21. September 2021 – The safety of commercial vehicles on German roads has deteriorated. This is shown by the current "TÜV-Report Commercial Vehicles 2021": 19.6 percent of the inspected vehicles failed the general inspection (HU) with significant or dangerous defects - which is 0.3 percent more than that of the last report in 2019. "The positive trend of the past few years in the safety of commercial vehicles has stopped," said Richard Goebelt, Head of Vehicle and Mobility at the TÜV Association, during the presentation of the report. "Especially the vans, which are heavily used by delivery services, craftsmen and other tradesmen, are still on the road with numerous technical defects." The category of commercial vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes gross weight includes models such as Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Volkswagen Transporter or Renault Trafic. In the group of 7 to 8 year old vans, more than every fourth vehicle (27.9 percent) did not pass the HU, an increase of 2.2 percent. On average, they have already covered 128,000 kilometres. For comparison: Normal passenger cars have a HU failure rate of "only" 14.7 percent after 7 years and have run an average of 92,000 kilometres. The most common defect in this age group is defective tail lights, with a share of 12.9 percent. In 5.9 percent of the vehicles, there is oil leakage from the engine or driving system, which is harmful to the environment and accelerates fires in accidents. 5.4 percent fail the general inspection due to problems with the axle suspension. "Vans are exposed to tough conditions in continuous usage and in city traffic," said Goebelt "Many vehicles are driven to wear and tear and poorly maintained. The result is technical defects that can become a danger to road safety." Vans make up the majority of all commercial vehicles in Germany, accounting for 84 percent. According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority, the number of vehicles in this category has risen by around 1 million since 2010 to the current figure of 2.88 million. The main reasons for this growth are the boom in online trading and in the construction industry.
Around 1.95 million main inspections were evaluated for the TÜV-Report Commercial Vehicles 2021. For the first time, vehicles with "dangerous defects" were included in the statistics. By introducing this defect group, Germany is implementing an EU requirement. "The new defect category prevents vehicles classified as dangerous from being on the roads for weeks until the repair appointments," Goebelt said. Around 10,000 vehicles with worn brake discs, leaking brake hoses or badly worn tyres had to be taken to the workshop immediately by their owners. Another 1,300 commercial vehicles were classified as "unsafe" and were in situ taken out of traffic. These are, for example, the vehicles, whose chassis is rusted through or safety-relevant components such as brakes or steering no longer function or hardly function at all.
In the category of light trucks from 3.5 to 7.5 tonnes, the proportion of vehicles with significant and dangerous defects across all age groups increased by 0.5 percent to 18.5 percent. For medium-weight trucks from 7.5 to 18 tonnes, the rate is 19.5 percent, the same as in the report two years ago. The worst performers among the larger vehicles are the heavy trucks over 18 tonnes with 19.9 percent failure rate. After a strong increase in the defect rates in the last Commercial Vehicle Report, there was a moderate increase of 0.2 precent in the current edition. "Heavy trucks are usually on long-haul routes and are exposed to tough conditions in industries such as construction, forestry or waste disposal," says Goebelt. After five years, they have already an average of 395,000 kilometres on the speedometer.
Across all weight and age categories, defects in the lighting system are among the most frequently identified deficiencies. "Good vision and being seen in time are enormously important for the safety of all road users," said Goebelt. Corresponding defects are easy to recognise and remedy, he said. At the older vehicles, problems with the brakes occur more frequently. Oil leaks from the engine and propulsion system are also common if the vehicles are not regularly maintained. "More and more commercial vehicles are being leased. Vehicle owners or haulage companies feel less responsible because they no longer own the vehicles," Goebelt said. Instead of investing in regular maintenance, the vehicles are returned in poor condition at the end of the leasing period, usually after three to five years. Goebelt: "Economically, this may make sense, but for road safety it is fatal."
Including assistance systems in the general inspection
The mandatory introduction of further assistance systems promises additional safety for all road users. From July 2022, new vehicle types must, for example, have the turning assistant system installed, which can particularly protect cyclists better. Other systems include drowsiness warning system, speed assistance, a data memory for recording driving data and rear view cameras or sensors. In addition, there must be an interface for so-called Alkolock systems, which can measure the alcohol level of the driver and only unblock the vehicle when the blood alcohol level is zero.
However, there are hardly any possibilities so far to inspect assistance systems during the general inspection. "Assistance systems can only devote their full effect to road safety if their function and effectiveness is regularly inspected," said Goebelt. A study by the TÜV companies had shown that these systems, just like other components, also wear out over time or their effectiveness is impaired. For example, slight collisions can damage the function of cameras or sensors. Other reasons for malfunctions are software errors or updates that have not been installed. "For a comprehensive examination of the assistance systems, experts need access to the software and to safety-relevant data," Goebelt emphasised. In addition, it should not be possible to switch off the systems. Both young and experienced drivers must be trained to use these systems and the corresponding content must be integrated into driver training.
Methodological note: For the "TÜV-Report Commercial Vehicles", around 1.95 million general inspections from 2019 and 2020 were evaluated by the TÜV Association. The results are presented in four weight categories: from light vans up to 3.5 tonnes to light trucks between 3.5 to 7.5 tonnes and medium-weight trucks between 7.5 to 18 tonnes to heavy trucks above 18 tonnes. The TÜV-Report Commercial Vehicles is published every two years, alternating with the TÜV Bus Report.