France and Sweden delay the introduction of safer trucks

The new EU law will allow truckmakers to design new vehicles. [Richard Clark (Digimist)/Flickr_URL]

France and Sweden are trying to delay the entry into force of an EU law that will make trucks safer and more fuel-efficient, according to a document seen by EURACTIV.

Negotiations between the Parliament and the Council are under way. While the Parliament is asking for the rules to come into force as soon as possible, member states’ representatives are requesting to postpone it for at least 8 years. 

The EU law on weighs and dimensions for trucks, proposed by the Commission in 2013, will allow the automobile manufacturers to build a new design for trucks.

Until now, all trucks had to comply with standardized EU rules on the length of trucks, for example. But it did not give car makers the option to manufacture new designs that would improve energy efficiency or safety.

Up to now, the maximum length of trucks in international traffic was limited to 18.75 meters and the weight must not exceed 40 tones. Having the same specifications helped ensure fair competition for trucks in different member states.

The new bill allows manufacturers to build heavier and larger trucks as long as they are safer on the roads and contribute to saving fuel.

The design, as proposed in the law, gives carmakers the chance to turn a brick-shaped truck into a rounded front cab. It also allows the producers to install aerodynamic flaps at the back of the vehicle.

As far as safety is concerned, the rounded cab will have bigger windscreens reducing the drivers’ blind spots. That will enable drivers to spot a cyclist or a pedestrian more easily. Adding aerodynamic flaps, according to the Commission, will also reduce fuel consumption and reduce CO2 emissions.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) criticised the new rules.

“There are many more effective ways of reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions than entirely redesigning the cabin,” said Erik Jonnaert,  ACEA Secretary General.

“The industry is committed to continuing to improve truck safety. However, for this, safety technologies that prevent accidents happening in the first place are the best way forward. A whole vehicle approach represents the best possible solution.”

Both, the MEPs and EU ministers welcomed the introduction of these novelties, but they disagree on the date when the changes should apply.

Lobbying gamble

According to the Transport & Environment NGO, the automobile industry is putting pressure on their national governments to postpone the entry into force of the new rules.

A compromise text, seen by EURACTIV, shows that France and Sweden are behind the delay.

Both countries are home to one of the largest truck manufacturers. The industry fears that if the new rules come into place too soon, the companies will suffer from increased competition from other manufacturers.

In fact, only a few days ago, the Commission opened a cartel investigation against EU truckmakers. It suspects that a number of truck manufacturers are engaged in price fixing to control supply and demand.  

“The truck industry is operating like a cartel. They try to kill innovation and competition but may end up killing real people too,” said William Todts, a Transport & Environment Senior Adviser. “New curvy truck designs could save (up to) 900 lives every year and actually save business money.”

“That the French and Swedish government are backing the truck cartel against their own citizens is unforgivable, but that Mr Cameron would let them to get away with it is inexplicable.”

The UK has a high number of accidents involving trucks. Nine of the 16 cyclist deaths in London in 2011 involved trucks.   

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association commented on the weights and dimensions directive:

The revision of the Directive on the weights and dimensions of commercial vehicles provides a unique opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions more efficiently from heavy duty vehicles. The industry has long advocated revising weights and dimensions rules to further increase the efficiency of the road freight sector.

The road freight transport and commercial vehicle manufacturing industries have stated the need to permit the wider use of fuel-saving technologies, rather than relying solely on additional aerodynamic performance improvements. The best approach to maximise fuel efficiency is to use the potentially available additional vehicle length to create more available space under the cab and in the chassis for the optimisation of technologies such as those to improve engine efficiency, transmission, drive line and to install alternative propulsion systems including batteries and/or larger fuel tanks for alternative fuel. According to recently published scientific studies, such an approach could in a foreseeable future offer an integrated fuel efficiency increase capability amounting on average to about 10%. This could be further complemented by aerodynamic improvements to the front of the vehicle (cab and chassis) and more importantly to the rear with measures on body work and trailers. Manufacturers (ACEA) and operators (IRU) recently made a joint call to European policy makers to this effect.

The industry also stresses that it is not necessary to re-design the cab to have the best safety outcome. The distinction is important, because the elements that make a truck cab more fuel efficient are not necessarily the same as those that make it safer. Safety technologies that prevent accidents happening in the first place are the way forward. The industry is committed to continuing to build safety technologies into commercial vehicles. A whole vehicle approach represents the best possible solution. Regarding improvements to forward, side and rear vision for instance, the use of new technologies such as cameras and proximity detectors will provide a quicker, more flexible and more efficient way to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists than re-designed cabs.

The revision of Directive 96/53 EC may require a major redesign of existing truck configurations. If this is the case, the industry needs a lead time of 10 years after the final requirements are known. The lead time depends to what extent truck cabs need to be redesigned, and if the focus is mainly on passive safety (to reduce the effect of the accident) or if modern active safety measures (to avoid the accident) such as radar, cameras and sensors can be used to satisfy the demands. This must be known in order to estimate the necessary lead time.

This revision will probably not require just minor changes in the form of traditional “facelifts”, but rather a whole new generation and concept of trucks. The product lifecycle for heavy duty vehicles is between 15-20 years. When legislating in this field, the very principles that the EU institutions have recommended and agreed upon; eg lead-times, planning certainty, long-term targets and cost-effectiveness, must be upheld.

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.

  • 1 December 2014: Trialogue meeting between the Parliament and the Council 

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