Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness — new law on tyres

Christopher Wagner of Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law looks at the latest update to the DVSA’s Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness, reminds operators of the Guide’s importance and highlights the changes to Section 5.2 on tyre management.

Whether as the backdrop to television interviews or family Zoom catch-ups, “lockdown” in the UK has thrown attention on the video-call background bookshelf, providing insight into what each of us reads and values. Given that unprecedented general scrutiny, there is perhaps greater cause than ever before to consider the contents of our reading collections no matter what our field or industry. For those involved in O-licensed commercial vehicle operation there is an extensive catalogue of “must-reads” — largely material that the Traffic Commissioners expect all operators to have obtained, read, and understood.

The Guide’s Importance

Operators, transport managers and mechanics should all be familiar with the DVSA’s Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness, which although stated to be guidance rather than legal requirement, is certainly expected to form the backbone of a proper maintenance regime. Crucially, the Traffic Commissioners contribute to and endorse the Guide, and refer to it frequently at Public Inquiries, whilst DVSA vehicle examiners often point to it during maintenance assessments.

The nature of the Guide’s updates varies; in some cases, changes reflect the advent of new technology or the introduction of new initiatives (recent updates, for example, have included revised sections on electronic brake performance monitoring and the DVSA’s Earned Recognition scheme). In other cases, changes are informed by particular safety concerns (in recent years guidance on brake testing has changed quite drastically).

What is certain is that whilst some updates are more “game changing” than others, operators are expected to be familiar at all times with the most recent version of the Guide.

The Guide’s primary purpose remains as straightforward as ever: to offer guidance to operators on the steps they should take to make sure their vehicles are safe.

The most recent update was published in December 2020 and is available to access here.

The Major Change — Tyre Management System (section 5.2)

The significant change to the latest version of the Guide was made necessary by new legislation about the use of tyres on large goods and passenger carrying vehicles. With effect from 1 February 2021, subject to one exemption relating to non-commercial vehicles aged 40 years and over, it will no longer be lawful to use tyres over the age of 10 years on the front steered axles of heavy goods vehicles, buses or coaches or on any single wheel fitted to a minibus (ie a passenger carrying vehicle with between 9 and 16 passenger seats).

It will also be a requirement for the age of a tyre — specifically, by reference to the manufacturer’s date code — to be clearly legible on all tyres fitted to HGVs, trailers with a maximum authorised mass of over 3.5 tonnes, buses, coaches and minibuses.

Where a tyre is found by a DVSA enforcement officer to be illegally fitted (eg a 12 year-old tyre fitted to the front steering axle of a heavy goods vehicle), then an S-marked immediate prohibition notice will be issued, no matter what actual condition the tyre is in. Tyres which do not legibly display the manufacturer’s date stamp fitted where the 10 year maximum age applies will be considered automatic annual test failure items and will attract a delayed prohibition at an enforcement check.

The amendments to Section 5.2 of the Guide directly reflect these changes in the law and include guidance on the steps operators and maintenance contractors should now be carrying out, including ensuring that the legibility of date codes should form part of standard tyre checks undertaken at safety inspections. It is also advised that the presence of tyres over 10 years old where they cannot lawfully be used should be reported as defects (both at safety inspections and — although this is not specified in the Guide — one must also assume by drivers carrying out walkaround checks). It is also suggested that when a tyre reaches 9 years of age this should be reported as an advisory item.

Finally, operators are advised that where tyres older than 10 years are legally used (ie on rear or non-steering front axles), they must be very carefully monitored and subject to specific risk assessment.

In the end, and as unchanged elements of this section remind operators, what is most important as an overarching principle is that tyre condition is properly managed.

Advice for operators

First and foremost: read the Guide! Even where a new version of the Guide is relatively unchanged compared to its predecessor, there will always be a rationale for the decision to publish a new version, so operators ought to take notice and, even if the changes are minor, a new publication should serve as a timely reminder for operators to refresh their understanding of the Guide’s content and check whether everything they are doing follows the guidance.

Regarding specific advice arising from the revisions to the Guide, operators should:

  • review their existing tyre management systems and update them as necessary

  • check the ages of the tyres on all vehicles — and replace any which are now illegal

  • ensure that all tyres display a legible manufacturers date code, replace any which do not and ensure that drivers are trained to check for legible date codes as part of a walkaround check

  • ensure that maintenance staff and contractors are trained on the new requirements, in particular identifying tyre-age related problems as defects at regular safety inspections and advising when tyres are approaching 10 years old

  • always ensure that tyre condition is properly assessed and monitored — (no matter what age the tyre is).