Last reviewed 13 June 2017

The EU Commission is proposing to revise and update many of the rules affecting the road transport sector in a newly published set of initiatives under the banner of Europe on the Move. Its aim is to make road transport cleaner, safer, ensure proper conditions for drivers, and better connected. The proposals are ambitious and wide-ranging. Paul Clarke summarises the main proposals, focusing on what it will mean in practice for drivers and operators.

Background

Most of the European legislation governing road transport was adopted between 2000 and 2010 and for some time the European Commission has been concerned that it either needs updating or to be better implemented by the Member States, or quite possibly both. The result of its investigations and consultation on these matters is a significant package of initiatives affecting all aspects of road transport. The background to the Europe on the Move package can be found in a Commission paper entitled An Agenda for a Socially Fair Transition Towards Clean, Competitive and Connected Mobility for All (available at ec.europa.eu). This explains that the latest set of initiatives, as ambitious as it is, is not the end of the Commission's plans for the sector.

Over the next 12 months, it will put forward more drafts, including one on post-2020 emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) including trucks and buses. Of more immediate concern, however, are the following proposals.

Road pricing

Directive 1999/62/EC on the charging of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) for the use of certain roads (the Eurovignette Directive) will be amended by a new directive. Available at ec.europa.eu, the proposal is based on wider application of the “user pays” and “polluter pays” principles. It aims to harmonise road charging and improve the interoperability of toll systems across EU Member States.

The moves to simplify charging have gone down well with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) as they could remove the need for multiple boxes in the cab and cut costs for international operators. It also welcomed the idea of incentives for users of cleaner vehicles. However, plans to reduce pollutant emissions by differentiating tolls and user charges for less-polluting vehicles mean that freight transport costs could increase by just over 1%. The Commission also anticipates a strong reduction in diesel consumption.

Cabotage

Cabotage is the term used to describe situations where a foreign truck makes domestic deliveries on the territory of an EU Member State immediately after an international trip from another Member State or from a country outside the EU. Current EU rules mean that up to three cabotage operations can be carried out within seven days of the international delivery.

The new rules (amending EC Regulation 1072/2009) will allow for any number of cabotage operations within five days of the international delivery and are aimed at tackling the problem that, in 2015 for example, 23% of all HGVs on the road in the EU were running empty.

See ec.europa.eu for full details of the proposal.

Vans

EC Regulation 1071/2009 on access to the occupation of road transport operator is to be amended to extend some of its provisions to light commercial vehicles that is to those below 3.5t including vans.

This has not been well received by the FTA which pointed out that four million vans are used on the UK’s roads every day and that the new proposals “will take the focus of the DVSA away from enforcing existing road safety laws against operators with dangerous, badly maintained and overloaded vans”.

The proposal (available at ec.europa.eu) states that hauliers operating solely with light commercial vehicles will be excluded from some, but not all, of the requirements of the regulation. Requirements on the transport manager, good repute, professional competence and obligations related to those requirements are not proposed as mandatory, although Member States will be able to apply them if they wish to do so.

However, the requirements regarding effective and stable establishment and appropriate financial standing will apply to such hauliers in all Member States.

Driving and rest time

Proposed changes to EC Regulation 561/2006 include extending the reference period for the calculation of driving and rest time from two to four weeks. Over one month, drivers must take two rest periods of 24 hours and two rest periods of 45 hours.

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) has criticised this proposal arguing that it could mean a driver having only two days of rest in during a minimum 16 days of driving. The Commission says: “The provisions contained in the present proposal concerning weekly rest are meant to enhance flexibility for operators while allowing workers to retain adequate rest periods and favouring the possibility to have this rest at home or in an adequate accommodation.”

The ETF has asked the Commission to clarify that drivers must spend the weekly rest of 45 hours or more outside of the vehicle’s cab, in suitable accommodation with adequate sleeping and sanitary facilities, paid for by the employer. The Commission has said that there will be an obligation on transport undertakings to organise their drivers’ work in such a way that they are able to return to their home for a weekly rest at least once within three consecutive weeks. For double-crewed vehicles, the new rules clarify where the second driver can rest and confirm that breaks can be taken in the vehicle if the driver is not driving.

The proposal can be found at ec.europa.eu.

Tachographs

The proposed new regulation on minimum requirements on maximum daily and weekly driving times, minimum breaks and daily and weekly rest periods (described above) also aims to amend EU Regulation 165/2014 on tachographs. Among the changes are a requirement on truck drivers to manually register on the tachograph when they cross EU borders to help controllers at roadside checkpoints determine whether they are complying with the law on posted workers (see below). At a later stage, this system will be automatic thanks to GPS.

Posted workers

Posting is the term used to describe the situation where a truck driver works for a limited period in another EU Member State and acquires social rights temporarily in that Member State. An example is the right to earn the same pay rate as local drivers. The Commission has recognised the problem of applying the EU’s Posted Workers Directive (96/71/EC) to people working in international road transport and has decided, by way of a proposal available at ec.europa.eu, to introduce sector-specific rules with the use of “threshold days” before Directive 96/71/EC applies to truck drivers. It is proposed that they should be able to travel outside their home Member State and still be paid according to its rules for up to three days in a month. After that, they will fall under the rules of the country where they deliver goods including in areas such as a National Minimum Wage. The obligation for the truck company to have a contact point in each Member State where the posting is taking place has been cancelled.

Working time

Specific legislation, the Road Transport Working Time Directive (2002/15/EC) applies in this sector with regard to the organisation of drivers’ working time. Its provisions on maximum working time supplement the rules of EC Regulation 561/2006 (the Driving Time Regulation) on drivers’ weekly and daily driving times, breaks in driving and daily and weekly rest periods. As with the other legislation discussed in this article, however, the effectiveness of the directive has been questioned on several grounds. Some of its provisions have lagged behind rapid changes in working patterns, making it less suited to workers’ and operators’ needs, the Commission has conceded.

Rather than put forward proposed changes, the Commission has decided in this case to set out the possibilities (in a document available at ec.europa.eu) and to use a possibility in EU law whereby the “social partners” can be asked to agree on legislation. This means bringing together EU-level employer organisations and trade union groups (the social partners, principally the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation (CEEP)) and asking them to discuss, amend and agree on changes to the directive. If they can reach agreement, the Commission will then recognise the resulting text and give it legal force. Previous examples of this approach resulted in agreements on parental leave and part-time work among others.

It should be noted that this is only a first phase consultation and it will be up to the Commission to decide whether it is worth taking the initiative forward.

Aims of the proposals

According to the Commission, the package described above will improve the functioning of the road haulage market and help improve workers' social and employment conditions. “This will be done,” it explains, “by stepping up enforcement, fighting illicit employment practices, cutting the administrative burden for companies and bringing more clarity to existing rules, for instance concerning the application of National Minimum Wage laws.”

Next steps

The possible changes contained in the Commission’s package will now start their journey through the adoption process when they will come under consideration by the European Parliament and Member States. This means that there will be changes before they are adopted and that they will not be implemented before the conclusion of the two-year Article 50 period. However, depending on the deal reached by the Government during the negotiations, it is highly likely that the UK will continue to be affected by the new legislation in the post-Brexit period. It would certainly be sensible to plan for the new legislation having a significant impact on the UK until the Government advises otherwise.