Last reviewed 8 July 2014

Richard Pelly of Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law reviews the new edition of the Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness and considers what steps operators should take in response to it.

Introduction

Putting in place and then maintaining effective systems to ensure that vehicles are roadworthy and recording the operation of those systems properly are fundamental responsibilities for all commercial vehicle operators. It is what they promise to do when first applying for an operator’s licence and it is plainly critical to road safety.

Published earlier this year, the DVSA’s updated Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness (“the Guide”) is described by Alastair Peoples (the DVSA’s Chief Executive) as a “must read whether you run a large fleet or just a single vehicle”. Mr Peoples is right. For those familiar with previous editions of the Guide, reviewing the new one will be a useful refresher. For those who have never read any of the previous editions, reviewing the new one is of vital and urgent importance.

The Traffic Commissioners (especially Sarah Bell and Kevin Rooney) have spent considerable time working on the new Guide, which is primarily for the benefit of operators. Operators who are called to Public Inquiry, especially for maintenance-related issues, who have not read the Guide place themselves at a very serious disadvantage.

Not surprisingly, the Guide makes it clear that supervision and effective management must lie at the heart of an operator’s approach to keeping its vehicles safe on the road. Constant vigilance and supervision are essential if operators are to make sure that the systems they put in place continue to be effective and that essential records continue to be correctly completed.

The Guide itself is easily accessible and can be downloaded from the www.gov.uk website.

In common with previous versions of the Guide, the new edition includes example documents including precedents for driver daily defect report sheets and regular safety inspection forms. The HGC drivers’ walk around check guide (at page 52) has been improved with colour photographs.

One obvious step that operators should take is to compare the documents that they are using in order to make sure that their paperwork is fit for purpose and up to date.

Are operators required to do as the Guide says?

The Guide expressly states that nothing in it is mandatory, but anyone who reads as far as page 9, Key points of a good maintenance system, will see that the language of the Guide suggests otherwise; vehicle checks must be carried out, first use inspections are essential, drivers must report defects promptly, and those reports must be recorded, safety inspections should be pre-planned and the system for doing so must be regularly monitored, and so on.

As the Guide explains, operating in line with its guidance will ensure that operators meet the relevant conditions and undertakings on their operator’s licences. And that is really the point; the Guide may not be mandatory but an operator’s undertakings and conditions are, and so operators should only depart from the Guide’s recommendations with good reason. Any departures that they make and their reasons for doing so should be recorded so that, if necessary, enforcement officers and the Traffic Commissioners can see what they have done, and why. Wise operators will take independent advice on any significant departures from the Guide, and that advice should be provided by the adviser in writing or at least recorded by the operator.

A guide to the Guide

While the Guide speaks for itself, and there is no substitute for reading it cover to cover, three topics deserve particular attention.

Daily walk around checks

At Annex 3A, the Guide contains a specimen driver defect report sheet which now includes a box for drivers to write down the name of the person to whom they report any defect. The addition of this box serves as a reminder to drivers that they must report defects to the operator (and/or the maintenance provider, depending upon each operator’s arrangements) and enables an operator to track the process for the reporting of defects by those carrying out daily vehicle checks (usually drivers) and the action taken to assess the defects and repair them.

Section 6 of the Guide, Monitoring, has also been strengthened to include specific reference to the need for operators to supervise properly those who carry out daily vehicle checks. The supervision of vehicle checks should be fully recorded and those records, as well as the return of vehicle defect sheets, should be audited and the records retained.

Safety inspections

Safety inspection reports were always required to include a signed statement confirming that any defects identified had been repaired. The updated version (at Annex 5A) includes an improved certificate of roadworthiness declaration, stating: “I consider that the above defects have been rectified satisfactorily and this vehicle is now in a safe and roadworthy condition” and it includes a new section to be used to record driver related defects, ie defects which should have been reported had they been present at the time of the last vehicle walk around check.

Monitoring safety inspection reports for driver-related defects is an essential element of an operator’s systems for ensuring that walk around checks are being carried out properly, especially when operators are running vehicles from remote operating centres where drivers are not subject to the same level of supervision as they would be if they were based at an operator’s HQ.

In so far as safety inspection intervals are concerned, many operators will welcome the relaxation contained in the new Guide, which confirms a move away from a strict day count (where a six-week interval meant 42 days) and the adoption of a week count using the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) numbering system so that if a vehicle is inspected in ISO week 10 and it is subject to six-week inspections, its next safety inspection must be carried out some time in ISO week 16.

Operators should note that every vehicle in the fleet must be considered to determine what inspection interval is appropriate. Safety inspection intervals are not (and have never been) a “one size fits all” exercise.

For older vehicles and trailers that are more than 12 years old, the DVSA recommends a maximum interval of six weeks. All operators currently running vehicles or trailers that are more than 12 years old that are inspected at intervals of greater than six weeks should take immediate steps to reduce the regular safety inspections to a six-week interval. This is a change that should be confirmed in writing to the appropriate Traffic Commissioner.

Operators should also review the guidance in relation to traction services and third party trailers (Section 3 at page 15) and consider what steps are required to ensure that they have taken appropriate action to ensure that the trailers which they tow are roadworthy and are themselves subject to a properly robust maintenance regime.

Finally, it will come as no surprise that the Guide emphasises the importance of operators making sure that all work carried out on its vehicles is performed by suitably qualified and experienced personnel who are properly supervised in the work that they do.

Brakes

Possibly the most significant change in the revised guidance is the addition of a new section on brake testing. As a result of historically poor test results for vehicles on initial brake efficiency inspections and a very large number of prohibitions issued for brake defects, the guidance now recommends that all vehicles and trailers complete at least three successful brake efficiency tests spread throughout the year in addition to the annual MOT test.

The guidance strongly advises the use of rolling road brake tests at all safety inspections but is willing to accept the use of approved and calibrated decelerometers to check vehicles without trailers in their place. The results of brake tests should be recorded and those records held on file.

To comply with the new guidance, operators should ensure that all vehicles and trailers undertake at least quarterly brake tests (including a test as part of the vehicle’s pre-MOT preparation) wherever possible using rolling road brake testing equipment.

Summary

The new Guide is a user-friendly publication produced at no meaningful cost to operators and provided for their benefit. Knowing what the Guide recommends and following its advice will help operators to run their vehicles safely and, in doing so, operators will likely avoid all that follows from running unsafe vehicles on the roads, not least action against their operator’s licences.