Retrofitting of contour markings for lorries? Not likely!

Date: 14, January 2016
At a meeting on January 12, 2016 in Bruxelles the spotlight was put on the lorries in the EU that today do not have contour markings. The question was if it makes sense to introduce an obligation today to add contour markings on all lorries on the EU roads, in other words retrofitting for already registered lorries. The answer was broadly a no!

Contour markings are basically reflective tapes that are placed on the profile of the lorry to make it more visible for other vehicles in the traffic. In July 2008 this was gradually made obligatory for new lorries and trailers in the EU but no requirement for retrofitting.

Study on retrofitting shows great costs but also some benefits

The event presented a study made by the Dutch institute for road safety research SWOV. The main points of the study are that on the basic assumption that around 30% of the accidents involving trucks and other vehicles can be prevented by contour markings there will be net benefits for society from retrofitting on all existing vehicles above 7,5 t. But it comes at a cost. While the price of a meter of reflective tape is relatively low (2-3 €/meter), the accumulated costs for the industry in EU would be up to 500 million euros.

However, the study also showed, that the problem is naturally disappearing. With more and more new trucks, the lorries without contour markings are gradually disappearing from the roads and are expected to have disappeared significantly already in 2020. This applies not least to the lorries on the inter-urban roads, where the reflective markings have greatest effect.

The Commission expresses reluctance to legislate

The Commission, represented by head of unit Mr Szabols Schmidt, commented on the study by focusing on the uncertainties relating to the study and the impacts of contour markings. In 2003 the conclusion had been that there was a case for requirements for new vehicles, but not for retro fitting. It would be too expensive. He added, that today the starting position of the Commission is that the case for retrofitting is getting smaller and smaller every year. At the same time also truck accidents are in same positive development as other accidents – even if without retrofitting of contour markings. It will take time for the Commission to make a proposal, so by the time it is adopted the problem will most likely have disappeared.

Instead focus should be in the many other issues that concerns road safety for lorries: general safety, alcolocks, drivers training, emergency break systems, skills and competences

The industry is sceptical

NLA expressed at the meeting same concern as the Commission. “Our members are already doing a lot for road safety and spending many ressources on it. But the priorities are different in different countries. In Norway there are concerns about winter driving skills, in Denmark concerns about lorries and bicyclists, in Sweden there is the ambition of zero raod deaths… To ask our members to invest millions in reflective markings – because of a decision in the EU – should only be done if the evidence is crystal clear. What the study showed us was not crystal clear. It was a study based on old data, not taking into account the improved safety of trucks that has taken place recent years and thus the conclusion tends to turn in the wrong direction,” stated NLAs CEO Søren H Larsen at the meeting.

In the end the representative of SWOV had to clarify, that the study is talking about a modest and small number of accidents and that many other crashes and accidents, which would not be prevented by contour markings, are also important.

Best practices and focus on safety

In the end there was emerging a consensus in the room, that if anything should be done about contour-marking it should be on a voluntary basis, because an operator finds it makes sense for his trucks.

In concluding ETSC focused on contour markings being only one of many measures, and that since it was a problem that was disappearing – because the old trucks are disappearing – it could make sense to focus on more voluntary/best practice solutions rather than legislation to make more lorries more visible.