EU truck safety and efficiency law faces delay until 2019

Long haul truck. Switzerland, 2012. [Joel Schalit]

A European Union law agreed late on Wednesday (10 December) to make trucks safer and more aerodynamic, cutting fuel bills, emissions and improving safety, will be delayed by around five years, after the industry pushed for more time to develop new vehicles.

The law will allow trucks to have longer, more aerodynamic noses similar to the shape of high-speed trains from around 2019.

Until now new designs had been hampered by limits on the weight and size of vehicles.

Member states, led by France and Sweden, had originally pushed for a five-year moratorium on the new designs, which would have delayed their introduction to around 2024, because of the need to develop new safety requirements first.

Truck makers such as Sweden’s Volvo and France’s Renault had said the introduction of new cab sizes should be delayed to create a level playing field for all, pointing to the long life cycle of trucks.

However, the European Commission, which proposed the law, and the European Parliament wanted to allow the new cab designs as soon as possible, arguing that trucks’ brick-shaped cabs hamper drivers’ visibility, leading to cyclist and pedestrian deaths.

The compromise reached on Wednesday includes a three-year delay, although the Commission will first have to develop new safety requirements for lorries.

EU lawmakers and officials said the entire process would delay the introduction of the new lorries, originally expected around 2017, to about 2019.

“We did manage to force EU governments to agree to the introduction of a new and safer lorry-cab design, although only as of 2019,” said Keith Taylor, transport spokesman for the Greens in the European Parliament.

Volvo, for instance, began rolling out new designs in 2012, so it could be at a disadvantage if competitors introduce more up-to-date models in the near future.

Additionally, the new cab designs will no longer be mandatory, as the Parliament had demanded, merely voluntary.

Campaign group Transport & Environment said that delays would be at the expense of the economy because fuel bills would be higher, as well as road safety and the environment.

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), however, said that an industry with long product cycles needed 10 years to develop the best designs.

In the European Parliament, the Greens/EFA political group said the new rules were "far from perfect" but still represented "an improvement based on what was initially proposed".

"Crucially, the underhand move by the EU Commission to use this review to open the door to the cross-border transport of so-called mega trucks or gigaliners was thwarted," said Keith Taylor, a British MEP who followed the negotiations for the Greens/EFA.

"We will have to be vigilant to ensure the Commission does not try to force this change through again. While the negotiations with EU governments were tough, the parliament did manage to force them to agree to the introduction of a new and safer lorry-cab design, although only as of 2022. This important measure will save lives on the roads, notably of cyclists."

Commenting on the deal, William Todts of Transport & Environment (T&E), said: “This deal signals the end of dangerous and inefficient brick-shaped trucks. This is good news for hauliers and truck drivers and, above all, for pedestrians and cyclists who’ll be much safer. But the absurd and unprecedented decision to impose a ban on new lorry designs until 2022 casts a dark shadow over the agreement.”

“Few other industries would do what the lorry industry has done here: lobby hard to keep a ban on a better product for as long as possible. This is the same industry the Commission recently started investigating for price fixing. Clearly the Commission needs to do much more to inject real competition in this sector. Setting ambitious fuel efficiency standards for trucks like the US has done would be a good start.”

Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) said: “These changes could prevent up to 900 deaths a year on European roads, so any delay will cost lives. The idea that these road safety innovations should be subject to a moratorium to enable all manufacturers to compete equally is without precedent. Just imagine how many more lives would have been lost if innovations like seat belts and electronic stability control had been held back from the market for similar reasons."

Ceri Woolsgrove from the European Cyclists’ Federation said: "The new legislation will mean that a manufacturer will be allowed to increase the length of the cab to improve safety and environmental performance. However, despite the voluntary and enabling nature of the legislation, manufacturers, through heavy lobbying of their respective countries, have succeeded in maintaining the status quo of brick shaped lorry design that has been dominant over the past 20 years. This was an excellent opportunity for the industry to show commitment to improving their product safety record in urban areas. A change in lorry design could have had an effect on around 900 deaths per year; unfortunately the delay in safer lorry design will cost lives.''

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, who last week wrote a letter to Transport Minister Robert Goodwill urging him to help push through the changes, commented: "These changes will mean the introduction of safer, greener lorries on our roads by 2022. I would have liked to see these changes implemented sooner, but we've successfully fought against the EU governments and industry who wanted an unacceptable 10 year delay. It's now over to manufacturers to ensure safer lorry designs for cyclists and pedestrians."

ALDE MEP Gesine Meissner (FDP, Germany) said: “We found a solution to promote safer cabs and more environmentally friendly trucks thanks to improved aerodynamics. This agreement will be beneficial for both the transport industries and the manufacturers. Transport operators will profit from fuel savings. Emissions will be cut down. And European manufacturers will have the opportunity to develop new generations of trucks and boost their export”

The EU’s weights and dimensions directive was revised in 1996, but its provisions date back to the 1980s. It mandates rules that heavy goods vehicles must comply with for road safety reasons.

The new proposals result from a European Commission review of the directive’s provisions as announced in the 2011 White Paper on Transport.

The rules should be adapted to facilitate the introduction of more aerodynamic vehicles which limit CO2 emissions and energy use, and better reflect new intermodal transport standards.

  • 2015: Formal adoption of new lorry dimension rules
  • 2016: Commission proposal to develop safety rules for redesigned lorries
  • 2019-2020: Finalisation of safety rules (co-decision + implementation)
  • 2021-2022: End of 3-year moratorium – safer lorries allowed

European Commission

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