Last reviewed 8 March 2021
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 suspended collection of the HGV Road User Levy for one year with effect from 1 August 2020, ie until 31 July 2021. Collection of the levy will now be suspended for a further 12 months, ie until 31 July 2022. 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.
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 has allowed further relaxations from the national and international drivers’ hours rules from 22 January until 31 March 2021, providing safety is not compromised. No relaxations are permitted from GB domestic hours.
National drivers’ hours may be relaxed as follows:
Fortnightly driving may be increased from 90 hours to 96 hours
Weekly rest requirements are relaxed to allow two consecutive reduced weekly rest periods to be taken in a four-week period. Any reduction must be compensated for by an equivalent period attached to a regular weekly rest period before the end of the third week following the week in question.
When these relaxations are going to be used the operator must complete a notification to the DfT of that fact and must also follow-up with a further form not more than one week after the end of the relaxations.
Other relaxations apply to drivers on international journeys or those between GB and NI:
Daily driving limit of 9 hours is replaced with one of 11 hours
Daily rest requirement is reduced from 11 to 9 hours
Weekly and fortnightly driving time is increased to 60 and 96 hours, respectively
The requirement to start a weekly rest period after no more than six 24-hour driving periods is extended to no more than seven 24-hour periods
Drivers who are driving only in Kent on journeys out of the UK via the Port of Dover or the Channel Tunnel may divide the required 45-minute break after 4.5 hours into three separate periods of 15 minutes each
The derogation in respect of split rest on trains or ferries is relaxed as follows:
A reduced daily rest period may be split as well as a regular one
The maximum number of interruptions of daily or weekly rest is increased from 2 to 4
The total duration of the interruptions is increased from one hour to three hours.
The relaxations at a and d may not be used together and drivers must note the reasons for taking any of the relaxations on a tachograph printout.
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 2020 and temporary exemptions were issued, but testing has now resumed.
Lorries, buses and trailers
Vehicles and trailers due for test before 21 March 2021 will have received one automatic three-month exemption, eg examinations due in March will be moved to June.
Some vehicles and trailers were given a 12-month exemption. These are 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 2020 and up to and including 31 July 2020 were given a single 6-month extension but must now have been tested before use on the roads.
Tachograph calibration certificates expiring between 31 March and 31 August were extended by six months from the date calibration was originally due. Certificates that expired 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.