General Rules on Cabotage

Member States aim to safeguard the integrity of the domestic transport market from potential harm caused by foreign transport companies offering permanent national carriage. Consequently, they actively enforce compliance with cabotage rules on the road.

As outlined in EC Regulation No 1072/2009, cabotage operations are temporary national carriage for hire or reward within a host Member State. Thus, cabotage is subject to more stringent regulations compared to other forms of transport operations due to its involvement in foreign markets and competition with domestic services.

General Cabotage rules in the EU

In general, cabotage operations can be performed:

  • When the EU haulier holds a certified valid hard copy of the Community license in their vehicle (scanned copies or electronic versions are not suitable), along with a driver’s attestation if applicable.
  • After previously carrying out and finishing international carriage. This carriage may have its origin in a different Member State or in a third country.

How many Cabotage operations can be performed?

Within the 7-day period, up to 3 cabotage operations can be performed following an international carriage. The haulier can decide to perform all 3 cabotage operations in a host Member State, or no more than 1 cabotage operation in a Member State that is not the Member State of the incoming international transport.

For example, if the haulier finished the international transport operation in Austria, they could perform one cabotage operation in Austria, one in Germany and the last one in Belgium within the 7-day period after finishing the mentioned incoming transport.

Other important rules to follow:

  • If the haulier decides to perform the cabotage operation in other Member State than the one of the incoming international transports, they must perform it within the 3-day period if entering with an empty truck into that Member State, following the 7-day period as well.
  • The cooling-off period of 4 days applies each time a cabotage operation is completed and the vehicle leaves the host Member State, regardless of whether only one or more cabotage operations have been performed before the vehicle leaves the Member State in question. This means that the cooling-off period starts applying individually for each Member State in which cabotage took place, even if only one cabotage operation occurred in that Member State.

Is combined transport considered cabotage?

Member States have the right to decide by national laws if the road part of combined transport, as defined in Directive 92/106/EEC, is a cabotage operation, provided these road legs do not cross a border.

Therefore, before performing transport in that country, the haulier should check the national rules for combined transport to avoid violating cabotage rules. For example, Sweden or Denmark treats combined transport as a cabotage operation, even if the CMR letter contains only international transport information but the semi-trailer was detached at the port. It is also very important to mark this detachment process on the CMR letter correctly to avoid creating an image that cabotage operation, in case of combined transport, was hidden under the international CMR letter.

Important! Member States do not have the same description of a cabotage operation regarding its loading or unloading points or linked CMR letters. Therefore, the haulier should check in each country where they are going to perform the cabotage transport if it can have several loading or unloading points or several consignment notes.

For example, in France, one CMR letter means one cabotage operation. So, in the case when one cabotage operation has 2 CMR letters, it will be counted as 2 separate cabotage operations.

The most frequent cabotage infringements are:

  • The driver lost or cannot present the incoming international transport CMR letter during the roadside inspection.
  • The driver cannot present all concerned CMR letters for the controlled period.
  • CMR letter is not filled correctly: missed data, no loading/unloading time or place, missing country codes or signatures, missing data about the detachment of the semi-trailer, etc.
  • There are more cabotage operations performed than allowed (combined transport was not counted, or there is more than one operation in a Member State other than the one of the incoming international transports, etc.)
  • The cabotage operation was started before the international transport was finished.
  • Regular and continuous combined transport operations in countries where combined transport is liberalized from cabotage regulations.

The violations of cabotage rules are considered serious infringements and, for example, in France, could result in a fine of up to 15,000 EUR.

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