Navigating the divide between roads in the USA and EU

Winding road among trees.

The motor vehicle is an Americana staple. Viewed as a symbol of freedom, these vehicles are woven into the success story of American capitalism. In comparison, while transport does not define Europeanness, what it represents is fundamentally European.  

Attempts by the EU to create seamless cross-border networks are aimed at the free movement of goods and people. These are founding principles of the bloc. In this way, roads have become essential to both Europe and the US. But for shippers, effectively navigating these roads can look very different.  

Roads in the US vs Europe: an overview  

Transport is vital to the economic functioning of society. It plays a key role as intermediary between the production and distribution of goods. It is also vitally important for social cohesion, as transport ensures the everyday mobility of billions of people.  

The United States of America (USA) and the European Union (EU) face a number of similar challenges confronting their road infrastructure. However, there are differences in approach to solving these challenges alongside cultural differences towards transport. In both cases, investment in and regulation of transport infrastructure is essential to ensuring road safety and sustainability.  

Roads in the United States of America  

The USA has a high vehicle dependency and vast network of interconnected roads, highways, and bridges. This is reflected in its 1st place ranking for connectivity in 2019 by the World Economic Forum (WEF).  

The federal interstate system is typically well-maintained and efficient, featuring controlled access, multiple lanes, and interchanges. However, at the state and local level, many roads face issues including potholes, cracks, uneven surfaces, and poor signage. Additionally, 7.5% of bridges are considered “structurally deficient”. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave roads across the country an overall D rating in its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card.  

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill of 2021 contains funding of $1.2 trillion for improving or replacing aging infrastructure. Of this, at least $110 billion is earmarked for roads and bridges. However, the ASCE estimates an additional $2.6 trillion will be needed over the next decade to meet basic national needs. The federal government has held excise tax on fuel, a primary source of revenue for road infrastructure, at the same level since October 1993.   

The regulation of roads is complex and divided between federal, state, and local authorities. These governing bodies have enacted differing regulations over driving licenses and vehicle registration, speed limits, traffic signs, and parking. Commercial road users move 72% of all domestic freight by tonnage, and this framework creates roadblock to a cohesive approach. 

Major concerns include the severe lack of secure truck parking. The Department of Transport estimates there is one parking spot for every eleven drivers, which it designates as a “national safety concern.” The lack of accessible and secure truck parking results in transit delays, as drivers must abide by strict hours of service regulations.  

Drivers may also park at unsafe locations such as the hard-shoulder, exit ramps, or vacant lots. The pending bipartisan Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act would authorize $755 million in competitive grant funding to increase truck parking capacity. To do so, it would build new parking facilities and convert existing rest areas and weigh stations into parking spaces.   

Lack of parking impacts criminality, with opportunistic cargo theft from idle trailers being the overriding concern. A 15% rise in cargo theft was observed between 2021-2022. In contrast, 2023 experienced a shift to targeting food and beverages rather than household goods and electronics. 

The haulage market in the USA is dominated by smaller companies with an estimated 90% operating six vehicles or fewer. These companies are more exposed to risk than larger operators. That makes them less resilient to issues ranging from punctured tires and theft of goods or vehicles to unforeseen travel disruption.  

The collapse of a section of the I-95 in northeast Philadelphia on June 11, 2023 is a recent example. Caused by a fuel tanker fire beneath an overpass, the affected section carries an average of 125,000 vehicles per day. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has reported a commensurate surge in passenger numbers.  

The I-95 is a major transport corridor. Disruption is likely to impact businesses across the East Coast with heavier than usual tractor trailer volume reported on the I-476 northbound as drivers reroute.   

European Union roads 

The European Union has a high vehicle dependency like the USA. The bloc is connected by an extensive network of EU roads and highways linking its major cities and regions.  

The WEF ranks Germany, France and Italy (the EU’s three largest economies by GDP) as 11th/6th/38th for connectivity. They’re also ranked 22nd/18th/53rd for quality highlighting large disparities across the continent.  

Since the 1990s, the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) initiative has focused on creating nine European Transport Corridors across the continent. The European Investment Bank (EIB) and more recently the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) were major investors. Combined, both have invested hundreds of billions of euros for infrastructure projects.  

The core elements of TEN-T are due to be completed by 2030 and the comprehensive network by 2050 with the CEF providing €25.8 billion between 2021-2027. The total cost of the core network may exceed €500 billion, and the comprehensive network could go into the trillions. The TEN-T project has begun to slow road building in line with climate goals, even as the ECIB increases its overall infrastructure spending to support €1 trillion of climate projects by 2030.   

Similar to the USA, road regulation is complex across multiple EU and national agencies. It can be complicated by language, legislation and cross-border travel, despite the Schengen Area abolishing most passport and border control.  

Geopolitical issues in Europe can also impact logistics. Recent issues include the Mediterranean migrant and trafficking crisis, Brexit, COVID-19, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

Following war-related disruption to maritime and air travel, the EU launched a €1 billion initiative to open Solidarity-Lanes with Ukraine. These were meant to continue the export of agricultural goods by road and rail. The EU’s attempts to create a seamless and efficient road network by promoting the development of strategic corridors and improving cross-border connections is aimed at fostering economic integration and enabling the free movement of goods and people. These are fundamental principles of the EU.   

Approximately 24.6% of freight went by road in 2021 across the EU with carriers facing a number of issues. TEN-T guidelines stipulate that appropriate parking must be provided for commercial road users every 100km with commensurate safety and security measures. However, a 2019 study by the EU Commission showed cargo crime was more frequent than ever. Additionally, 75% of incidents occurred when heavy-duty vehicles were parked in unsecure locations.  

The study also acknowledged this shortage of safe and secure parking. Approximately 7,000 parking spaces are available across the bloc compared to an estimated demand of 400,000 per night.  

The preponderance of soft sided trailers in the EU compared to hard sided trailers in the USA facilitates the curtain slashing technique, which is a major method of cargo theft. The security standards of the not-for-profit Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) covering facilities, trucking, and parking can help members manage risk, reduce exposure, and protect assets.   

In summary: the differences between American roads and European roads 

There is a road divide between the USA and EU. This is evident in differing approaches to infrastructure investment, maintenance, and long-term planning.  

The USA boasts a vast network of interconnected roads. However, outside the interstate system, these are often poorly maintained and funded. Additionally, the majority of American freight moves via truck, yet parking facilities and small haulage companies are not set up to work well within the current system. This leads to delays, disruption, and avoidable rates of cargo theft.  

In comparison, the EU has a well-funded and long-term plan for roadways across the bloc. But the quality of these roads varies significantly. Parking is also a large problem across the EU, but plans are in place to improve this. In the meantime, freight companies can take advantage of initiatives such as TAPA to minimize their risk.   

Whether you’re transporting cargo through the USA or EU, along public roads or state highways, risk must remain top of mind. Overhaul has the solution to help your in-transit supply chain stay safe. From long distance, cross-country routes to local shipments, we’ll help you navigate and prepare for the unexpected. Learn more about how we’re empowering companies with in-transit visibility and risk monitoring. 


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