Minimum levels of safety in European road tunnels

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Minimum levels of safety in European road tunnels

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Minimum levels of safety in European road tunnels


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Transport > Road transport

Minimum levels of safety in European road tunnels

Document or Iniciative

Directive 2004/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on minimum safety requirements for tunnels in the trans-European road network [See amending act].



Tunnels are important infrastructures which facilitate communication between extensive areas of the European Union (EU) and are therefore essential for long-distance transport and the development of regional economies.

However, accidents in tunnels, and particularly fires, can have dramatic consequences and can prove extremely costly in terms of human life, increased congestion, pollution and repair costs.

The fires in the Mont Blanc (France/Italy) and Tauern (Austria) tunnels in 1999 and in the Gotthard (Switzerland) tunnel in 2001 have highlighted the potential consequences, in human and economic terms, of such accidents in tunnels: dozens of dead and injured, and major European trunk roads blocked for months, if not years.

The Commission’s concern at this increase in the accident rate led to its White Paper entitled “European transport policy for 2010: time to decide” announcing minimum safety requirements for road tunnels in the trans-European road network.

This directive lays down a set of harmonised minimum safety standards dealing with the various organisational, structural, technical and operational aspects.

The aim of this directive is to ensure that all tunnels longer than 500 metres, whether in operation, under construction or at the design stage, and forming part of the trans-European road network, comply with the new harmonised safety requirements. Tunnels shorter than 500 metres do not generally need to be equipped with mechanical ventilation systems, as the hot smoke emitted by the fire is naturally stratified.

Administrative authority

Each EU country must designate one or more administrative authorities, responsible for all aspects of safety, which take the necessary measures to ensure that the directive is complied with.

The administrative authority may be set up at national, regional or local level. In the case of transfrontier tunnels, either each EU country appoints an administrative authority or the two EU countries appoint a joint administrative authority.

The prior authorisation of the administrative authority is required in the event of the commissioning of a new tunnel or rebuilding of an existing one. The administrative authority has power to suspend or restrict the operation of a tunnel if the safety conditions are not met.

The administrative authority ensures that the following tasks are performed:

  • testing and inspecting tunnels on a regular basis and drawing up the related safety requirements;
  • putting in place organisational and operational schemes (including emergency response plans) for the training and equipping of emergency services;
  • establishing the procedure for immediate closure of a tunnel in case of an emergency;
  • implementing the necessary risk reduction measures.

Tunnel manager

For each tunnel located on the territory of an EU country, whether it is in the design, construction or operating stage, the administrative authority identifies as Tunnel Manager the public or private body responsible for the management of the tunnel at the stage in question. Any significant incident or accident occurring in a tunnel must be the subject of an incident report prepared by the Tunnel Manager.

Safety officer

For each tunnel, the Tunnel Manager, with the prior approval of the administrative authority, nominates a Safety Officer who coordinates all preventive and safeguarding measures to ensure the safety of users and operations staff. The Safety Officer performs the following tasks:

  • ensures coordination with the emergency services and takes part in the preparation of operational schemes;
  • takes part in the planning, implementation and evaluation of emergency operations;
  • takes part in the definition of safety plans and the specification of infrastructure installations;
  • verifies that operational staff and emergency services are trained, and takes part in the organisation of exercises held at regular intervals;
  • gives advice on the commissioning of the structure, equipment and operation of tunnels;
  • verifies that the tunnel structure and equipment are maintained and repaired;
  • takes part in the evaluation of any significant incident or accident.

In the case of tunnels that have been approved at the design stage but which have not been opened to the public by 30 April 2005, the administrative authority assesses their compliance with this directive.

With regard to tunnels that have been opened to the public by that date, the administrative authority has until 30 October 2005 to assess their compliance with this directive.

By 30 April 2005, EU countries must submit a report to the Commission on how they intend to meet the requirements of the directive, on planned measures, and, where appropriate, on the consequences of opening or closing the main access roads to the tunnels.

Periodic inspections

EU countries ensure that inspections, evaluations and tests are carried out by inspection entities.

The administrative authority verifies that regular inspections are carried out by the inspection entity to ensure that all tunnels falling within the scope of this directive comply with its provisions. The period between two consecutive inspections of any given tunnel should not exceed six years.

Risk analysis

A risk analysis, based on a single methodology defined at national level, is, at the request of the administrative authority, carried out by an independent body for a given tunnel, taking into account all design factors and traffic conditions that affect safety, notably traffic characteristics and type, length and geometry of the tunnel, as well as the projected number of heavy goods vehicles per day.


By 30 April 2009 the Commission must publish a report on the practice followed in EU countries.

Every two years, EU countries compile reports on fires in tunnels and on accidents which clearly affect the safety of road users in tunnels, and on the frequency and causes of such incidents, and evaluate them and provide information on the actual role and effectiveness of safety facilities and measures.

The Commission shall adapt the annexes to this directive according to technical progress.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2004/54/EC



OJ L 167, 30.04.2004

Amending act(s) Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Regulation (EC) No 596/2009


OJ L 188, 18.7.2009

Successive amendments and corrections to Directive 2004/54/EC have been incorporated in the basic text. This consolidated versionis for reference purposes only.

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