Road freight transport by journey characteristics
Data extracted in October 2022.
Planned article update: September 2023.
Total road freight transport in the EU registered an average annual growth rate of 2.1 % over the period 2017-2021.
Poland remained the top country for performing international transport in 2021.
At EU level, one fifth (20.2 %) of road freight journeys were performed by empty vehicles in 2021.
This article presents road freight transport in the European Union (EU) focusing on journeys performed by road freight vehicles. The article presents the different types of transport operations performed. It also discusses the average loads carried and average distances over which goods were moved, road freight transport by distance class and the transport performed by empty vehicles.
This article and the articles 'Road freight transport by vehicle characteristics', 'Road freight transport by type of goods', 'Road freight transport statistics' and 'Road freight transport statistics - cabotage' present a complete overview of road freight transport in Europe.
Road freight transport performance by type of operation (in tonne-kilometres)
In 2021, total EU road freight transport accounted for around 1 921 billion tonne-kilometres (tkm), 6.5 % more than in 2020. The average annual growth rate from 2017 to 2021 was 2.1 % (see Table 1). The total transport decreased in 2018 and 2020 by 0.1 % and 0.9 %, respectively, compared with the previous year. In 2019 and 2021 it increased by 3.2 % and 6.5 %, respectively, compared with the previous year.
Over the period 2017-2021, around two-thirds of the EU Member States (16 out of 26) reported a positive average annual growth rate in their road freight transport in terms of tonne-kilometres (see Table 1). The largest positive average annual growth rates in road freight transport were observed in Lithuania (+10.3 %), Czechia (+9.5 %) and Italy (+4.9 %), while the highest negative average annual growth rates over this period were reported by Greece (-7.2 %) and Estonia (-4.3 %), followed by Luxembourg and Slovakia (-3.9 % each).
When looking at the evolution of EU road freight transport from 2017 onwards, the trends observed for national road freight transport and international road freight transport of loaded vehicles measured in tonne-kilometres are very similar to each other, except in 2018 when national transport rose while international transport fell (see Figure 1). Despite the similar trend, national transport in tonne-kilometres showed higher growth than international transport over the whole period.
Table 2 shows that the overall national road freight transport in the EU accounted for around 1 178 billion tonne-kilometres in 2021, 6.3 % more than in 2020. The average annual growth rate from 2017 to 2021 was 2.4 %. Most EU Member States recorded positive average annual growth rates over the period 2017-2021. The highest positive rates were recorded in Romania (+11.0 %), followed by Czechia (+8.0 %) and Latvia (+6.4 %). In contrast, the largest negative average annual growth rates were reported by Luxembourg (-12.0 %), Portugal (-3.6 %) and Cyprus (-3.3 %).
Another factor in the increase of total road freight transport is the increase of international transport. Higher tonne-kilometres for international transport imply that either longer distances are travelled or heavier loads are carried. Often, this happens in combination: international transport is usually performed with heavier loads on longer distances, while empty journeys are avoided as far as possible.
At EU level, international road freight transport in tonne-kilometres increased by 6.9 % in 2021 compared with 2020. The average annual growth rate was 1.7 % between 2017 and 2021 (see Table 3). Eleven EU Member States recorded increases over this period, some of them considerable: Czechia recorded an average annual growth rate of 11.0 %, Lithuania 10.7 %, followed at some distance by Italy with 6.0 % and Finland with 5.7 %. At the other end of the scale, among the 14 EU Member States for which international transport fell, Greece had the highest negative average annual growth rate (-22.7 %), Estonia (-7.3 %) and Hungary (-5.3 %) also stood out.
The share of international road freight transport in the total transport of a country varies a lot (see Figure 2). The highest shares of international transport were registered in Lithuania, both in 2020 and 2021 (92.8 % and 93.3 %, respectively), followed by Luxembourg (91.7 % in 2020 and 91.0 % in 2021) and Slovenia (90.0 % in 2020 and 90.1 % in 2021). In contrast, the lowest shares were registered in Cyprus (5.2 % in 2020 and 3.8 %in 2021), Sweden (5.7 % in both 2020 and 2021), Finland (6.1 % in 2020 and 6.6 % in 2021) and France (6.8 % in 2020 and 7.0 % in 2021).
When looking at the shares of the Member States in the total EU international road freight transport in 2021 (see Figure 3), Poland continued to have the highest share in tonne-kilometres with 33.0 %. International transport made up 65.1 % of total road freight transport in tonne-kilometres in Poland in 2020, decreasing to 64.5 % in 2021 (see Figure 2). After Poland, Spain followed as the second largest operator of international transport in the EU, with a share of 11.8 % in 2021. The share of international transport in total road freight transport in Spain was up from 32.4 % in 2020 to 32.5 % in 2021.
Figure 4 shows the shares of cross-trade and cabotage in international road freight transport in tonne-kilometres for 2021. The share of cross-trade transport for the EU was 27.5 % in 2021, while cabotage transport represented 7.4 %.
In five EU Member States (Bulgaria, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania and Slovenia), cross-trade transport represented more than 40 % of international transport in tonne-kilometres. For cabotage, Luxembourg stood out with a share in international transport of 22.1 %, which may be explained by the small size and the central geographical location of the country. The next highest shares of cabotage were recorded by Ireland (15.3 %) and Finland (13.2 %).
When looking at the distribution of total EU cross-trade in tonne-kilometres between the different EU Member States, the five countries with the highest shares in 2021 were Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia (see Table 4). Poland continued to be the main cross-trade transporter by far, alone accounting for 36.3 % of total EU cross-trade transport. It was followed by Lithuania (17.7 %), Romania (8.3 %), Bulgaria (6.5 %) and Slovenia (5.1 %). All the other EU Member States registered shares below 5 %.
On average, over the period 2017-2021, the highest shares of total EU cross-trade transport in tonne-kilometres were registered in Poland (35.1 %), Lithuania (15.4 %), Romania (9.9 %), Bulgaria (6.2 %), Slovakia (5.6 %) and Slovenia (5.0 %). For the same period, all the other EU Member States registered shares of total EU cross-trade transport of less than 5.0 %.
In 2021, only Poland decreased its share of cross-trade transport in the EU total by more than 1.0 percentage points (pp) compared with 2020 (-1.1 pp), while Slovakia (-0.9 pp) and Bulgaria (-0.8 pp) were not far behind. In contrast, the shares in the EU total rose by more than 1.0 pp only for Portugal (+1.3 pp), while Lithuania and Slovenia saw increases of 0.5 pp and 0.4 pp, respectively.
Road freight transport in tonnage and average loads
EU road freight transport in tonnes registered an average annual growth rate of 0.8 % over the period 2017-2021 (see Table 5). The highest positive average annual growth rates were observed in Lithuania (+10.1 %), followed by Romania (+7.9 %) and Latvia (+4.7 %). Significant negative average annual growth rates over the same period were noticed in Greece (-8.6 %), Slovakia (-3.3 %) and Finland (-2.0 %).
Between 2020 and 2021, total EU road freight transport rose by 5.0 % in the tonnes carried. The transported tonnage rose in 21 EU Member States, falling in only five (Malta is exempt from reporting data). The strongest rises were registered in Estonia (+24.0 %), Hungary (+16.9 %) and Bulgaria (+15.6 %). Among the EU Member States with falling tonnages, the largest decreases were observed in Slovakia (-8.2 %), Greece (-6.3 %) and Denmark (-3.6 %).
The 'average load' (tonnes) in this article was calculated by dividing annual freight transport performance (tonne-kilometres) by the corresponding laden distance travelled (vehicle-kilometres, equivalent to kilometres). At Member State and EU level, this indicator provides information on the average weight in tonnes carried per kilometre of the entire laden distance travelled. The indicator is calculated separately for national, international and total transport. For total transport, national and international tonne-kilometres are added and then divided by the total laden distance travelled.
The EU average load for total transport was 14.5 tonnes in 2021, with national average load of 13.6 tonnes and international load of 16.0 tonnes (see Figure 5). In 2021, Cyprus had the highest international average load at 28.0 tonnes, followed by Finland (21.8 tonnes) and Greece (18.9 tonnes). Finland had the highest national average load at 19.9 tonnes, ahead of Sweden (16.9 tonnes) and Italy (16.6 tonnes). The average load in national transport in Slovakia was 59.6 % below the EU average, with only 5.5 tonnes.
Average distance travelled per tonne of load
The average distance over which goods are carried has been calculated by dividing tonne-kilometres by tonnes for laden journeys only. This indicator provides information on the average distance travelled per tonne in each Member State and at EU level. The indicator is calculated separately for national, international and total transport. For total transport, national and international tonne-kilometres for laden journeys are added and then divided by the total tonnes transported.
In 2021, the average distance travelled per tonne in total road freight transport in the EU was 140.7 kilometres, whereas in national road freight transport it was 95.1 kilometres, 606 kilometres in international transport, 746.5 kilometres in cross-trade transport and 285.7 kilometres in cabotage transport (see Figure 6).
The average distance travelled per tonne for different types of transport in each EU Member State is generally affected by the size of the country and its involvement in international transport where longer distances are travelled. Among the EU Member States, the average distance travelled for total transport by Lithuanian hauliers were substantially higher than in most other countries, reaching 511 km in 2021. This is a reflection of the importance of international transport for the Lithuanian road transport sector. The average distance travelled for Lithuanian national transport was 84 kilometres in 2021, whereas the average distance was 1 044 kilometres for international transport, 858 kilometres for cross-trade transport and 445 kilometres for cabotage transport. At the other end of the scale, the average distances travelled by hauliers registered in Cyprus were much lower, with only 26 km for total transport in 2021.
Transport performance by distance class
At EU level, in 2021, most of the goods were carried over distances between 300 and 999 km (40.8 %). This was also the case for most of the countries (see Table 6). However, a few countries showed a different pattern in their transport performance by distance class. For some islands and countries with an important domestic market, the share of road freight transport over short distances (less than 150 km) was higher: Ireland, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Austria. For Cyprus, more than 90 % of transport is carried over distances of less than 150 kilometres. On the other hand, countries where international road transport plays a key role had a higher share of transport over long distances (over 1 000 km); transport over 1 000 kilometres accounts for 40 % or more of total tonne-kilometres in Lithuania, Portugal, Bulgaria and Latvia (50.8 %, 48.8 %, 46.2 % and 40.0 %, respectively).
The overall trend in an EU Member State's road freight transport can be assessed based on its figures for the different distance classes. Regarding the distance class of less than 150 km, notable increases between 2020 and 2021 were recorded in Estonia (+32.4 %) and Bulgaria (+23.6 %). At the other end of the scale, we find Sweden (-4.2 %) and Slovakia (-2.7 %). For the distance class 150 to 299 km, Estonia (+42.7 %) and Cyprus (+41.2 %) recorded the highest increases, while Finland was at the other end with a decrease of 2.2 %, followed by France (-0.9 %). The distance class 300 to 999 km showed important increases in Cyprus (+200 %) and Portugal (+29.3 %). Slovakia and Finland were the only ones recording decreases for this distance class (-7.8 % and -7.3 %, respectively). Lastly, for the distance class of 1 000 km or more, Portugal and Luxembourg registered the highest increases, with 54.8 % and 36.5 %, respectively. In contrast, Cyprus and Greece recorded the highest decreases, with 65.4 % and 32.4 %, respectively.
Empty runnings of road freight vehicles
Figure 7 shows the percentage of vehicle-kilometres recorded for empty runnings in 2021. At EU level, one fifth of total road freight vehicle-kilometres were carried by empty vehicles (20.2 %). The share of vehicle-kilometres by empty vehicles is somewhat higher for national transport than for the total, at almost one quarter (23.7 %). In international road transport, the share of empty vehicle-kilometres was only 12.5 %.
For total road freight transport, in 2021 a total of 17 EU Member States recorded a share of vehicle-kilometres by empty vehicles between 15 % and 30 %. The share for Cyprus stood much higher, at 39.5 %, which likely indicates that a big share of the road freight performance is linked either to goods imported through ports or construction traffic, both of which are linked to empty journeys in one of the two directions. Road freight performance by empty vehicles for Greece (35.0 %), Ireland (34.7 %) and Austria (34.3 %) was also well above the EU average. At the other extreme were Belgium, with only 6.7 % vehicle-kilometres by empty vehicles, and Denmark with 8.1 %.
Empty vehicles had a large share of vehicle-kilometres in national transport for almost all countries. In contrast, for international transport, all EU Member States reported lower levels of empty runnings compared with national transport, except from Belgium and France. Only a few countries recorded shares of vehicle-kilometres by empty vehicles over 20 % in 2021: Luxembourg (24.2 %), Austria (23.2 %), the Netherlands (21.8 %), Ireland (21.7 %) and France (20.6 %). This shows the economic importance of being able to acquire loads for return journeys in international transport.
Source data for tables and graphs
Data presented in this publication were collected in the framework of Regulation (EU) No 70/2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road (recast). These data are based on sample surveys carried out in the reporting countries, i.e., the EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and Montenegro, and record the road goods transport undertaken by vehicles registered in these countries.
Reporting countries use their own national surveys for the collection of data based on returns from road hauliers. The results are microdata referring to vehicles and their linked journeys providing detailed information on goods transported. At European level, common aggregation procedures have been used that might diverge from national practices. Therefore, differences might occur between the figures in this publication and national values.
Country specific notes
Bulgaria and Romania: While Bulgaria and Romania had no obligation prior to accession in 2007, they started reporting data for the reference year 2006.
Croatia: While Croatia had no obligation prior to accession in 2013, it started reporting data from reference year 2008.
Malta: Regulation (EU) No 70/2012 does not apply to Malta, so long as the number of Maltese-registered goods road transport vehicles licensed to engage in international transport does not exceed 400 vehicles.
Finland: National and international surveys have been harmonised and follow a common methodology from Q1 2011 onwards, leading to a break in series in 2011.
Sweden: A break in series occurred in 2014 following a change in methodology. On the basis of a specific survey, Sweden corrected the European road freight survey results for trucks participating in the sample which were not in use over the surveyed period.
EU totals calculated in this publication refer to road freight transport reported by the 27 Member States excluding Malta which does not report road freight transport statistics.
International transport loaded and unloaded: International transport as presented in this publication is based on goods loaded and unloaded in the reporting EU Member States. Double counting is avoided since reporting relates only to resident carriers of the reporting countries: the figures sum up the goods transported by resident carriers to all other countries of the world and the goods brought into the reporting country by resident carriers from all other countries of the world.
Road freight transport performance in tonne-kilometres derives only from loaded journeys. Distances travelled by empty vehicles are not considered.
Data availability: The figures presented in this publication have been extracted from Eurostat’s free dissemination database and reflect the state of data availability in October 2022.
In this article:
- 1 billion = 1 000 000 000
- "- "not applicable
- ": "not available
Direct access to
- Transport, see:
- Road transport (t_road)
- Transport, see:
- Road transport (road)
- Road freight transport measurement (road_go)
- Energy, transport and environment statistics — 2020 edition —Statistical book
- Road freight transport measurement (ESMS metadata file)
- Glossary for transport statistics — 5th edition — 2019 — Manuals and guidelines
- Methodologies used in road freight transport surveys in Member States, EFTA and candidate countries — 2021 edition — Manuals and guidelines
- Road freight transport methodology — Revised edition, August 2017 — Manuals and guidelines
- Regulation (EC) No 70/2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road (recast)
- Regulation (EU) No 1304/2007 of 7 November 2007 amending Directive 95/64, Regulation (EC) No 1172/98, Regulations (EC) No 91/2003 and (EC) No 1365/2006 with respect to the establishment of NST 2007 as the unique classification for transported goods in certain transport modes
- Commission Regulation (EC) No 202/2010 amending Regulation (EC) No 6/2003 concerning the dissemination of statistics on the carriage of goods by road