Last reviewed 8 May 2018

Specialist categories of heavy vehicles are to lose their exempt status, as the law does a bit of catching up. Richard Pelly, Director at Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law, discusses the new rules and their likely impact for operators.

For decades, many categories of “specialised” heavy vehicles have been exempt from the requirements to have a valid Goods Vehicle Testing Certificate as well as to have plates fitted which display the limits set for their maximum operating weights (both, of which, have long been standard fare for most heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)).

Now, the law has caught up and from 20 May 2018, a number of these categories of specialised vehicles will lose their automatic testing and plating exemptions.

Why change the law?

The rationale for the changes — which are the result of EU directives dating from 2009 and 2014 — is straightforward: many classes of specialised or particularly old vehicles which in years gone by were regarded as being “untestable” because of the way they were constructed are now built to a more standardised design, with many being based upon standard goods vehicle chassis. There are fewer practical differences between these vehicles and ordinary HGVs and partly as a result of this standardisation, there are far more of them on the road. Until now, these specialist types of vehicles have not been subject to the same stringent testing and weight-limiting restrictions as other road-going vehicles, with a somewhat predictable outcome: Department for Transport (DfT) statistics indicate that vehicles which are exempt from testing are more likely to be involved in accidents which are caused or contributed to by defects which, for testable vehicles, would result in their failure at annual test.

What will change?

The piece of legislation which brings about the changes in question is the Goods Vehicles (Plating and Testing) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2017.

In total, 12 classes of vehicle based on goods chassis that had previously been exempt from the requirement to hold a Goods Vehicle Testing Certificate will no longer benefit from that exemption.

The first 11 classes of specialist vehicle that will no longer be exempt are as follows.

  1. Mobile cranes.

  2. Breakdown vehicles.

  3. Engineering plant and plant, not being engineering plant, which is movable plant or equipment being a motor vehicle or trailer (not constructed primarily to carry a load) especially designed and constructed for the special purposes of engineering operations.

  4. Trailers being drying or mixing plant designed for the production of asphalt or of bituminous or tarmacadam.

  5. Tower wagons.

  6. Road construction vehicles (but not road rollers and other specialised equipment not based on an HGV chassis).

  7. Electrically propelled motor vehicles first registered since 1 March 2015.

  8. Tractor units pulling exempt trailers.

  9. Motor tractors and heavy and light locomotives exempted under ss.185 and 186(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, where these are based on an HGV chassis.

  10. HGVs and trailers on the Isle of Bute.

  11. HGVs and trailers on Arran, Great Cumbrae, Islay, Mull, Tiree or North Uist, which are used on mainland Great Britain.

Additionally, and following a separate Government consultation on Vehicles of Historical Interest, the 12th category no longer benefiting from the exemption will be:

12. Motor vehicles manufactured before 1 January 1960 used unladen and not drawing a laden trailer, and trailers manufactured before 1 January 1960 and used unladen that have been substantially altered.

Subject to any general exemptions that apply to HGVs, each of these classes of vehicle will be required to undertake and pass an annual test and obtain a Goods Vehicle Testing Certificate. The vehicle classes above which will now fall in scope of the new testing requirements will, generally, also be required to be plated by default (because the testing process requires the presence of a plating certificate) — however, this requirement is subject to certain exemptions.

Plating exemptions

One of the outcomes of the Government consultation process which led to the implementation of the new legislation was a general acceptance that in the cases of certain vehicle types, determining the plated weight is simply too difficult or impractical. For that reason, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has a discretionary power to allow these vehicles to undergo an annual test without a plate. Upon application for a first annual test, DVSA will issue a plating certificate where applicable for the class of vehicle to be tested.

Separately to that, volumetric concrete mixers currently retain a specific exemption from plating requirements (consultations on plating for these vehicles are ongoing).

Phased roll-out

The law comes into force on 20 May 2018, and the default position is that any vehicle falling into one of the 12 categories above will be required to undertake a first annual test by then. However, in order to allow the industry to stagger the testing of vehicle fleets and avoid a “bunching” effect, the DfT has imposed two separate deadlines by when newly in-scope vehicles need to have obtained a Test Certificate: the first being 20 May 2018 and the second being 20 May 2019 or the date when the vehicle’s Vehicle Excise Duty falls due for renewal, whichever date comes first.

The classes of vehicles which must have obtained a Test Certificate by 20 May 2018 are volumetric concrete mixers, fast tractors (ie those with a design speed over 40km/h and which are used for non-agricultural haulage covering distances greater than 15 miles from their usual operating base), any trailers losing the exemption and any vehicles used on international journeys.

As above, all other vehicles must have undertaken a first test by either 20 May 2019 or the date the vehicle’s tax is due — whichever comes first.

In order to ensure that the safety of vehicles that are eligible to take advantage of the phased roll-out is not compromised by the delay in the requirement to be tested, operators will be required to produce on demand the most recent regular safety inspection records, with those inspections being required to be undertaken by competent mechanics and in accordance with DVSA inspection guidance published in the Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness (now updated in a new 2018 edition).

What should operators do next?

Operators of vehicles included in the list above need to act quickly and should take the following steps.

  • Check whether the class (or classes) of vehicles operated fall within those which must have a Test Certificate by 20 May 2018, or are eligible for the phased roll-out.

  • Complete and submit form VTG1 in respect of each vehicle due to undergo its first test.

    Doing so will produce a record and, where appropriate, a plating certificate — both are needed before a test can take place, and a failure to do so runs the risk of vehicles being refused for testing).

  • Contact an ATF facility to book the test.

    This should be done in good time before the applicable deadline — any use of vehicles used on a road after the applicable deadline without a Test Certificate will be unlawful use.

  • Ensure the quality of maintenance arrangements.

    In particular, operators of vehicles eligible for the delayed Test Certificate deadline must ensure that regular safety inspections are carried out in accordance with DVSA guidance — but in all cases, proper maintenance arrangements with robust quality control procedures ought to be in place.

For more detailed information on vehicle testing and plating requirements, see the Vehicle Plating and Testing topic and the Employer Factsheet on Vehicles That Are No Longer Exempt from Annual Testing.