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The weights and dimensions directive seeks to improve the functioning of the European Union’s (EU) internal market and to ensure the free movement of goods in the EU by setting maximum limits for heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches carrying out international transport within the EU.
It requires national transport companies to meet the standards set for international transport.
The directive was amended by Directive (EU) 2015/719, which seeks to make heavy goods vehicles and buses greener and safer by authorising weights and dimensions that exceed the limits laid down in Directive 96/53/EC, in certain cases and under specific conditions.
The directive, as amended, applies to the dimensions of:
goods vehicles and their trailers weighing more than 3.5 tonnes;
passenger vehicles carrying more than nine people.
It does not apply to articulated buses comprising more than one articulated section.
Directive (EU) 2015/719 allows a weight increase of 1 tonne for alternatively fuelled*lorries and three-axle buses, to take account of the weight required for the alternative fuel technology.
Regulation (EU) 2019/1242 amended the directive to allow an additional tonne for zero-emission* lorries and three-axle articulated buses (see summary).
It also increases by 1.5 tonnes the maximum weight of two-axle buses to take account of the developments in collective passenger transport, such as the increased average weight of passengers and their luggage, and of the new equipment required by the safety regulations.
It fixes maximum limits on the weights and dimensions, along with certain other vehicle characteristics defined in the directive’s annexes.
No vehicles that exceed the set limits are allowed to use the roads of an EU Member State, except with special permits.
Vehicles from one Member State that fall within the set limits must be allowed to use the roads of another Member State, with the possible exception of some limited stretches of road or structures like small villages, places of special interest or ancient bridges where lower limits can be set by the administration.
No vehicles that exceed the set limits on dimensions are allowed to use the roads of a Member State. However there are some exceptions to these limits, including for:
the length of vehicles with aerodynamic features designed to increase energy efficiency;
the length of vehicles designed to transport particular goods such as timber;
the length of combinations of standard vehicles (motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers coupled together);
the length and weight of vehicles transporting containers in intermodal transport*.
Member States can authorise higher limits on weights for national transport.
Member States can also test within their territories new technologies on vehicles that exceed the set limits for a limited period.
Member States must ensure that vehicles can prove they comply with the rules by providing one of the following:
a manufacturer’s plate with an additional plate showing dimensions;
a single plate containing both of the above;
a document issued by the Member State in which the vehicle was registered containing the same information.
Further details are available in Annex III to the directive.
Enforcing the rules
National governments decide how the rules are enforced and what penalties are imposed for exceeding the maximum authorised weights. However, they should implement specific measures to detect heavy-duty vehicles in circulation that are likely to exceed those limits with the aid of automatic systems (sensors on the road or on-board weighing equipment). A report must be sent to the European Commission every 2 years setting out:
the number of checks carried out in the previous 2 calendar years;
the number of overloaded vehicles or vehicle combinations detected.
Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1213 lays down uniform conditions for the interoperability and compatibility of on-board weighing equipment installed on vehicles or vehicle combinations to ensure compliance with Directive 96/53/EC or the requirements on maximum weight for national traffic of the Member State where the vehicle is in use.
Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1916 lays down detailed rules as regards the use of rear aerodynamic devices (e.g. retractable or foldable flaps attached to the rear of trucks and their trailers).
Note: a closely related act, Regulation (EU) 2019/1892, sets out the rules regarding type-approval for elongated cabs and for aerodynamicdevices and equipment.
FROM WHEN DOES THE DIRECTIVE APPLY?
Directive 96/53/EC has applied since 17 September 1996 and had to become law in the Member States by 16 September 1997.
Alternative fuels. Fuels or power sources that serve, at least partly, as a substitute for fossil oil sources in the energy supply to transport and that have the potential to contribute to its decarbonisation and enhance the environmental performance of the transport sector, consisting of:
electricity consumed in all types of electric vehicles;
natural gas, including biomethane, in gaseous form (compressed natural gas) and liquefied form (liquefied natural gas);
liquefied petroleum gas;
mechanical energy from on-board storage/on-board sources, including waste heat.
Zero-emission lorries and buses. Heavy-duty vehicles (lorries and buses) with no internal combustion engine or with an internal combustion engine that emits less than 1 g CO2/kWh or less than 1 g CO2/km.
Intermodal transport. Goods haulage involving a combination of road transport with alternative rail and/or water-based transport, where the goods are transported within an intermodal loading unit (container or swap body of up to 45 feet) without the actual goods being handled at transhipment. The use of these alternative modes should cover the majority of the journey, while the road transport leg should be limited to a short distance at the start and/or end of the journey.
Council Directive 96/53/EC of 25 July 1996 laying down for certain road vehicles circulating within the Community the maximum authorized dimensions in national and international traffic and the maximum authorized weights in international traffic (OJ L 235, 17.9.1996, pp. 59–75).
Successive amendments to Directive 96/53/EC have been incorporated into the original document. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.
Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1916 of 15 November 2019 laying down detailed provisions as regards the use of rear aerodynamic devices pursuant to Council Directive 96/53/EC (OJ L 297, 18.11.2019, pp. 3–4).
Commission Regulation (EU) 2019/1892 of 31 October 2019 amending Regulation (EU) No 1230/2012 as regards type-approval requirements for certain motor vehicles fitted with elongated cabs and for aerodynamic devices and equipment for motor vehicles and their trailers (OJ L 291, 12.11.2019, pp. 17–41).
Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1213 of 12 July 2019 laying down detailed provisions ensuring uniform conditions for the implementation of interoperability and compatibility of on-board weighing equipment pursuant to Council Directive 96/53/EC (OJ L 192, 18.7.2019, pp. 1–22).
last update 17.12.2021
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