Last reviewed 7 June 2019

It is well established that road transport operators have a crucial part to play in minimising the harmful emissions outputs produced by road vehicles. Congestion charging and the newly-introduced ULEZ, strict engine manufacturing standards and the use of AdBlue to fuel selective catalytic reductions systems are all means by which emissions outputs can be reduced.

However, prevention is better than cure, and it appears that the ultimate goal is to avoid the use of environmentally damaging fuels altogether by instead encouraging the use of vehicles fuelled by alternative means. Christopher Wagner of Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law looks at the options for commercial drivers.

Alternatively Fuelled Vehicles

An “Alternatively Fuelled Vehicle” (AFV) is defined as any vehicle powered by electricity, natural gas, biogas or hydrogen, or a combination of hydrogen and electricity.

The government has identified that reducing emissions from vans is one of the key areas to target in its attempts to fight climate change. To try to increase the use of AFVs in the light goods vehicle sector, in 2018 the Department for Transport announced a change to driver’s licensing law which means that those holding category B licence entitlements can drive AFVs up to a Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of 4.25 tonnes, subject to certain requirements.

Under the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 2018, Category B licence holders can now drive an AFV up to a MAM of 4.25 Tonnes (a vehicle weight which would ordinarily require a category C entitlement), provided that:

  • they have undertaken five hours of specific training on the use of an AFV over 3.5 tonnes

  • the vehicle is being driven for the transportation of goods

  • the vehicle is being driven in the UK

  • the vehicle is not towing a trailer.

The training

For drivers to take advantage, they must receive a minimum of five hours of training delivered by a member of either the National Register of LGV instructors or the National Vocational Driving Instructors Register.

The DfT has worked with the DVSA to provide a syllabus of the areas that the qualifying training should cover, which include handling and driving techniques for laden AFVs, safe loading and instruction upon how the various fuels used to power AFVs should be administered. The syllabus is divided into three core units.

  1. Preparing an AFV and its contents for daily use.

  2. Driving an AFV in accordance with the Highway Code and relevant legislation.

  3. Driving AFVs safely and efficiently.

Upon completion of the training syllabus to the satisfaction of the instructor, drivers will be issued with a certificate which can be used to satisfy relevant third parties (for example, the DVSA, police, employers and insurers) that the relevant training has been completed. Upon completion of the (minimum) five hours of training, the DVSA also recommends that drivers should practice driving AFVs on the road.

While there is not presently any legal requirement for drivers to carry their AFV training certificates at all times while driving a relevant AFV, any driver found to be driving a relevant AFV who is not able to produce a certificate will be liable to prosecution for driving otherwise in accordance with a licence — so drivers would be well advised to carry a copy at all times (or to have easy access to one — if stopped without one, they are likely to be required to produce it at a police station).

Operators that use drivers of AFVs should retain copies of their drivers’ training certificates along with the usual set of documents which enable any operator to be satisfied that a driver is lawfully entitled to drive the category of vehicle being driven for the nature of work being carried out (ie driver’s licence, driver qualification card, digital tachograph card and any other job-specific qualification such as ADR).

Effect of the use of heavier AFVs

Of course, the use of any vehicle over 3.5 tonnes for the transportation of goods has the potential to bring a raft of other rules and regulations into play. Operators employing drivers to use AFVs will need to take care to ensure compliance with any sets of requirements which apply — operator’s licensing, drivers’ hours, testing regimes and speed-limiting must all be considered. However, in-keeping with the aim of encouraging the use of AFVs, the present position is that a number of exemptions apply in some of these key areas.

Operator Licensing

The starting point under the Goods Vehicle (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 is that an Operator’s Licence is required for any vehicle with a MAM over 3.5 tonnes which is used to carry goods for hire or reward, or in relation to carrying on a trade or business.

However, an exemption applies for goods vehicles fuelled entirely by alternative fuels with a MAM not exceeding 4.25 tonnes (for O-licensing purposes, the definition of alternative fuel also includes liquefied petroleum gas). In addition, there is a universal exemption from O-licensing for any electrically propelled goods vehicle first registered before 1 March 2015. For these vehicles, no O-licence is required

Drivers’ Hours Regulations

Once more, the starting point for the application of the EC Drivers Hours Regulations is that they apply to goods vehicle with a maximum permissible weight over 3.5 tonnes.

Again, there is an exemption which applies to vehicles using alternative fuel. In this case, any vehicle using natural or liquefied gas or electricity with a MAM up to 7.5 tonnes is exempt from the EC Regulations provided that goods are carried within a 100km radius of the operator’s base. Plainly this is restricting — so it is more than likely that a number of operators using AFVs will in fact be required to comply with EC Regulations and the requirement to use a tachograph. Where the EC regulations do not apply, the UK Domestic Drivers Hours Rules (see s.99 Transport Act 1968) may well do.

Vehicle Testing

In terms of annual testing, any vehicle over 3.5T — no matter how it is fuelled — will fall within the goods vehicle annual testing regime, rather than the MOT regime.

Speed Limiting

The use of alternative fuels in heavier vans also has no bearing on the requirement for speed limiters to be fitted. EU law requires that any goods vehicle with a MAM in excess of 3.5 tonnes should be fitted with a speed limiter to restrict the vehicle’s maximum speed to 90km/h.

Summary — what should operators consider?

The government’s aim is to encourage the use of AFVs. The change to driver’s licensing law offers an advantage to operators and drivers because the five hours of training required to obtain the relevant certificate is plainly less onerous than the process of obtaining a full category C entitlement.

However, the use of AFVs between 3.5 tonnes and 4.25 tonnes will mean that operators will need to take care to ensure that they remain compliant across the board. Key considerations include the following:

  • drivers employed to drive relevant AFVs must have completed the required AFV training and hold the relevant certificate

  • the EC Drivers Hours’ Regulations do not apply to AFVs of up to 7.5 tonnes provided journeys are within a 100km radius of the operator’s base (but otherwise they do — and even where they don’t, GB Domestic Rules may well apply)

  • AFVs over 3.5 tonnes require goods vehicle annual tests rather than MOTs

  • any vehicle over 3.5 tonnes (no matter how it is fuelled) requires a speed limiter.