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Greater pressure on the environment from increased traffic

trucks on a congested highway


Mega trucks = more HGV traffic = more CO2. Why?

Quite simply because longer and heavier vehicles will make road freight transport cheaper. That will shift goods off the environmentally friendly railways and onto the roads, increasing the pressure on the environment. Only a few sectors of industry will profit from this shift. The costs will be paid by the environment and the public.


Mega trucks – helping to protect the environment?

The reassuring message put out by the mega truck lobby sounds good: two longer and heavier vehicles (LHVs) will replace three normal HGVs, because LHVs can carry more load. That will lead to lower fuel consumption and reduce the burden on the environment – so says the mega truck lobby.

Selling LHVs as a contribution to environmental protection is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public since this line of argument fails to take into account the effects that LHVs will have on the transport sector as whole: LHVs will make road transport cheaper, leading to several developments. Firstly: freight transport will be shifted away from environmentally friendly modes of transport like the railways and inland waterways and onto the roads. Secondly: cheaper road transport will speed up the rate of growth in road freight transport. Experts call this phenomenon 'induced transport'. Thirdly: due to their increased dimensions, LHVs will not be able to reach many of their destinations, which will require additional feeder journeys.


In view of the increase in road freight traffic, it is hardly correct to talk about environmental benefits. On the contrary: the total energy consumption of the freight transport sector would see strong growth, along with the burden on the environment and on the climate.


Absolute CO2 emissions in transport
schematic representation


Longer and heavier trucks will reduce the cost of road freight transport. This will lead to HGV traffic growth and therefore increased emissions


Sinking costs lead to increasing volumes of traffic

Larger goods vehicles will save money, above all personnel costs. More goods per driver will reduce overall costs. The fuel consumption of LHVs will also be lower per unit of freight than current HGVs, due to their larger load capacity. This would lead to productivity increases of around 25 percent, according to the Federation of German Wholesale and Foreign Trade. Lower costs will speed up the growth rate of the road freight industry. For example, lower transport costs will make it more attractive to have goods produced abroad. Experts call this phenomenon 'induced traffic'.


A shift from rail to road freight

The real goal of introducing LHVs is additional growth in road freight transport – at the expense of the energy efficient and environmentally friendly transport by rail, which emits just over a quarter of the CO2 caused by HGV traffic. Mega trucks are suitable above all for transporting goods over long distances. However, the long-distance transport of mass goods is just where rail freight has its specific strengths. LHVs would endanger above single-wagon transport and combined transport by rail and road, which makes up around 50 percent of rail freight transport. Experts reckon that up to 55 percent of the railway's share of combined transport would be shifted on the roads. A horror scenario in view of climate change.

A shift from rail freight transport to the roads would also occur if 25 metre vehicles with a lower weight of 'only' 40 to 48 tonnes were permitted, because in freight transport the critical factor is mostly volume and not weight.


Additional feeder journeys and dubious utilization levels

Lastly: due to their extended length LHVs will find it difficult to reach many of their destinations directly, making feeder journeys to and from distribution centres necessary. This will also be a cause of additional HGV journeys.

Apart from that, LHV fuel consumption and CO2 emissions will only be better than for conventional HGVs if their utilization levels are above average. Currently however, normal HGVs utilize only an average of 64 percent of their capacity.


“As a result, once LHVs were permitted there would not be less goods vehicles on the roads, but more. Even with a very high utilization level it could still be possible that three normal HGVs would be replaced by three longer and heavier vehicles.”


The Federal Highway Research Institute (Germany), November 2006