The European Parliament voted through a proposal yesterday (15 April) that should help make trucks safer for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as reduce CO2 emissions. MEPs, however, rejected plans to allow so-called 'mega-trucks' across the EU, leaving the decision to member states.

606 MEPs voted in favour of the proposal. Only 75 MEPs voted against.

The amendments to the directive on the maximum weights and dimensions for lorries proposed by the European Commission, should help make trucks safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and help reduce CO2 emissions. They will also make the vehicles more comfortable for truck drivers themselves, MEPs and supporters said after the vote.

If member states approve the new legislation, new trucks (see sketch here) could become mandatory as of 2022 on European roads. The new design would signal the end of brick-shaped trucks, and introduce a more rounded aerodynamic chassis that would not only increase the driver’s field of vision, but also make collisions with pedestrians or cyclists less deadly, the European Commission said.

These new aerodynamic standards are also aimed at reducing fuel consumption, and thereby greenhouse gas emissions, by 7-10%, supporters of the legislation explained.

"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," said Siim Kallas, the EU commissioner in charge of transport. "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," he added.

Lawmakers believe that the new legislation will also boost investments in research and development (R&D) for the sector by opening new opportunities for automotive companies.

According to research done by the NGO Transport and Environment (T&E), the redesign would cost between €400 and 1,500 per vehicle, on top of the cost for a new lorry, which is between €80,000 and €100,000. But the “extra purchase cost would be recouped by fuel savings within a year,” it says.

No cross-border trials for mega-trucks

The European Commission expressed disappointment, however, with the Parliament’s refusal to approve the executive’s amendments allowing extra-large vehicles across the Union.

EU lawmakers rejected the possibility for oversized trucks used in trials outside of national borders, and asked the European Commission to come up with an environmental impact study for such vehicles by 2016, before considering further steps.

The cross-border rules for longer trucks had already been subject to controversy when the legislation was proposed, with the EU executive clarifying its position to the chair of the Parliament’s transport committee in 2012.

Mega-trucks are still far from making their way on to Europe’s roads, since the legislation has yet to be negotiated with national governments, which will not happen under the current legislature.

Once the negotiations start, many stakeholders fear member states could water down the text. Truck manufacturers have asked for a moratorium on new body designs until at least 2025, in order to safeguard “competitive neutrality”. Green campaigners fear that this will “stifle competitive pressure” by allowing “lorry makers to move all at the same time”.

T&E has accused the UK, Italy and France of blocking the EU’s efforts to move on the new legislation because of “industry-vested interests”.

The issue has been particularly acute in the UK, where six cyclists were killed last November in just two weeks.

>> Read also: “London mayor protests UK block on EU “safe lorries law”

Today’s vote was hailed by the Britain's Liberal Democrats, whose shadow rapporteur in the ALDE group, Phil Bennion, had pushed for the changes, and met with a number of safety campaigners over the issue.

“Today's huge majority for change is a victory for all the campaigners who have worked so hard to bring about these life-saving changes to lorry design," Bennion wrote in a press release following the vote in plenary. "This vote shows that when individuals engage with MEPs and the European Parliament, they can affect the outcome and bring about positive change,” he said.

Ministers will now have to come up with their own position, possibly by June, after which negotiations with Parliament will take place, in order to decide on the issue of making the new trucks mandatory, or optional.

Once adopted, the new legislation could be implemented within five to six years, the Commission hopes.