Road Freight 101: The Importance and Future of Road Transport

The global integration of production and consumer markets comes with a continuous growth in international freight volumes – the pandemic has affected this trend only in the short term. Maintaining supply chains requires coordinated interaction between all modes of transport: air, sea, and land freight. What is the role of road freight in this and what advantages and challenges does it bring?

Comparing the Types of Freight Transportation

The individual transport types already bear their basic explanation in their respective names: sea freight is transported by ship over oceans and waterways, air freight by plane, and land freight on solid ground. The latter is further differentiated into rail freight and road freight.

Each of these modes of cargo transportation has its own advantages and disadvantages. Ships can carry the largest volumes of cargo and very bulky or heavy goods, but this freight type is slow. Air freight is the fastest option for long distances, but it is also the most expensive and loading capacities are limited. When it comes to land transport, rail combines a large transport volume with the best environmental performance of all freight types. In contrast, road freight scores with the greatest possible flexibility and with high cost efficiency.

Road Freight Definition

Road freight is the transport of goods from one location to another (a place of loading and a place of unloading) by means of motor vehicles via a road network. Commercial road freight transport is the transport of goods on a business basis by logistics companies or forwarders. In-company transports organized by the enterprises themselves, for example between different business locations within the context of internal production processes, are thus not classified as commercial freight transport.

In road freight, different trucks are used depending on the goods being transported. In EU member states, for example, road freight regulations only apply to vehicles with an empty weight of more than 3.5 t – which simply means that national specifications do not cover lighter vehicles. However, there are some special provisions: since February 2022, vehicles over 2.5 t are also subject to road freight transport regulations when crossing EU borders. Now these are legal quibbles, and in principle all conceivable motor vehicles are used in road freight transport, from vans to semitrailers. Whether refrigerated vehicles or hazardous goods transports, container semi-trailers or vacuum trucks for liquids – there is a great variety. In Europe, trucks are restricted to a maximum length of 18.25 m in accordance with the relevant EU directive. In some countries, special permits are granted for so-called Longer Heavier Vehicles (LHVs) with lengths of more than 25 m. Logistics experts and official bodies expect such LHVs to reduce CO2 emissions since they can transport more goods in one trip.

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