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Chapter 6: Harmonization Approaches

A common goal or priority in decisionmaking among the countries visited is consistency within the European Union while maintaining each country's economic interests. This goal applies not only to commercial motor vehicle size and weight enforcement activities, but also to tolling.

European Union's Role in CMV Size and Weight Enforcement

The major focus of initial related EU efforts was on developing free competition and interoperability of transportation systems, including promoting the development of necessary infrastructure and consistency in member nation laws. In addition, the European Union identified priority investment projects that would best enhance the connectivity and interoperability of the European transportation system. These projects originally focused on infrastructure development, but more recently included system management and intelligent transportation system (ITS) integration. The European Union has also supported research efforts, including the COST 323, WAVE, and REMOVE Projects. Perhaps most important, however, the European Union has been advantageous for transportation in its collective efforts to reduce cross-border obstacles and raise transportation issues to international and national political levels.(2)

EU directives are developed by a codecision process involving the European Parliament (EP) and the European Commission (EC) or through a single commission agreement. When developed, the directives are communicated to member states, who must implement the directives in their operations. Member states are required to inform the EC of compliance and implementation. If a directive is not implemented effectively within the allotted time, a member state may be brought before the European Court of Justice.

A key directive related to commercial motor vehicle size and weight enforcement is Council Directive 96/53/EC, which defined the maximum authorized weights and dimensions for commercial motor vehicles traveling between EU member states. This directive was amended by Directive 2002/7/EC, but the amendment only affected the authorized bus dimensions and made no changes to truck dimensional limits. These directives apply to Class M2 and M3 vehicles (i.e., passenger transport with more than nine seats, including the driver) and Class N2 and N3 vehicles (i.e., trucks in excess of 12 metric tons). These directives provide maximum length (for various vehicle types and combinations), width, and height. Noncompliant vehicles registered before September 1997 are allowed to operate under a grandfather clause, but no new vehicles registered after 2006 (a transition period was allowed) will be allowed to operate without meeting the length, width, and height requirements.

In addition, these directives define the maximum gross vehicle and axle or axle group weights for international travel. Country limits for national (intrastate) travel can be higher. For example, international traffic is limited to 40 metric tons, while Belgium allows legal gross vehicle weights of 43 or 44 metric tons, based on the type of suspension. Member states may also limit the weight or dimensions of vehicles on certain roads or civil structures in a nondiscriminatory way (e.g., because of construction, weather, bridge structural constraints). Abnormal transports are allowed only for indivisible loads and through a special permit process.

Member states may allow vehicle or vehicle combinations used for goods transport to exceed the maximum authorized dimensions for certain national transport operations that do not significantly affect international competition. For example, the Nordic countries pushed for special national transport for logging operations. Had logging companies in other countries been adversely affected, this could have been problematic.

The European Union does not actively monitor the application of directives. Once implemented, the member states are required to enforce the directives within their countries. No monitoring or reporting obligations to the European Union on day-to-day operations exist. Usually, the European Union is notified of a problem through the complaint process. When a complaint is filed, the appropriate European Commission notifies the member state involved, requests an explanation, and, if appropriate, initiates an infringement procedure for nonapplication of an EU directive. This process follows a judicial procedure through the EU Court of Justice.

State of Harmonization Within and Among EU Members

Commercial vehicle size and weight limits are largely harmonized between member countries for cross-border travel. Country-imposed limits for national travel vary for each country, but must not be lower than EU requirements except in cases where the infrastructure along secondary roads cannot support the load. Each country is obligated to enforce both its own and EC commercial motor vehicle regulations. The Committee on Transport and Tourism (XI) under the European Parliament has made significant strides in establishing a legal framework for uniformity. In general, the Transport and Tourism Committee is responsible for matters relating to the development of a common policy for rail, road, inland waterway, maritime, and air transport and in particular for:

  1. Common rules applicable to transport within the European Union
  2. The establishment and development of trans-European networks in the area of transport infrastructure
  3. The provision of transport services and relations in the field of transport with third countries
  4. Transport safety
  5. Relations with international transport bodies and organizations (www.europarl.eu.int/activities/expert/committees/presentation.do?committee=1242&language=EN).

Harmonizing citation rates was reportedly not feasible because of the unique economic status and structure in each member country. Each country's fee and fine structure and resulting revenue generated by commercial motor vehicle size and weight violations are inextricably related to the country's reliance on this revenue to support transportation developments, operation, and maintenance. If the fee and fine structure could be empirically related to some metric, such as pavement damage, potential was thought to exist for harmonization. Differences in pavement designs and consequent damage were reportedly less variable than economic status and structure.

Notable Harmonization Measures

Historically, a landmark effort by the Transport and Tourism Committee included the International Convention on the Harmonization of Frontier Controls of Goods, which was signed at Geneva, Switzerland, on October 21, 1982; approved on behalf of the European Community by Council Regulation (EEC) on April 10, 1984; and entered into force on September 12, 1987. The Harmonization Convention introduced measures designed to facilitate and develop international trade through harmonization (where appropriate) of various frontier controls and the removal of technical obstacles to the movement of goods.(35)

An example in this convention is the International Vehicle Weight Certificate (IVWC). The objective of the IVWC is to facilitate border-crossing procedures and, in particular, to avoid repetitive weight measurements of motor vehicles en route. If a vehicle is weighed in a certifiable fashion at the start of a trip, presentation of the IVWC would eliminate additional weight check stops for the duration of the trip. Authorities may still perform random checks and controls in the case of supposed irregularities. The use of the IVWC by transport operators is optional. As drafted in 1982, the weighing instruments must conform to one of the following to be certifiable:

More recently, the COST 323 action provided the European WIM system specification calling for tender and test-based acceptance procedures. This prestandard provides common and widely accepted procedures used by all parties since its inception in the late 1990s. Some efforts are underway through the EUREKA Logchain Footprint Project and FEHRL to move toward a process of WIM standardization in Europe.

A single additional noteworthy example of harmonization was uncovered. Historically, legal truck weights in Switzerland were lower than weight limits in most of the rest of Europe. Until 2000, Switzerland did not allow truck weights over 28 metric tons, while in Europe the weight limit was 40 metric tons. Switzerland is not an EU member, but the Swiss truck weight limit was made consistent with the European standard through a negotiated agreement. In return, the Swiss raised the heavy vehicle tax (LSVA) from $90 to $200 per truck to compensate for additional road damage. Even with this increased cost, it is cheaper for German and Italian truck freight movement to go through Switzerland.(2)

The Swiss continue to deemphasize road travel by encouraging the piggybacking of heavy vehicles on rail cars for transit through the country. Trucks moved in this fashion carry loads that are by Swiss law too heavy but are legal outside of Switzerland. Such vehicles are placed on trains to traverse the country and continue their movement by road.(2)

Coordination/Communication Procedures and Challenges

Coordination and communication among EU member states is facilitated through multinational organizations such as the Forum of European National Highway Research Laboratories (FEHRL), the European Traffic Police Network (TIPSOL), and the European Control Route (ECR).

Forum of European National Highway Research Laboratories

FEHRL is a consortium of national highway research institutes focused primarily on Europe, with interest in increased partnership and information exchange with the United States and China. FEHRL is the primary conduit to European programs. The Sixth Framework Program research budget is €20 billion. In the Seventh Framework Program, the budget will increase to €50 billion, with €6 billion dedicated to transport research.

FEHRL is funded through a membership fee. Advantages for member states include access to technical expertise, available dedicated research personnel, enhanced efficiency through cooperative research, and enhanced collaboration with other nations. In all, 29 research centers participate with the intent of cooperating while maintaining identity (i.e., languages, political climates). Because of its multinational involvement, FEHRL can maintain a holistic approach that extends beyond the EU member states to all of Europe and elsewhere in the world. FEHRL recently developed SERRP IV, a plan that defines a strategic direction for research for 2006 to 2011. The road directorates in each country are FEHRL's most important customers. The challenge in working with road directorate partners is that they feel significant pressure to react to current situations and are afforded less time to plan for the future. To work effectively with these customers, FEHRL must simultaneously address immediate concerns while helping them plan and prepare for the future. FEHRL is also looking to increase partnerships with industry.

Research related to commercial motor vehicles makes up about 10 percent of FEHRL's research efforts. This proportion is expected to increase to 25 percent in the future. In SERPP IV, commercial motor vehicle research will focus on the development of network-level systems capable of supporting heavy vehicles (i.e., in excess of 60 metric tons), considering issues of restrictions for bridges, tunnels, steep grades, and congested or environmentally sensitive environmental areas. In a related effort, the recently initiated Heavy Route Project focuses on intelligent route guidance for heavy vehicles. FEHRL's role in the project, slated for completion in 2009, is to demonstrate the value of the research and product, while NAVTEQ will develop a route guidance/mapping product. Road directorates may remain skeptical until proof of concept is achieved.

European Traffic Police Network

Eight member countries and three observing countries are represented in the European Traffic Police Network (TISPOL, www.tispol.org). TISPOL's mission is to improve traffic safety in Europe by arranging continuous exchange of knowledge, experience, and best-practice information among European police departments. TISPOL coordinates several annual European traffic controls and vehicle spot checks. In 2006, for example, two heavy truck spot-check events and two bus spot-check events were conducted:

European Control Route

The European Control Route (ECR, (webcomite.com/ecr/) is an international review panel or working group dedicated to improving commercial motor vehicle size and weight enforcement. ECR is composed of representatives of the transport ministries or inspection bodies from the Benelux countries, France, and Germany. The United Kingdom, Spain, and Ireland are observing countries. ECR consists of a steering committee and a number of working groups focused on particular aspects of commercial vehicle operation (e.g., driving and resting periods, transport of hazardous substances, overloading). The ECR objectives are the following:

Comparison/Contrast with the United States

A common goal or priority in decisionmaking for the countries visited is consistency within the European Union while maintaining each country's economic interests. In the United States, States operate more independently and with less regard for harmonization with bordering States or countries.

Similar to the National Association of Chiefs of Police or other law enforcement organizations in the United States, the European Traffic Police Network (TIPSOL) provides a framework for multinational, coordinated highway enforcement actions.

In general, a greater focus on coordinated research efforts exists among EU member countries than among U.S. States. The European Union and FEHRL provide the framework for administration of large-scale, multiyear coordinated research efforts.

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Page last modified on November 7, 2014.
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