October 14 2011

On 13 October, ESBA member the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and a cross-party group of MEPs sent a strong message to the European Commission regarding the Commission's proposed regulation to introduce a four metre height limit for new lorry trailers purchased within the EU.

The European Commission is proposing to introduce, under its system of Whole Vehicle Type Approval, a four metre height limit on new trailers purchased within the EU. Although there is a limit of four metres on trailers used in international operations, the current directive, 97/27/EC, provides Member States with the freedom to determine the height of goods vehicles operating solely in their own territory. A number of Member States, including France, Sweden and the UK, have chosen not to define a maximum height. In the UK, manufacturers currently produce vehicles and trailers up to 4.95 metres. If the proposal is implemented and the existing provision for Member States' domestic operations is not maintained the UK's current semi-trailer fleet would gradually be phased out and this country, and a number of other Member States, denied the economic and environmental benefits they offer.

The FSB and a cross-party delegation of MEPs delivered a letter to Commissioner Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Industry and Enterprise, calling on the Commission to maintain the current derogation which permits Member States to approve 'oversize' vehicles for domestic transport operations.

The letter was signed by 64 UK Members of the European Parliament and leading figures from the European haulage industry, including Hilary Devay from the BBC programme Dragons' Den.

Research shows that up to 80 per cent of the UK's trailer fleet has a height of 4.25 metres or greater. The majority of these trailers are single-deck, high cube. If companies using these trailers are forced to replace them with four metre high trailers this would result in an increase of anything between four per cent and 16 per cent in lorry kilometres. At best, it would mean lorries having to travel an additional 400 million kilometres, resulting in an annual increase of 300,000 tonnes in carbon emissions. In the worst case, it would result in lorries having to travel an additional 1,800 million kilometres a year, resulting in an annual increase of 1,500,000 tonnes in carbon emissions.

Following a meeting with Commission officials, Mike Cherry, National Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said:

''Although the proposals in respect of double-deck semitrailers are helpful, these vehicles form only a small proportion of the UK's fleet. Up to 80 per cent of the UK's semi-trailer fleet has a height of 4.25 metres or greater. The vast majority of these trailers are single-deck, high cube.

''There is no logic in the Commission potentially permitting a height of up to 4.95 metres for N2, N3 and double-deck trailers but restricting non double-deck trailers to four metres. The internal construction of trailers has no relevance to the external dimensions, and the draft Commission proposal would permit the construction of single-deck N2, N3 vehicles to 4.95 metres - so why not single-deck trailers?

''The increase in cost, resulting from this proposed regulation, would fall hardest on the smallest businesses operating in this sector, which would be obliged to increase the size of its fleet in order to carry the same volume of goods as before. This would result in the smallest operators having to not only invest in extra trailers, but also in additional tractor units and drivers in order to maintain their current business levels; the extra costs these small businesses would have to incur would mean that they would be no longer able to compete with the larger operators who would have greater flexibility.''