2021 road restrictions marked by the pandemic and Brexit

As every year, practically all European countries publish their respective calendars of restrictions for heavy goods vehicles or prolong the ones already in force. These restrictions are undoubtedly one of the main pain points for logistics companies and transport professionals in general, which are forced to plan their trucks’ journeys well in advance to avoid being on the roads during the hours when traffic is banned.

If having to pull over a truck already creates challenges for the sector, then the situation gets more complicated by the lack of a common framework on the European level, which makes it even more difficult to know when and how to drive. Each country establishes different timetables and limitations for truck traffic depending on the type of goods, the maximum authorised mass, and more. This means that drivers performing international freight transport can easily find themselves in a labyrinth of conditioning factors when undertaking a route.

Challenges to truck route planning in 2021

Now in 2021, a new challenge is added. Despite the progress of the vaccination plan against the Covid-19 disease on the European continent, and the fact that the number of infections has been significantly reduced in most member states, there are still several countries that require negative PCR tests for all travellers, including transport professionals. It should be pointed out that at the beginning of the pandemic, freight transporters were exempted from this requirement in order to facilitate the flow of goods and ensure supplies throughout the continent. However, the new variants mean that negative tests are now required in many cases, primarily depending on the origin country the drivers come from.

As a result, countries like Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands currently require negative PRC tests for professional drivers, as well as exemption certificates and other requirements, depending on each case. Such situation is causing a lot of disruption since, as the IRU (International Road Transport Union) points out, "rapid antigen tests are accepted, but they must be carried out by an authorised laboratory, a difficult requirement for truck drivers in transit who work outside their country of origin".

The organisation therefore decided to address a letter to the President of the European Union, Ursula Von der Leyen, asking her to keep the borders open for heavy goods vehicles, reminding her that EU governments must respect their commitment to keep the borders open. A commitment that in many cases now is not met.

Of particular concern are the restrictions imposed by Germany on its links to the Czech Republic and the Austrian province of Tyrol. This route is a key route for European road freight transport. According to IRU figures, more than 7.000 trucks travel through the Tyrol corridor every day, a figure like that of the Dover-Calais corridor. The same freight transportation route was thrown into chaos in December, when France imposed similar restrictions that did not exempt professional truck drivers from testing negative.

Why “green lanes” are important for the logistics sector

CThese measures therefore clash with the concept of "green lanes" introduced last year across Europe to keep trade flowing across borders. According to the IRU, suspending them could mean damage to "vital supply chains, the single market and the lives of millions of EU citizens, at huge cost and with no material benefit to controlling the virus". The European Commission's response to the letter has been to reaffirm a position that has not changed since the start of the pandemic. It is essential that green lanes for trucks remain operational at all times, and that individual country measures remain proportional to avoid disruption to essential logistics and transport.

Yet this has not been enough for most governments that have applied restrictions to contemplate their elimination. This is the case of Germany, the first country to require negative PCR tests for drivers who are going to spend more than 72 hours on its territory. Transport professionals are required to have a telematic register, and the negative result must be a maximum of 48 hours old written in German, English or French. This requirement must be met by drivers from Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the French department of Moselle. IRU’s Secretary General Umberto de Pretto argues that drivers, being "isolated in their cab", are not exposed to the virus, and comply with "strict anti-infection measures put in place by their employers and their customers, including no physical contact at pick-up and drop-off points".

How Brexit adds further road restrictions to Europe’s transport industry

On the other hand, the recent outcome of the 'Brexit' has brought with it an added problem when it comes to traffic. The new controls between Europe and the United Kingdom, have already significantly increased waiting times. This situation can undoubtedly be aggravated if vehicles cross the border at times when traffic is interrupted.

The Teleroute Europe Traffic Restrictions Calendar for 2021

The evolution of the pandemic will be key to determining how border closures evolve, although, for the time being, we will have to continue living with these traffic restrictions. For this reason, we have prepared, as we do every year, a calendar with the main traffic disruptions on European roads, which you can download free of charge via this link.