The rule will restrict national bans on motorway truck traffic to Sundays and national holidays between 7am and 10pm. At the moment, seven European states restrict lorry movements at the weekend to cut down on noise pollution, but until now these restrictions have varied widely from country to country making it difficult for international hauliers to plan their journeys.
EU transport commissioner Neil Kinnock insisted the measure, designed to make life easier for hauliers, would not be detrimental to the environment. "I know there was some concern, particularly in Germany and Austria that this proposal would go against the interests of the citizen and the environment," he said.
"I believe this proposal strikes an important balance between the economic needs of the European Union to guarantee international freight movement with the desire of European citizens and their governments to preserve and improve their quality of life."
The move is a response to calls from hauliers' association, such as the Dutch TLN, which estimates the cost to industry of the various driving bans at Ecu3bn.
Some national governments have also complained about lorries queuing up at their borders until they are allowed to move again. The proposed measure will only apply to international traffic travelling on roads designated by the EU as "trans-European networks". Countries remain free to impose lorry bans on their domestic freight traffic.
Frazer Goodwin of the pressure group Transport & Environment gave a cautious welcome to the measure which, although harmonising regulations across the EU, might prove to have "perverse" side effects. "International lorry bans tend to promote a modal shift to rail. Removing that decreases the incentive to move from road to rail."
The fact that the measure would leave tighter restrictions on domestic than on international traffic might also tempt transport buyers to chose international suppliers where possible to avoid the domestic bans.
Under the new proposal, governments will be allowed to extend lorry bans if they can "justify the need on objective environmental, safety or social grounds" or in emergencies such as during a smog alert. Requests to extend the ban will be considered by an EU committee.
The Commission says it will publish an annual report on bans for the forthcoming year in an additional effort to clarify the situation for hauliers. Member states wishing to impose lorry bans are expected to submit this information for inclusion in the report.
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.
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