In order to cope with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and maintain essential transport, a number of relaxations have been made by the Government. The Senior Traffic Commissioner has also published a set of temporary updates to certain of the existing Statutory Documents that provide guidance to Traffic Commissioners when dealing with regulatory issues. These relaxations apply to England, Scotland and Wales only, as the arrangements for Northern Ireland are devolved.
HM Treasury has suspended collection of the HGV Road User Levy for one year with effect from 1 August 2020, ie until 31 July 2021. This will reduce financial liabilities for keepers of goods vehicles of 12 tonnes or more registered in the UK and for operators of such vehicles from outside the UK using the UK roads.
Operators do not need to take any action as a zero rate of levy will automatically be applied at the vehicle’s next VED/Levy renewal after 1 August.
Department for Transport Relaxations
The DfT relaxations concern areas of transport law where an order from the Secretary of State is necessary to introduce the relaxation which may already be provided for by existing legislation.
Drivers’ Hours for Goods Vehicle Drivers
The Government allowed a number of relaxations from both EU and GB Domestic drivers’ hours rules to support the transport of vital goods from 23 March. Those relaxations no longer apply and drivers had to return to the standard hours from 00:01 on 1 June for EU hours and 00:01 on 15 June for domestic hours.
In accordance with usual practice, drivers must have noted on tachograph printouts or record books the reason for exceeding the normal limits.
Drivers whose Driver Qualification Card (DQC) with an expiry date between 1 February 2020 and 31 August 2020 had the qualification extended by seven months in order for them to be able to complete the necessary 35 hours periodic training (eg a DQC with an expiry date of 1 Feb 2020 was valid until 1 September 2020 and one that expired on 31 August 2020 is valid until 1 March 2021).
Drivers with a DQC that expired after 1 September must not drive until it is renewed.
Non-vocational photocard licences due for renewal between 1 February 2020 and 31 December 2020 have been automatically extended for 11 months from the date of expiry. A new licence will not be issued and an application for renewal can be made at any time before the extension ends.
Vocational licences must still be renewed as usual but drivers over the age of 45 may find it impossible to get the necessary D4 medical form completed. In this case, drivers can make a licence renewal application without one and a temporary licence valid for 12 months only will be issued. Drivers must declare they are fit to drive and must continue to declare certain medical conditions to DVLA in the normal way. Penalties for driving when knowingly unfit will continue to be enforced.
For details of notifiable conditions, see Medical Standards in the topic Vocational Driving Licences.
Annual Roadworthiness Tests
All annual (MoT) testing was suspended on 21 March.
Lorries, buses and trailers
All lorries, buses and trailers that were issued with a temporary exemption between 21 March and 31 July must have been tested by 31 October. Vehicles and trailers due for test before 21 March 2021 will continue to receive one automatic three-month exemption, eg examinations due in November will be moved to February.
Some vehicles and trailers are being given a 12-month exemption. These will be those that are:
used by an Earned Recognition operator
used by an operator in the green OCRS roadworthiness band with 50 or more roadworthiness events and a calculated roadworthiness base score of 1.3 or lower on 27 July 2020
less than two years old.
Operators should make an appointment for a test well in advance of the expiry of the exemption in order to avoid a rush when the exemption expires. It may be expected that some special arrangements regarding submission of the vehicle for test on the day may be in place.
Issue of the exemption is automatic and there is no need for operators to take any action. No paper certificate will be issued but operators can check that the exemption has been issued at www.gov.uk/check-mot-history, which will also confirm the date the next test is required and if a further period of exemption has been allowed.
If an exemption that should have been issued automatically has not been, then an application must be made by email to email@example.com with the subject “Test exemption error”, providing the following details:
vehicle registration number, vehicle identification number or trailer ID
test expiry date (except first test exemptions).
Light vehicles with MoTs due to expire on or after 30 March and up to and including 31 July were given a single six-month extension.
MoT certificates for vehicles requiring a test on or after 1 August 2020 have not been extended and the vehicle must be tested before the certificate expires. Test centres are open now and vehicles that are tested up to one month minus a day before the certificate runs out will keep the same renewal date.
In all cases, vehicles must remain roadworthy and the normal penalties continue to apply for driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition.
Tachograph calibration certificates expiring between 31 March and 31 August were extended by six months from the date calibration was originally due. Certificates that expire on or after 1 September 2020 must be renewed as usual.
Until 31 August 2020 drivers who had applied to renew their tachograph card at least 15 days before the date of expiry could continue to drive until they received the new card. Drivers must not now drive without a valid tachograph card.
Drivers who apply for a replacement for a damaged card within seven days of the card being damaged can also continue to drive until the new card arrives.
Hours of work must be recorded in the same way as when a card is lost, damaged, stolen or malfunctions under normal circumstances.
The Senior Traffic Commissioner’s guidance relates to issues in connection with maintaining the operator licence and in many cases are re-statements of discretionary powers to make concessions that are already available to Traffic Commissioners.
Standard licence holders who find they cannot continue to meet the financial standing requirements will need to write to the Traffic Commissioner and ask for a “period of grace”. The Senior Traffic Commissioner has directed that providing:
the operator is not insolvent
there are no outstanding maintenance or other issues impacting on road safety
this is not an attempt to avoid responsibility for compliance failures.
Traffic Commissioners can grant a period of grace starting at four months with the possibility of an extension to the maximum allowable period of six months. A satisfactory financial check within the last six months may be relied on as evidence to support the grant of a period of grace.
If the inability to meet the financial standing requirements has been shown on a check made between 1 March and 30 September 2020, the maximum period of grace has been extended to 12 months.
There is no facility to grant a period of grace to restricted licence holders and they should consider offering the Traffic Commissioner an undertaking for a financial check to be carried out at a specified date in the future.
Where a standard licence holder temporarily loses access to an operating centre as a result of restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 outbreak, the Traffic Commissioner can give a period of grace (four months initially, extendible to six months) to allow the vehicles to be parked at a suitable site elsewhere. Restricted licenced holders should apply to the Traffic Commissioner for advice.
Where the circumstances require an operator to exceed the authorised number of vehicles operated from a particular centre, though still within the total number of vehicles authorised, a normal application for a variation should be made through the online service with an interim direction also being sought.
Although vehicles must never be operated in an unsafe condition, Traffic Commissioners allowed a risk-based approach to be used by standard licence holders or restricted licence holders operating essential transport services when the stated maintenance intervals could be maintained. This relaxation ceased on 1 September. Where an extended frequency was already in use at that time it could continue until the first inspection after 1 September but from then onwards all vehicles must then be maintained in accordance with the frequency stated on the operator’s licence.
Consideration should be given for use of mobile inspection services at operating centres. The inspection should be as complete as possible under the circumstances and still include an instrumented brake test.
DVSA will not take enforcement action in the case of vehicles operated with non-safety-critical minor or major defects when parts or workshop facilities are unavailable. This does not apply to serious defects. The defect(s) must have been reported on an in-service inspection, and evidence of such reports and deferrals must be kept in the records. In all cases, a qualified technician should make the judgement of whether the vehicle can be safely kept in service. Guidance in the HGV or PSV Inspection Manuals should be used to determine minor, major or serious defect classification.
Where transport managers are required by government instructions to work from home in the short term, they must consider how they can fulfil the statutory duty by using technology and other means, and may be required to demonstrate this. If the requirement to work from home exceeds four months, the transport manager should notify the Traffic Commissioner of their working arrangements.
Traffic Commissioners do not expect to be notified of short periods of absence such as a 14-day self-isolation period but for a more protracted absence, a period of grace may be required for the operator to continue working. In accordance with the normal practice, in this respect, this will initially be for four months, extendible to a maximum of six months.
Driver attestations relating to the nationality of employed drivers under EC Regulation 1072/2009 that expired between 1 March and 31 August were extended for six months from the original date of expiry. In date attestations are now required.
These relaxations and concessions should enable drivers and operators to continue to provide transport services that are essential at this time. All are time-limited in different ways and it will be important that operators note when each of them is due to end so that the necessary steps can be taken to regularise the situation in good time.