Longer and Heavier Vehicles

Effects of adapting the rules on weight and dimensions of heavy commercial vehicles as established within Directive 96/53/EC

Directive 96/53/EC sets out the maximum allowable vehicle and loading dimensions in national and international road transport in the EU. However, while the Directive harmonises across the EU the maximum dimensions of road vehicles and sets agreed levels for weights that would permit free circulation throughout the EU, it permits different national rules on the maximum weights. Member States may deviate from the maximum dimension limitations in national transport in certain pre authorised circumstances, the 'modular concept' being the most recent example. Also, various industrial sectors have argued for an easement in the weights and dimension restrictions to accommodate more efficient loading (i.e. more pallets or passenger cars) or to carry a heavier payload.

TML was project leader of the study on the effects of adapting the above Directive 96/53/EC.

The Study focused on the effects, both positive and negative, of the use of longer and/or heavier vehicles (LHV), including the modular concept in its various forms and at various maximal weight levels in and between adjacent and consenting Member States. Three scenarios were developed for the year 2020, along with the “business as usual” scenario which served as a reference.

1. Full Option: Unlimited use of lorries up to 25.25m and 60t on the entire European primary road network.

2. Corridor: Unlimited use of lorries up to 25.25m and 60t on the primary road network of a coalition of 6 countries: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium.

3. Compromise: Unlimited use of lorries up to 20.75m and 44t on the entire European primary road network.

Before starting calculations, an extensive round of stakeholder consultation was organised. Haulers, shippers and manufacturers showed themselves to be strong supports of increasing dimensions, mainly because of the the lowers costs they entail. Opponents were mainly from rail and inland waterway transport organisations, supported by the German government among others, as well as infrastructure managers, predominantly coming from the Alpine and Eastern European regions. Their main counterarguments are the expected negative effects on rail’s market position and the environmental impact that increased demand may cause. The consultation also revealed that a volume increase was of greater importance than a weight increase, as over 2/3 of transports on road are apparently limited by volume rather than weight.

Calculations then focussed around 6 effects:

Meeting transport demand
The extra capacity of LHV leads to lower transport costs. In accordance with basic economic rationale, this leads to an increase in demand: calculations show a 0.99% increase in tonne km in the Full Option scenario, to go along with a decrease in vehicle km of 12.9% (in comparison to the reference). A less significant increase of dimensions like in the Compromise scenario leads to a 0.42% increase in tonne km. Vehicle km decrease by 4.3% in this case.

Contribution to intermodality
Rail and inland waterway transport are expected to slightly lose volume, 3.8% and 2.9% respectively. However, as total transport volume in the reference scenario is expected to go up by between 30% and 60% by 2020, this will only result in a somewhat slower growth, rather than an absolute volume decrease. It can not be excluded that certain lines may suffer from the increased competition of LHV.

Road safety
Although certain types of LHV clearly show a deterioration in handling characteristics and stability, the research has shown that introducing LHV is not expected to negatively impact road safety. An increase of only truck dimensions barely affects its driving behaviour, but individual vehicles which are both longer and heavier will perform worse than current trucks. However, this needs to be balanced with the lower amount of vehicle km that will be driven by these new vehicles due to their larger load. The combined effect is an improvement in overall road safety. This effect can be strengthened by making electronic safety systems mandatory for LHVs.

Certain types of LHV have severe negative effects on the lifespan of European bridges and roads. Mainly the types of 60t stand out in this list. The 44t, 5 axle vehicle, which is already used in a number of European countries, also stands out as having a detrimental effect on infrastructure. Increasing length to 25.25m and weight to 50t does perform very well. On top of that, LHVs require bigger loading terminals and parking spots in rest areas. Extra costs for this also need to be accounted for.

Energy, CO2 and other emissions
LHVs of 25.25m and 60t are up to 12.45% more energy efficient per tonne km, which is the result of fewer vehicle kms (Full Option scenario). NOx emissions decrease by a maximum of 4.03%, while PM go down with 8.39%. The larger decrease of PM emissions is caused by mechanical abrasion of tyres and brakes, and by resuspended particles.

It is noteworthy that a limited increase of vehicle dimensions, as reflected by the Compromise scenario, causes more CO2 emissions: the extra capacity is insufficient to compensate the extra energy required for propulsion.

When combining all effects, larger and heavier vehicles will have an overall positive impact on European society, for each of the scenarios. Of the three, “Full option” (25.25m, 60t all over Europe) provides the biggest gains. As the “Corridor” scenario is also beneficial, it can be concluded that harmonisation is not essential in this domain.
It is however strongly advised to link the introduction of LHVs with a number of countermeasures. For one, the effect of the price change on the transport market needs to be monitored closely, especially at the level of specific trajectories. Second, all modes should be held accountable for their external cost, to allow for fair competition. Finally, enforcement is of major importance: new regulation needs to be supported by more and better control.


Final report



funded by

European Commission, DG Transport & Energy (TREN)


TNO (The Netherlands), LCPC (France), SÚtra (France), RWTH Aachen University (Germany)


Tim Breemersch, Bart Van Herbruggen, Griet De Ceuster


Tim Breemersch

+32 16 74.51.23
reference: 07.31