.
“Furthermore, the maximum weight of buses will be increased by a tonne to take account of various developments such as the increase in the average weight of passengers and their baggage, of new equipment imposed by the safety regulations, and the new Euro 6 class.”
Rail industry pressure group Freight On Rail raised concerns about the EC proposals. The group said maximum length dimensions should be set at 18.75 metres, and a gross weight limit of 44 tonnes be set for international journeys, “to prevent general circulation of massive road-trains.”
Freight on Rail manager Philippa Edmunds said: “Unless Europe sets maximum weights and length limits for HGVs in international traffic in its current revision of the legislation, there will be more needless fatal collisions, more road congestion and more pollution.”
In other areas, rules on weight would become more stringent under the new laws. As part of the proposals, the EC also declared its intention to require member states to use weighing technology to help crack down on those flouting weight limits.
“On-board weighing systems linked to the digital tachograph and weigh-in-motion stations on the main roads will allow for more consistent controls from country to country,” it said, pointing out that around one in three lorries checked is overloaded – and estimating that overloaded vehicles cost the European taxpayer around €950m each year in road damage.
“The Commission will publish guidelines on inspection procedures to ensure harmonisation of inspection methods between all member states,” the proposals stated. “Member states must carry out a minimum number of vehicle checks, using either weighing systems built into the road or by means of onboard sensors in vehicles which communicate remotely with roadside inspectors.
“These measurements will allow the inspection authorities to filter the vehicles, so that only vehicles strongly suspected of infringement are stopped for manual inspection.
“The Commission will define the technical standards for onboard weighing devices that can communicate with the inspection authorities, particularly the standards for the electromagnetic communication interface. This will encourage the spread of such devices. They offer the additional advantage of enabling drivers to better control the weight of their vehicles.”
Changes to remove red tape regarding the movement of 45- foot containers between ship, road and rail, and clarification over the conditions under which longer lorries can cross borders, also formed part of the Commission’s proposals.