Returning trucks trigger gridlock

Hundreds of trucks caused traffic chaos in central Athens and on the national road yesterday as they converged around the industrial district of Votanikos to load up with goods following the end of a 10-day strike by truck owners. Additional traffic police were mobilized to ease congestion but huge gridlocks delayed motorists by at least an hour. A traffic police spokesman said he expected similar, but less acute, problems on the road today as more trucks visit the area to stock up for deliveries. Yesterday’s problems came as transport engineers criticized a decision by the government to lift two bans: one that restricts trucks from circulating on the country’s highways on Fridays and a second that bans fuel trucks from using tunnels for safety reasons. The Transport Ministry’s decision to relax these restrictions was a concession to truck owners whose strike resulted in severe fuel shortages at gas stations across the country. Protesters had demanded the right to increase their charges by more than 5 percent, an appeal that was rejected by the government. But engineers warned yesterday that these decisions might compromise road safety. According to European Union law, fuel trucks should only be allowed to use tunnels if strict safety regulations are observed. There are fears that this will not be the case. «The slightest oversight in observing safety regulations or the traffic code would constitute a road safety risk,» according to Panos Papadakos, a transport specialist. There are also fears about the second decision taken by the Transport Ministry: to allow trucks to circulate on Fridays. It is thought that the presence of more trucks on highways, particularly older vehicles, could result in more traffic accidents. Already «heavy vehicles» are involved in 40 percent of accidents on Greek roads, according to the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE).