Organize the return of the vehicle

How to organize the obligatory return of the vehicle ?

While most of the proposals in the Mobility Package are effective, the new obligation to arrange for the return of each vehicle to the company’s operating center in the country of establishment at least every 8 weeks came into force only on 21 February 2022.

One of the main new rules of the Mobility Package, the obligation for carriers to return to their country of origin, has been criticized since the Mobility Package was adopted.

In this context, on 19 February 2021 the European Commission published the results of two studies commissioned to assess the expected impacts of two specifics aspects of the Mobility Package on the environment and the internal market, the mandatory return of trucks to their country of establishment every 8 weeks and the application of cabotage quotas on international combined transport operations.

The conclusions of both studies clearly showed that the new regulations in these two areas will have a negative impact on the environment and are not in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal. In fact, the obligatory return of the truck each 8 weeks is likely to create additional journeys, potentially resulting in up to 2.9 million additional tons of CO2 emissions in 2023, and possibly leading to 3.3 million additional tons of CO2 emissions annually. Despite these conclusions there was no political will either in the European Parliament nor in the Council to amend the Mobility Package.

A full year later, in May 2022, the new set of Questions & Answers on the return of the vehicle has been officially published by the European Commission, in which we can find a range of important information related to this new rule. You can read them here:

As amended by Art 5 of Regulation (EC) No 1071/2009, an undertaking:

“(…) shall (…) organize its vehicle fleet’s activity in such a way as to ensure that vehicles that are at the disposal of the undertaking and are used in international carriage return to one of the operational centers in that Member State at least within eight weeks after leaving it” [1]

In its Questions & Answers document, the European Commission begins by explaining which vehicles are affected by the rule (question 1) as follows:

“This rule applies to motor vehicles or combinations of vehicles used for the international carriage of goods for hire or reward that leave the Member State of establishment. As regards trailers or semi-trailers, this rule applies to them to the extent that they are at the disposal of the road haulage operators within the meaning of points (e) and (g) of Article 5 of Regulation (EC) No 1071/2009 and as such are registered or put into circulation and authorized to be used in conformity with the legislation of the Member State where the undertaking is established (…)”.

For many European carriers, this unclear interpretation raises the question of how Member States can enforce this obligation, given that trailers and semi-trailers are obviously not equipped with a tachograph.

The document also answers questions frequently asked by many of carriers, European freight forwarders (questions 3 and 5): for how long must the vehicle return and how is the 8-week period calculated?

“The Regulation does not specify the length of time for which the vehicle should return, which can therefore be of short duration provided that the rules on driving time as set out in Regulation (EC) No 561/2006. As explained in recital 8 of Regulation (EU) 2020/1055, the operators when planning the return can try to combine it with some activities to be carried out such as maintenance of the vehicle, technical inspection or transport operation ending in the Member State of establishment in order to optimize operations. “

Regarding the question, how is the 8-week period calculated (question 5) the Commission is providing the following answer” According to the EU rules on the calculation of periods, dates and time limits, the overall period of 8 weeks referred starts from 0:00 of the day following the exit of the vehicle from the Member State of establishment and ends at the end of the same day of the eighth following week.

The vehicle should therefore be back to this operational center or to any other operational center of the undertaking in its Member State of establishment, at the latest, at 23:59 of the same day of the week 8 weeks later.”[2]

The Q&A document even provides an example: if the vehicle leaves the Member State of establishment at any time on Tuesday, 29 March 2022, it should be back at any of the company’s operational centers in its Member State of establishment at the latest at the end (23:59) of Wednesday, 25 May 2022.

It should also be noted that if the last day of a period expressed in weeks is a public holiday, a Sunday or a Saturday, the period ends at the end of the last hour of the following working day.

What about controls?

Tachograph data and driver rosters can be used to show that a given vehicle has returned to the Member State where the company is established during the previous 8 weeks.

In case of a roadside check, the company should always have the possibility to demonstrate compliance at a later stage by means of documents and evidence available at the company’s premises.

It should be underlined also, that roadside inspections can be managed in each Member State, but sanction can only be applied by the Member State of establishment of the company, due to the fact that this obligation is part of the conditions relating to the requirement of establishment.

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