Are traffic restrictions helping or impeding the activity of trucks?

We analyze together with Ramón Valdivia, president of ASTIC, the return of traffic restrictions for heavy goods vehicles on European roads.

Once again, this year, most European countries have announced their road restrictions for trucks and heavy goods vehicles on their highways on certain days. After almost two years, that these restrictions withstood changes, in 2022 they are back to almost the same as before the pandemic.

What this means is that the continent's transport and logistics professionals will have to have at hand the calendar of each country to plan their truck routes in a way that minimizes the hardship of circulating on closed roads. Because of the lack of a common framework at European level and the fact that each country establishes different schedules and limitations depending on the type of goods, the maximum authorized mass, etc., each international route might turn into a headache.


Why are road restrictions still a problem for the transport industry?

At this point, it is worth asking why the current road restrictions are still maintained over time. It is clear there are specific situations in which too many trucks can have a direct impact on the traffic flow on major roads. However, as Ramón Valdivia, General Manager of ASTIC and member since January of the Executive Committee of the Presidency of the International Road Transport Union (IRU), points out that heavy vehicle restrictions are based on a "wrong approach" . On the one hand, it is affecting public and private investments linked to the creation and maintenance of the road network, and on the other, it has an impact on the fleets of vehicles and warehouses linked to the distribution of goods.

As Valdivia argues, the transportation of goods by road is an essential element for the functioning of almost all economic activity, from industrial plants to farms, stores, ports and airports, pharmacies and hospitals, etc. In this sense, he recalls that society, through its taxes, finances the creation and maintenance of a strong road network. This way, society provides one of the most valuable assets in terms of territorial structuring, social cohesion and economic activity, creating wealth and employment.

He continues and highlights that "except for sporadic restrictions that may be established for unforeseen reasons that have the obvious logic of emergency (due to weather conditions, demonstrations, or maintenance work), most of the restrictions imposed on trucks aim preventing the presence of heavy goods vehicles on certain roads on certain dates, such as weekends and holidays". Therefore, he believes they can create major congestion problems for other drivers or for the residents of certain localities.


How is the lack of a common framework for driving restrictions impacting heavy trucks?

Ramón Valdivia speaks of a "paradox", since, in his opinion, a social asset of such economic importance as highways, freeways and other main roads, is forced to remain "idle" for an enormous number of days per year. This is the case with the private investment corresponding to the fleets of vehicles that are forced to wait idle for the end of the specific restriction that affects them. Here again, the lack of a common framework comes into play, in which vehicles can come up against regions with driving restrictions. They are forced to make long detours in the best of cases or to wait for availability to use the necessary roads.

The president also stresses that the restrictions on the circulation of heavy vehicles "leads to the promotion of transport by light vehicles (which do not have the same restrictions) which, obviously, are much less efficient in economic and ecological terms in relation to heavy trucks". In this sense, "one of the characteristics of the HGV that prevails over almost any other is efficiency and, therefore, being able to circulate with a 3500 kg of MMA van on a Sunday through France, while a truck cannot do so due to the current prohibition, means that this parameter, efficiency, takes precedence over effectiveness".


What is the alternative to the current European traffic restrictions?

For Valdivia, the solution lies in self-regulation. In his opinion, on specific dates when there are many vehicles on the roads and this could lead to congestion and traffic jams, "it will be the professional truck drivers who will regulate themselves according to whether it is worthwhile or not to start the truck to risk being stopped in the traffic jam and delay the trip being made". His proposal is that the economic dynamics itself should determine whether a specific truck should be circulating on a specific date on this or that road, as for example on Saturdays in the summer on highways, which "are not being used even 25% of their capacity, as has often been the case".

At the same time, he is not optimistic on this issue and believes that it will not be easy for "the authorities to accept that it is the road users themselves who know how to organize themselves according to their individual criteria". In his opinion, the tendency to "intervene" is preferred by many authorities. There is still a long way to go to see trucks on European roads 24/7 and 365 days a year.