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Brussels, 11 March 1998

The Commission proposes random road checks on commercial vehicles to enhance safety and environmental protection in the European Union

The European Commission today proposed a draft directive requiring Member States to supplement the annual roadworthiness test on commercial vehicles with random roadside inspections. Recent surveys indicate that annual inspection on these vehicles does not guarantee an acceptable standard of maintenance throughout the year. Given that the road haulage market becomes fully liberalised as of 1 July 1998, and that heavy goods vehicles (HGV) already cause around 20 % of the annual 45,000 deaths on the roads of the European Union, action is needed now to improve road safety and air quality as well as to create the conditions of fair competition by ensuring that all vehicles are maintained to similar standards.

"This legislation will discourage irresponsible operators from trying to cut costs by operating vehicles so poorly-maintained that they threaten the life of other road users and damage the environment. Such practices amount to unfair competition and currently undermine the proper operation of the internal road haulage market, a situation that is likely to be aggravated by the advent of full liberalisation on 1 July 1998. There is, therefore, clearly a case for EU-wide intervention to address this problem" said Neil Kinnock, the EU Commissioner for Transport Policy.

Banning dangerous vehicles from public roads

The adoption of Directive 96/96/EC has already ensured that commercial road vehicles must pass annual roadworthiness inspections in testing centres. However, given the increasing international nature of commercial vehicle operation, and that many of the heaviest vehicles travelling 150 000 km/year or more, an annual inspection is unlikely to provide sufficient guarantees that commercial vehicles operating on EU territory do so with an acceptable standard of maintenance throughout the year.

Clearly, it is in the interests of road safety, environmental protection and fair competition that all vehicles are only operated if they are maintained to a high degree of roadworthiness.

The proposal requires Member States to supplement the annual roadworthiness test with random inspections of a representative proportion of the commercial vehicle fleet on their roads each year. These inspections can be carried out at the roadside, at ports, at other locations where vehicles are parked or, more frequently in the case of Public Service Vehicles (PSVs), at operators' premises.

This proposal prescribes a three-stage approach to roadside inspection:

1. The first stage is the visual inspection by a trained vehicle examiner of the maintenance condition of the vehicle passing on the road. The vehicle examiner would need to suspect that the vehicle is inadequately maintained before proceeding to the second stage;


2. The second stage involves a cursory inspection of the stationary vehicle, which includes a check on roadworthiness documentation (i.e. proof that the vehicle had undergone its statutory roadworthiness test). If the examiner still suspects that the vehicle is unroadworthy, then the inspection proceeds to a third stage;


3. The vehicle is examined at the roadside for maintenance irregularities such as: excessive smoke, bald or damaged tyres, inoperable lights and signalling devices, speed limiter malfunction (by checking the tachograph) and, as far as is practical, inadequate braking. If there is continued doubt or where the extent of the maintenance deficiency needs further quantification, the vehicle may be further inspected and assessed at a roadworthiness test centre.

If, following the roadworthiness inspection the vehicle does not comply with the standard, and is considered to present a serious risk to its occupants or other road users, the vehicle may be banned immediately from use on the public roads.

There is a case for roadside inspections

Some unscrupulous operators are known to fit new tyres, reset the speed limiter, or fill the motor vehicle with low sulphur fuel ('clean diesel') in order to pass the annual roadworthiness test, only to revert the vehicle to its poorly maintained and illegal state after receiving a satisfactory roadworthiness certificate. Unscheduled and therefore, as far as the operator is concerned, unexpected, roadside or fleet spot checks act as an incentive for enhanced maintenance and will help discourage irresponsible operator practices.

This consideration is supported by an analysis of a recent targeted police co-ordinated check in the UK (although not the only Member State to carry out roadside inspections). Over 6000 HGVs were stopped, out of which approximately 2500 were examined in detail. Of the vehicles examined, 33% had some form of defect that would have been serious enough to fail the regulated roadworthiness test and in over 13% of the vehicle examined, the defect(s) was so serious as to warrant the immediate prohibition of the vehicles from circulation.

The number of HGVs and PSVs which fail the emissions check in the annual roadworthiness test is about half the number failing at a roadside check, according to the UK's annual report by their Vehicle Inspectorate on the effectiveness of the Inspectorate's enforcement work. This supports the view that many vehicles might be able to pass the annual test as far as emissions are concerned but do not have an appropriate level of roadworthiness in the months following the annual inspection.

The benefits of the proposal would be obvious in terms of safety. Recent studies of fatalities involving heavy goods vehicles (HGVs cause around 20% of the current Community-wide road accident fatalities rate of 45000 each year) over a three-year period gave the following results :

· HGVs are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than the numbers of such vehicles on the road, or the mileage they cover, would suggest;

· just over 6% of all HGVs had serious defects which were a contributory cause of the accident or fatalities;

· most (two-thirds) of these defects concerned defective brakes resulting from lack of proper maintenance.

· around 3.4% of all fatalities in HGV accidents would be prevented if HGVs were kept properly maintained at all times

As for the protection of the environment, it is estimated that a correctly maintained fleet saves 2% fuel consumption (equivalent to an economic benefit of ECU 1000 million per year) and an equivalent proportion of CO2 emissions. Therefore, assuming that roadside inspections are 50 per cent effective in improving the maintenance condition of the fleet, then a 1% fuel saving would equate to an economic benefit of around ECU 500 million per year, a figure to be compared to the total costs of the proposed inspections in the EU, worth some ECU 120 to 180 million to Commission estimates.

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