Last reviewed 17 April 2018

Operator licence holders and transport managers have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the rules on drivers’ hours and records, overloading and driver licensing are kept to. This responsibility is enshrined in the undertaking that forms part of the declaration made at the time of applying for an O-licence and penalties, up to and including loss of the O-licence and personal disqualification, may be levied if it is not observed. This is an onerous duty and not made any easier by the fact that one of the distinguishing characteristics of the transport industry is its dispersed nature. This means that much of the time operations go on at a distance from where the manager is, so he or she cannot hope to supervise them personally to ensure compliance with the law. In this article, Richard Smith aims to provide some guidance and help, and summarises the top four offences resulting from encounters with inspectors, at the roadside or on visits to the premises.

The penalties

One of the oddities of the professional competence system is that once certified as professionally competent on the basis of a written examination, people cannot lose that certification no matter how incompetent they later prove themselves to be in practice. However, what can be lost is “good repute” and loss of this will disbar the individual from holding an O-licence or acting as a professionally competent transport manager. Good repute will automatically be lost if a person is convicted of two offences in connection with goods vehicle operations within a five-year period. In addition, Traffic Commissioners can also take action against the O-licence or the individual outside of the normal justice system.

An important feature is the existence of “causing or permitting” offences. Taken with the dispersed nature of transport operations this means that the transport manager can be convicted (and therefore lose good repute) for something over which he or she has no direct control.

An answer

Since the manager cannot hope to exercise direct supervision over every driver, he or she must provide control through monitoring of documentation, such as tachograph records, delivery notes and driver licences, on a regular basis. Traffic Commissioners will expect this to be done according to some sort of sampling plan as it will usually be impossible to, for example, inspect every driver’s tachograph record every day. In determining such a plan, the manager may take a leaf from DVSA’s book and devise some sort of compliance risk score for particular areas and individual drivers and concentrate on those. Once these inspections have started, it will become apparent which drivers are more likely to commit infringements and these can be checked more often.

When it comes to which offences to look out for particularly and the frequency of checks, guidance may be found in some statistics produced by DVSA and we will look at these in some detail.

Top 10 offences

DVSA has produced tables showing the top ten offences resulting from inspectors’ encounters, both at roadside checks or on visits to premises, and it is clear from these which are the areas where it would be wise to concentrate most monitoring. The figures are collated by financial year and run from 2013/14 to 2016/17 in two separate tables: light goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

Here we look at the top four offences.

Drivers’ hours

Drivers’ hours offences top the chart for HGVs every year, and by a large margin, representing about 50% of all convictions in every year although the actual number of convictions has fallen steadily from 2163 in 2013/14 to 885 in 2016/17. The average fine levied for these offences was only just over the standard fixed penalty rate of £100 (since July 2013) so it seems that most of these offences were not serious enough to justify a higher level of graduated fixed penalty.

For light vehicles, drivers’ hours offences comprised 28% of convictions in 2016/17 but only between 1% and 4% in the other years. In 2015/16, when there were just three convictions the average fine was £436, but in 2016/17 it was only £63 for 12 convictions. These lower percentages clearly result because a large proportion of the vehicles included in this data set were ones not subject to drivers’ hours.

Taking the two sets of figures together it is clear that in total drivers’ hours offences are the most prevalent and so tachograph records and log books are likely to be the most important area for managers’ checks. Even though the level of fines indicates a lack of really serious infringements, the sheer quantity of offences is likely to attract the special attention of DVSA examiners and the Traffic Commissioners.

Drivers’ hours records

Offences concerning record keeping were second to actual drivers’ hours offences for HGVs (just over 30% of all convictions) but at about 5% exceeded the number of hours convictions for light vehicles except in 2016/17. The average fine was higher than for hours offences in both classes (except light goods in 2015/16) perhaps indicating that the authorities regard fiddling the records as more serious than committing minor infringements regarding the actual hours of driving, breaks and rest. When examining the records for hours infringements, managers would therefore be well advised also to look long and hard for evidence of tampering.

Overloading

This was by far the most prevalent offence in the light goods data set, at almost 60% of all convictions. The average fine was also the highest for all the offences listed, at around £750 to £1000. This number of convictions accords with reports in the media about the high number of overloaded vans and so, probably, reflects the large proportion of non-vocational licence holders and sub-3.5 tonne vehicles in the data.

For HGVs overloading convictions represented only about 3–4% of the total but the average fine was again much higher, at around £600 to £800 generally and a whopping £5843 in 2016/17. So, while the number of offences may be small, overloading is clearly regarded as very important.

Driver licences

Regular checks that drivers’ licences are still in date and for the right categories is another area that will repay special attention for this area represented the third most common offence for HGVs (albeit only at about 6% of total convictions). The average fine was actually higher than for drivers’ hours convictions, approaching the average for records offences, and actually higher than that in 2014/15 at £190. The percentage of convictions for light goods vehicles was about the same with a similar average fine, except in 2016/17 when both figures were much lower.

Since the abolition of the paper counterpart, it is vital that the licence checks are made through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) online system or by contract with a licence checking agency.

Management action

When making checks in fulfilment of their undertaking, managers would be wise to:

  • check more frequently on those drivers with a history of infringements

  • check a sample of tachograph records every week for both hours infringements and evidence of tampering

  • check consignment documentation for evidence of overloading; if operating vans, do so more frequently and even make physical spot checks

  • check the driver’s licence details with DVLA on first employment and record entitlements and run-out dates (GDPR applies). Continue to check regularly for endorsements.