MEPs threaten road safety with increase of longer and heavier lorries

  • February 19, 2024

The European Parliament’s Transport Committee has voted to support the expansion in the number of extra-long and extra-heavy lorries on EU roads, with serious potential consequences for road safety.  

The committee voted on 14 February on a proposal published in July last year by the European Commission to update EU rules on weights and dimensions of lorries.  The updated new rules will have two main effects: allowing electric lorries to be heavier to allow for their batteries and simplifying the legal framework for longer and heavier vehicles, which are currently allowed only under certain conditions as part of trials. 

Typical longer and heavier lorries (LHVs) are lorry and trailer combinations 25.25 meters long, nearly 9 meters longer than standard lorries in Europe, and weighing 60 tonnes.  To put that into perspective, these vehicles are as long as six passenger cars and weigh as much as a fully loaded Boeing 737 300.  In Finland, 34.5m, 76-tonne configurations are permitted.

ETSC has serious concerns about LHVs’ impact on road safety. They’ve been allowed until now under certain conditions in some countries, but all the impacts of wider adoption haven’t been fully assessed.

The potential risks that ETSC says have not been fully investigated include:

  • LHVs may accelerate road infrastructure degradation, leading to more frequent maintenance and safety issues;
  • LHVs require adapted infrastructure, posing challenges in work zones, parking, resting areas, and more;
  • existing truck safety facilities aren’t designed for LHVs, including barriers, ramps, and lay-bys;
  • fire safety in tunnels is a concern, especially with LHVs potentially blocking traffic lanes in roll-over crashes;
  • the impact resistance of barriers on bridges crossing above railways may not be sufficient to prevent a crash between an LHV and a train;
  • LHVs can struggle with intersections. They might use space for vulnerable users during turns, potentially encroaching on pavements or cycle paths.

The proposal also contains no specific legal safeguards regarding who drives longer and heavier vehicles. That means that in several EU countries, 18-year-olds could drive them without requiring any additional training compared to what is required for a standard lorry.  In a separate legal proposal on driving licences, the Commission also wants to require all EU Member States to introduce an accompanied lorry driving scheme for 17-year-olds.  Data show that younger lorry drivers are at a much higher risk of crashing.

A recent study also shows that the expansion of longer and heavier road freight transport will have substantial negative effects on the rail freight sector, which has a considerably better safety record. 

Graziella Jost, Project Director at ETSC commented:

“This change could lead to a big expansion of the numbers of long and heavy lorries on European roads.  It will increase the amount of cross-border traffic of these vehicles, and increase the pressure on countries to allow them.  We urge policymakers to put the brakes on.”

The Parliament’s position is subject to a plenary vote by all MEPs, and a final deal will only be agreed upon following so-called ‘trialogue’ talks between representatives of the Commission, EU Member States and the Parliament, due to take place after the European Parliamentary elections in June.