Last reviewed 5 July 2013

Henrietta Clarke reports on a new proposal to allow the development of more aerodynamic lorries.


New rules have been proposed by the European Commission that will allow manufacturers to develop lorries that are more aerodynamic, which will reduce fuel consumption by 7–10%, cut emissions of greenhouse gases, and also enhance the safety of road users such as pedestrians and cyclists by improving the field of vision of the driver. The proposal will allow cabins with a rounded shape and for the use of aerodynamic flaps at the back of the trailer. These measures will considerably improve the aerodynamics of vehicles, saving approximately €5000 per year in fuel costs for a typical long-distance lorry covering 100,000km. These small changes can reduce fuel consumption with no change to loading capacity. The new cabins will also give more space for the driver and allow for the use of airbags. Of the 6.5 million lorries currently on Europe’s roads, at least one million regularly travelling long distances could take advantage of new, more-aerodynamic vehicles.

Maximum dimensions of vehicles

The new rules would update the specifications for heavy goods vehicles in Council Directive 96/53/EC, which limits the maximum weight of heavy goods vehicles to 40 tonnes (44 tonnes in combined transport) and the length to 18.75m. There are certain possibilities for derogation from these dimensions but that is up to each Member State.

In practice, the current rules now actually prevent the introduction of innovative designs that are essential to fuel efficiency and safety, such as more rounded cabins and streamlined flaps at the back of the vehicle, because they increase the length of the vehicle. Without this option to increase vehicle length, the consequent reduction in the commercial load discourages transporters, shippers and manufacturers from using and developing vehicles that are more energy-efficient.

The Commission proposal intends to grant derogations from the maximum dimensions of vehicles for the addition of aerodynamic devices to the rear of vehicles. The load capacity must not however be increased. The proposal allows for a weight increase of one tonne for vehicles with an electric or hybrid propulsion, to take account of the weight of batteries or the dual motorization, without prejudice to the load capacity of the vehicle.

Intermodal transport

Some containers used on rail, waterways, intercontinental maritime transport and maritime cabotage can currently only end their journeys by road, necessitating special permits which increase the administrative costs for transporters and administrations. Yet for the most common of these containers, which are 45 feet (13.72m) long, the length of a truck would only need to be increased by 15cm to avoid the need for these special permits. This would not pose any problems in terms of road safety or the geometry of infrastructures, so the new directive will allow a derogation of 15cm in the length of trucks carrying 45-foot containers, which are increasingly used in intercontinental and European transport.

Weighing systems

On-board weighing systems and weigh-in-motion stations on the main road will allow the automatic targeting of overweight vehicles and therefore save the unnecessary stopping of around 75,000 vehicles per year.

Longer lorries

Guidance on the conditions under which longer lorries can cross borders was set out by the Commission in June 2012. The guidance underlined that the use of longer vehicles is an issue for Member States to decide, based on different local conditions. No Member State is obliged to authorise the use of longer vehicles if they do not deem it appropriate but adjacent Member States can authorise them as long as it remains restricted to transport between only those two Member States and does not significantly affect international competition. This guidance is now incorporated in the revised directive.

The proposal must now be adopted by the European Parliament and the Member States. The new lorries could be seen on the roads by 2018–2020.