Road freight transport by journey characteristics
Data extracted in August 2023.
Planned article update: 7 September 2024.
Total road freight transport performance in the EU registered an average annual growth rate of 2.1 % over the period 2018-2022.
In 2022, Poland continued to be the country with the biggest share of total EU international transport performance (63.6 %).
At EU level, one fifth (20.2 %) of the total distances travelled was performed by empty vehicles in 2022.
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 2022, total European road freight transport performance remained at the same level as in 2021 (1 920 billion tonne-kilometres (tkm)). The average annual growth rate from 2018 to 2022 was 2.1 % (see Table 1). The total transport decreased in 2020 compared with the previous year by 0.9 %. In 2019 and 2021 it increased by 3.2 % and 6.5 %, respectively, compared each time with the previous year.
Over the period 2018-2022, slightly more than two-thirds of the EU Member States (18 out of 26) reported a positive average annual growth rate in their road freight transport performance in terms of tonne-kilometres (see Table 1). The largest positive average annual growth rates in road freight transport were observed in, Czechia (+12.5 %), Bulgaria (+6.9 %) and Lithuania (+5.4 %), while the highest negative average annual growth rates over this period were reported by Greece (-7.8 %), Estonia (-5.8 %) and Slovenia (-3.0 %).
When looking at the evolution of EU road freight transport from 2018 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 (see Figure 1). Despite the comparable trend, international transport showed higher growth than national transport over the whole period.
Table 2 shows that the total national road freight transport in the EU accounted for around 1 178 billion tkm in 2022, 0.1 % less than in 2021. The average annual growth rate from 2018 to 2022 was 2.0 %. Most EU Member States recorded positive average annual growth rates over the period 2018-2022. The highest positive rates were recorded in Romania (+11.3 %), followed by Czechia (+6.9 %) and Poland (+5.1 %). In contrast, the largest negative average annual growth rates were reported by Portugal (-3.7 %), Lithuania (-3.3 %), and Luxembourg (-2.4 %).
At EU level and in terms of tkm, international road freight transport in 2022 was at the same level as in 2021 (743 billion tkm). The average annual growth rate was 2.4 % between 2018 and 2022 (see Table 3). Twelve EU Member States recorded increases over this period, some of them considerable: Czechia recorded an average annual growth rate of 18.9 %, Italy 9.3 %, Bulgaria 8.2 % followed at some distance by Lithuania with 6.1 %. At the other end of the scale, among the 13 EU Member States for which international transport fell, Greece had the highest negative average annual growth rate (-22.5 %), followed by Finland (-9.6 %), Estonia (-9.5 %) and Sweden (-7.0 %), which also stood out. There was no change between 2018 and 2022 for Cyprus, the international road freight transport being negligible.
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 2021 and 2022 (93.3 % and 94.1 %, respectively), followed by Luxembourg (91.0 % in 2021 and 92.0 % in 2022) and Slovenia (90.1 % in 2021 and 89.4 % in 2022). In contrast, the lowest shares were registered in Cyprus (3.8 % in 2021 and 2.7 % in 2022), Sweden (5.7 % in 2021 and 4.4 % in 2022) and Finland (6.6 % in 2021 and 5.1 % in 2022).
When looking at the shares of the Member States in the total EU international road freight transport in 2022 (see Figure 3), Poland continued to have the highest share in tonne-kilometres with 33.0 %. International transport made up 64.5 % of total road freight transport in tonne-kilometres in Poland in 2021, decreasing to 63.6 % in 2022 (see Figure 2). After Poland, Spain followed as the second largest operator of international transport in the EU, with a share of 11.9 % in 2022. The share of international transport in total road freight transport in Spain was up from 32.5 % in 2021 to 33.3 % in 2022.
Figure 4 shows the shares of cross-trade and cabotage in international road freight transport in tkm for 2022. The share of cross-trade transport for the EU was 27.5 % in 2022, while cabotage transport represented 6.7 %.
In four EU Member States (Bulgaria, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia), cross-trade transport represented more than 40 % of international transport in tkm. For cabotage, Luxembourg stood out with a share in international transport of 23.6 %, 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 (15.4 %) and Lithuania (11.2 %).
When looking at the distribution of the total EU cross-trade transport performance (in tkm) between the different EU Member States in 2022, the six countries with the highest shares were Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia (see Table 4). Poland continued to be the main cross-trade transporter by far, alone accounting for 38.0 % of total EU cross-trade transport. It was followed by Lithuania (17.0 %), Romania (8.2 %), Bulgaria (5.7 %), Slovenia and Slovakia (4.7 % each). All the other EU Member States registered shares below 3.4 %.
In terms of the average share of total EU cross-trade transport performance, in the period 2018-2022, the highest shares were registered in Poland (36.1 %), Lithuania (16.5 %), Romania (9.4 %), Bulgaria (5.7 %), Slovakia (5.2 %) and Slovenia (5.1 %). For the same period, all the other EU Member States registered average shares of total EU cross-trade transport of less than 3.6 %.
In 2022, only Poland increased its share of cross-trade transport performance in the EU total by more than 1.0 percentage points (pp) compared with 2021 (+1.7 pp), followed at some distance by Slovakia (+0.5 pp), Luxembourg and Hungary (+0.2 pp each). In contrast, the share of the EU total fell by 0.8 pp for Bulgaria and 0.7 pp for Lithuania, while Slovenia saw a decrease of 0.4 pp.
Road freight transport in tonnage and average loads
EU road freight transport in tonnes registered an average annual growth rate of 0.7 % over the period 2018-2022 (see Table 5). The highest positive average annual growth rates were observed in Romania (+8.2 %), followed by Cyprus (+7.1 %) and Slovenia (+5.0 %). Significant negative average annual growth rates over the same period were noticed in Greece (-5.4 %), Finland (-2.9 %) and Slovakia (-2.4 %).
Between 2021 and 2022, total EU road freight transport decreased by 0.5 % in the tonnes carried. The transported tonnage increased in 12 EU Member States. The largest increases were observed in Cyprus (+39.3 %), Greece (+7.0 %), Italy and Ireland (+6.1 % each). In 14 EU Member States, the transported tonnage decreased. The strongest falls were registered in Lithuania (-10.9 %), Hungary (-6.9 %) and Estonia (-6.0 %).
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 14.4 tonnes in 2022, with national average load of 13.6 tonnes and international load of 15.9 tonnes (see Figure 5). In 2022, Cyprus had the highest international average load at 26.0 tonnes, followed by Finland (21.4 tonnes) and Greece (20.2 tonnes). Finland had the highest national average load at 20.0 tonnes, ahead of Sweden and Italy (16.3 tonnes each) and Bulgaria (16.0 tonnes). The average load in national transport in Slovakia was 63.0 % below the EU average, with only 5.0 tonnes.
Average distance travelled per tonne of load
The average distance over which 1 tonne of goods is 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 2022, the average distance travelled per tonne in total road freight transport in the EU was 141.3 km, whereas in national road freight transport it was 95.4 km; 611.6 km in international transport; 746.4 km in cross-trade transport and 283.7 km 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 per tonne for total transport by Lithuanian hauliers were substantially higher than in most other countries, reaching 533.7 km in 2022. This reflects the importance of international transport for the Lithuanian road transport sector. The average distance travelled per tonne for Lithuanian national transport was 86.4 km in 2022, whereas this distance was 991.7 km for international transport; 853.5 km for cross-trade transport; and 437.4 km for cabotage transport. At the other end of the scale, the average distance travelled per tonne by hauliers registered in Cyprus were much lower, with only 24.6 km for total transport in 2022.
Transport performance by distance class
At EU level, in 2022, most of the goods were carried over distances between 300 and 999 km (41.2 %). 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: Cyprus, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark. For Cyprus, almost 94 % 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 accounted for 40 % or more of total tkm in Lithuania, Portugal, Bulgaria, Latvia and Romania (50.9 %, 49.8 %, 45.9 %, 40.1 % and 40.0 %, respectively).
The overall trend of a Member State regarding distances travelled for 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 increase between 2021 and 2022 was recorded in Cyprus (+30.7 %). At the other end of the scale, we find Finland (-15.4 %) and Lithuania (-12.6 %). For the distance class 150-299 km, Cyprus (+50.0 %) and Romania (+9.8 %) recorded the highest increases, while Belgium was at the other end with a decrease of 15.6 %, followed by Lithuania (-14.1 %). The distance class 300-999 km showed notable increases in Cyprus (+33.3 %) and Finland (+12.7 %). Estonia and Belgium were the countries recording decreases over 10 % for this distance class (-16.8 % and -14.8 %, respectively). Lastly, for the distance class of 1 000 km or more, Luxembourg, Italy and Greece registered the highest increases, with 17.4 %, 16.4 % and 12.9 %, respectively. In contrast, Sweden, Estonia and the Netherlands recorded the highest decreases, with 35.4 %, 22.1 % and 15.9 %, respectively.
Empty runnings of road freight vehicles
Figure 7 shows the percentage of vehicle-kilometres recorded for empty runnings in 2022. 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 (23.8 %). In international road transport, the share of empty vehicle-kilometres was only 12.4 %.
For total road freight transport, in 2022 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 40.4 %, 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 (35.8 %), Ireland (35.6 %) and Austria (34.2 %) was also well above the EU average. At the other extreme were Denmark, with only 8.7 % vehicle-kilometres by empty vehicles, and Belgium with 10.9 %.
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 running compared with national transport, except from Belgium and France. Only a few countries recorded shares of vehicle-kilometres by empty vehicles over 20 % in 2022: Austria (23.5 %), Luxembourg (22.7 %), the Netherlands (22.4 %), France (21.5 %) and Ireland (20.5 %). There is certainly an 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 and Switzerland, 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, as 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 July 2023.
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)
- Key figures on European transport — 2022 edition - Statistical book
- Eurostat regional yearbook — 2022 edition - Statistical book
- 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