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 Department for Transport (DfT). 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.

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

Since 23 March, the Government has allowed a number of relaxations from both EU and GB Domestic drivers’ hours rules to support the transport of vital goods. These relaxations are applicable until 23:59 on 31 May 2020. It is not currently known whether they will be continued after that.

The EU rules are temporarily modified as follows.

  1. Daily driving limit is increased from 9 to 11 hours.

  2. Daily rest requirement is reduced from 11 to 9 hours.

  3. Weekly driving time is increased from 56 to 60 hours.

  4. Fortnightly driving time is increased from 90 to 96 hours.

  5. Maximum number of 24-periods before a weekly rest period must be started is increased from 6 to 7. However, drivers must still take either two regular, or one regular and one reduced weekly rest period in each fortnight.

In order that drivers can get adequate rest, the relaxations at (a) and (d) may not be combined at the same time.

The derogation that allows daily rest to be split by up to one hour to embark or disembark from a train or ferry may still be used even though advantage is taken of the concession to reduce daily rest to 9 hours.

The GB drivers’ hours rules may be relaxed as follows.

  1. The daily duty time is increased from 11 to 12 hours.

  2. The daily driving limit is increased from 10 to 11 hours.

However, these concessions can only be used on five days in any seven-day period and a rest period of 24 hours must be taken within the same seven-day period.

The previous relaxation increasing the maximum driving period before a break to 5½ hours was withdrawn on 21 April and no longer applies.

These relaxations must only be used when absolutely necessary and under no circumstances must safety be compromised. Employers remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees and other road users, and drivers must not be expected to drive when tired.

In accordance with usual practice, drivers must note on tachograph printouts or record books the reason for exceeding the normal limits.

Driver CPC

Drivers whose Driver Qualification Card (DQC) is due to expire shortly may not be able to complete the necessary 35 hours periodic training in time so the DfT will allow any driver whose DQC expires between 1 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 to continue to drive. Enforcement action will not be taken by either the police or DVSA, though drivers should continue to carry their expired DQC as proof that they previously held one.

Driving Licences

Vocational drivers over the age of 45 whose licence is due to expire shortly 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 has been suspended since 21 March.

Lorries, buses and trailers

Lorries, buses and trailers have been issued with a 3-month temporary exemption under the terms of the Goods Vehicles (Plating and Testing) Regulations 1988. Exemptions will, therefore, start to run out in June and it is not currently known whether a further period will be allowed. 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..

There are some circumstances in which the issue of exemption is not automatic and operators must apply for it. These are:

  • a first test was required before 31 March

  • a test is required on a vehicle returning to service with a test certificate that expired before March 2020

  • a lorry or trailer needed a dangerous goods (ADR) test before 31 March.

In these cases, the exemption must be applied for by email to retrokeyteam@dvsa.gov.uk.

The email subject heading must be “First test exemptions”, “Out of service vehicles” or “ADR exemptions” as appropriate, and the following details must be supplied:

  • name

  • phone number

  • address

  • vehicle registration number, vehicle identification number or trailer ID

  • test expiry date (except first test exemptions).

If an exemption that should have been automatically issued had not been, then an application must be made to the same email address with the subject “Test exemption error”, and providing the same details as above.

Light vehicles

Light vehicles with MoTs due to expire on or after 30 March have been given an automatic 6-month extension. Again, no paper certificate will be issued but the electronic record will be updated about seven days before the expiry date. This can be checked at www.gov.uk/check-mot-history if the date has not been extended three days before it was due. Details of the expiry date and vehicle registration number should be emailed to covid19mot@dvsa.gov.uk.

In all cases, vehicles must remain roadworthy and the normal penalties continue to apply for driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition.

Regulatory Concessions

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.

Financial Standing

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.

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.

Operating Centres

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.

Maintenance

Although vehicles must never be operated in an unsafe condition, a risk-based approach can be adopted by standard licence holders or restricted licence holders operating essential transport services when the stated maintenance intervals cannot be maintained. Programmed maintenance inspection intervals may be extended by up to 6 months or a maximum of 17 weeks, whichever is the less. Evidence of the justification such as a letter or email confirming workshop unavailability must be kept with the maintenance records and produced on request. A new maintenance contract is not required for the revised intervals but the temporary arrangements should be recorded at www.gov.uk/manage-vehicle-operator-licence in the box for the maintenance supplier’s address.

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.

Transport Managers

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.

Conclusion

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.

Last reviewed 15 May 2020