Now that many drivers are well into their second five-year periodic training cycle, proposals have been published by Brussels looking to change the driver CPC qualification. Just what effect these will have in the UK is something many drivers and operators have been asking. Andrew Woolfall of Backhouse Jones Solicitors explains more.

Background

When the European directive introducing the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) was passed in 2003, many within the transport industry were sceptical as to the effect this additional requirement, placed upon drivers, would have. Some saw it as an additional, unnecessary, burden while others applauded the intention to improve road safety and in particular the safety of the driver. After the qualification was introduced, many came to value the DCPC in terms of demonstrating professionalism, as a tool for regular periodic training and as something to encourage young people’s interest in the profession. While there are still many critics and perceived flaws, on the whole the DCPC has been accepted as a positive step forwards.

In 2013 the European Commission began consulting on ways to improve the DCPC qualification including the types of vehicle and operation which should be exempt as well as the content of training itself. The consultation process included opinion gathering and data collection. Meetings were held with various “stakeholders” and a formal consultation took place wherein Member States, trade bodies, operators and drivers were invited to respond. This then led to a detailed review by the European Commission and then the publication, on 1 February 2017, of its proposals on how the DCPC scheme should be changed in the future. See www.ec.europa.eu.

The new proposals

The new proposals cover a number of areas including the core subjects to be studied by newly qualified drivers who acquire the DCPC by exam. These include introducing training on new technologies and the developing technical characteristics of vehicles such as Advanced Emergency Braking Systems (AEBS) and automatic transmissions. The initial DCPC training should, if these proposals come to fruition, be better focused on safe and fuel efficient driving behaviour, which should include, for example, the importance of anticipating traffic flow, identifying hazardous situations and what to do when these occur.

The proposals also look to harmonise the exemptions to both DCPC and tachograph and driver’s hours rules, harmonising the rules on DCPC with those contained in other driving licence directives and, most controversially, dealing with the content of courses. This latter point includes:

  • preventing a repeat of training courses during a periodic training cycle

  • including road safety as a topic in at least one training session per five year period

  • allowing other elements of training to be included such as disability awareness, dangerous goods transportation and animal transportation.

At the present time it must be stressed that these changes are simply proposals — in effect they are drafting legislation that still has to be passed by the official EU bodies. There is still a long way to go before the existing legislation is amended. There will now be further lobbying by interested parties. The DVSA has already run its own brief consultation on some of these proposals and will no doubt be having its say with Brussels. So too will all the main European trade bodies.

The Brexit effect on these proposals

Matters will also invariably be complicated by the UK withdrawing from the EU under Brexit. As long as the UK remains in the EU, the current rules will apply. However, while it is highly probable that the final form of any changes will be confirmed before Brexit takes effect, it is likely that the implementation date for the changes will fall after the UK has left the EU. It therefore remains to be seen whether any of these proposed changes will actually come into effect in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Given that the Government has indicated that it will keep all existing EU regulations and directives in place initially, there is a high likelihood that the DCPC itself will remain post-Brexit in one form or another but whether these new proposed changes will be incorporated is another matter. It may well be that all of the proposals come into effect or only certain ones and then it may well be only ones relating to vehicles involved in international transport. Only time will tell.

Goods vehicle owners and drivers are encouraged to closely monitor the discussion with regards to the proposed changes. It may well be that there is a substantial impact on their businesses or livelihoods.

Exemptions

For example, when one looks at the changes to vehicle exemptions, some of the changes may mean that drivers of currently exempt vehicles will subsequently require the DCPC while conversely others, who currently need the qualification, may find themselves exempt. For example, the proposed amendments make it clear that the vehicles used by, or under the control of the armed forces, civil defence organisations, the fire services and forces responsible for maintaining public order will continue to be exempt from the need for the driver to hold the DCPC qualification but, as soon as those vehicles are used for other purposes then the exemption will disappear. If, say, an armed forces vehicle is used as an attraction at a fun fair, the driver will not be exempt. However, vehicles used for the non-commercial transport of humanitarian aid will now be included in the exemption if they are used in states of emergency or assigned to rescue missions.

The proposals are also looking to clarify the position with regards to vehicles used for the non-commercial carriage of goods. There will no longer be a requirement for the carriage of goods to be for the personal use of the driver. This means that people driving non-commercially, for example, on behalf of charities, will not require a driver CPC.

Training content

As is stated above, the proposals relating to the content of periodic training are, perhaps, the most controversial. These include the fact that training must be relevant to the work carried out by the specific driver. Courses cannot be repeated and must cover different subjects and at least one road safety related subject must be included within the programme. This means that for the first time the EU is looking to actually make certain subjects mandatory while banning the repetition of others. How this will work in practice is still open to a lot of debate — what will happen where a driver needs to repeat courses simply because he or she fails to understand the content the first time round?

The classic example here is the driver who continually fails to grasp drivers’ hours rules and needs refresher training each year. Will there be no reward as far as the DCPC is concerned for the repeat courses? If this is the case it may well hinder compliance, especially where drivers are required to pay for their own training — in such circumstances they may be very reluctant to do it if there is no DCPC reward.

Alternatively, another potential problem could be when a driver receives DCPC training in-house from one employer which is very specific to that company’s requirements, for example, if that business never does European work, or even requires drivers to have nights out, and therefore does not train on those aspects of the rules. What happens when the driver moves to another company and then needs to learn these new aspects of the rules as the new business is very different from his former employer? Will he or she be allowed to repeat the driver’s hours module or must the training still be done but not benefit from DCPC status?

What next?

Many questions have come from the new proposals and we are still waiting for answers to many issues. These include the points raised above but also questions as to whether the seven-hour training requirement will still be capable of being split into two consecutive 3.5-hour sessions. We will have to see how the current proposals transform into actual legislation. Some of the more controversial proposals may get dropped. Additional items might appear. All this is to be looked at in the context of Brexit and whether the changes will come into effect in the UK. In all likelihood the final changes will, at least for the vehicles travelling into and out of Europe, have effect. Whether the same changes are introduced for drivers engaged on purely domestic operations is another matter. If Brexit takes place before the date of implementation of these changes, the UK would not be under any legal obligation to bring the new provisions into force. Whether the UK has to as part of any trade agreement will be another matter.

Concluding points

As with all transport legislation, there is a great deal of uncertainty at the present time going forward and operators, owners and drivers are encouraged to keep abreast of all developments and regularly review their businesses, the risks surrounding them and changes these DCPC amendments may pose.

Last reviewed 28 March 2017