Transport assessment reveals the true cost of European regulation

Freight transport costs could soar by more than £300 million and an extra 320,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere €“ the equivalent of over 150,000 additional cars €“ should new European Commission regulations be introduced into the UK, according to a new study from Heriot-Watt University.

These figures are significantly higher than anticipated and suggest that a gradual removal of double-deck lorries from Britain's roads could come at a high price in economic and environmental terms.

Prof. Alan McKinnon, Director of Logistics Research Centre

The study, carried out by Prof. Alan McKinnon in the Logistics Research Centre at Heriot-Watt University, has highlighted the significant impact that a proposal put forward by the European Commission to standardise the maximum height of lorry trailers in the UK could have, should it be introduced.

Currently, the UK's road infrastructure can accommodate double-deck trailers up to a height of 4.9m, which has led to substantial reductions in road haulage costs, traffic levels, fuel consumption and most importantly, exhaust emissions.

The Commission's proposal to introduce a maximum height restriction of 4m, in line with 20 of the 25 EU countries, could have radical cost implications for the industry as well as the environment.

Statistics from Prof. McKinnon's study, based on data from the Government's Continuing Survey of Road Goods Transport, indicate that the removal of an estimated 7,000 double-deck trailers currently in operation and their replacement with standard height trailers would have several negative effects, including:

  • a rise in road haulage costs by around £305 million
  • fuel consumption and CO2 emissions 64% higher than current levels generated by double-deck vehicles
  • a 5.5% increase in articulated lorry traffic on UK roads
  • a rise in CO2 emissions equivalent to an additional 151,000 cars on the UK road network

Prof. McKinnon said of his findings, "These figures are significantly higher than anticipated and suggest that a gradual removal of double-deck lorries from Britain's roads could come at a high price in economic and environmental terms.

"The benefits of double-deck trailers are well recognised by businesses and the Government. This is the first time, however, that an attempt has been made to quantify these benefits at a general level.

"The adverse effects of imposing a 4-metre limit on the height of trailers in the UK would far outweigh the limited benefit of standardising vehicle heights to bring this country into line with Europe. This new study should strengthen the case being made by the UK Government and trade bodies for the UK to be granted an exemption from an EU-wide 4m trailer height limit."

Simon Chapman, chief economist at the Freight Transport Association said, "The European Commission is pressing the freight industry to step up to the plate as it contemplates raising its carbon target for 2020 to a 30% reduction against 1990 levels. Yet at the same time, it is trying to force through ill-conceived legislation, which will add cost to business and mean more lorry miles and more emissions. This new Heriot-Watt study puts a credible price to a completely unnecessary piece of red tape."

Road Haulage Association director of policy, Jack Semple, said: "We welcome this report. It provides timely and strong evidence on the impact of a proposal from Brussels that is of great concern to many transport companies and would damage the UK economy, were it to be implemented.

"Alan McKinnon has an outstanding reputation that is well-deserved. His academic rigour and practical understanding of the transport sector produces research that has both clarity and relevance."

Download the full report

Download the full report, "Britain without Double-deck Lorries: An Assessment of the Effects on Traffic Levels, Road Haulage Costs, Fuel Consumption and CO2 Emissions", from the Logistics Research Centre website.