The long arm of the law

Date: Tuesday, June 21, 2011

With European and domestic legislators increasingly training their sites on the light commercial vehicle sector, operators need to be on their guard to avoid the legal pitfalls. James Dallas takes a look at the rule book.

The European Parliament’s introduction of tough emissions targets for commercial vehicle manufacturers has attracted plenty of publicity and left van makers desperate to show they are doing their bit to adhere to the rules.
With stringent financial penalties promised for those commercial vehicle manufacturers failing to meet the targets (175g/km CO2 by 2014 falling to 147g/km by 2020) national governments are under pressure to enforce the legislation and are likely to widen the net to ensure commercial vehicle operators are complying to a range of other legal requirements too.
London Mayor Boris Johnson’s high profile promotion of the London Low Emission Zone, which will take in pre-Euro4 vans next year, has also put the spotlight on light commercials. Vans of at least 10 years old will be liable for a £100 daily charge to enter the LEZ or face a £500 fine.
Johnson claims his backing for the manufacturers that have introduced incentive schemes to encourage operators into newer, cleaner vans is part of his effort to “fend off” European fines.
At present fleets of vans weighing less than 3.5 tonnes are not subjected to the same legal scrutiny as the heavy goods sector, which requires operator licences and for drivers to possess a Driver CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) from the Driving Standards Agency. Therefore van fleets may lack the professionalism expected from operators of heavy freight vehicles.
Without the need to have a qualified transport manager, commercial vehicle consultant Robin Dickeson says van fleet operators “may be rather hazy about the complex quagmire of law that surrounds them”.
Dickeson believes the political pressure to ensure van operators abide by the law is growing but he casts doubt on the ability of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), which has only around 1000 enforcement officers backed up by limited numbers of traffic police, to instigate a clampdown.
Complying with health and safety laws, meeting duty of care responsibilities, the demands of insurance companies and the prospect of forking out heavily
on compensation claims could provide greater incentives to tow the legal line.
Areas where van operators are likely to fall foul of the law include exceeding weight and speed limits, failing to secure loads safely, allowing unroadworthy vehicles to go to work, allowing drivers to spend too long on the road and not supervising their use of mobile phones while going from job to job.
“Getting weight and speed limits wrong will prove painful,” says Dickeson. “They are the most frequently abused bits of regulation, with particular problems around trailer weights.”
Mark Timms, the lead consultant for product, brand and sales for cars and commercial vehicles at Ford College, points out that hitching a trailer onto, for example, a Ford Ranger pick-up, will, in all likelihood, push the total weight above 3.5 tonnes. Since 2006 tachographs have been required to record driver behaviour on vehicles (or vehicles with trailers) weighing at least 3.5 tonnes – the previous limit was 7.5 tonnes, and as Timms says: “Three and a half tonnes is not an awful lot of weight to get to.”
Tachographs are used to record information about driving time, speed and distance and the data is used to monitor compliance with drivers’ hours rules.
VOSA has the authority to inspect vehicles and, if necessary, prohibit their use. It can also investigate any suspected breaches of regulations and instigate appearances at magistrates’ courts.
According to the Government, if an infringement is found the law protects operators from conviction if they can prove they took all reasonable steps to make sure the driver kept proper records.
Timms urges operators to make sure the gross vehicle weight (GVW) or GVW plus gross train weight (GTW) is not exceeded rather than adhere to the view that “if you can get it in then take it”. A braked trailer has a total weight limit of approximately 2000kg while an unbraked trailer is around 500kg.
Drivers who obtained a category B (car) licence after January 1997 are only permitted to drive vehicles with a GTW (including trailer weight) of no more than 3.5 tonnes.
Since September 2009 new drivers have needed to complete a CPC to drive a van over 3.5 tonnes while existing drivers have until 2014 to undergo the 35 hours extra training to get a CPC.
An important point that can be overlooked to operators’ cost is that each axle also has a weight limit. If the vehicle exceeds either the front or rear axle weight then it is illegal. Therefore a van could be under the GVW but still over the limit for one axle so it is important to distribute the load correctly. The maximum penalty for overloading goods vehicles is £5000. Where danger is caused by goods falling out of the van then the driver and operator can be charged under the Road traffic Act 1988 and given three penalty points.
In 2007 VOSA reported that out of 6050 vans weighed, 55% were overloaded.

 

Counting the hours

There are two sets of drivers’ hours rules covering the UK.
The European Union rules apply to goods vehicles with a maximum permissible weight (MPW) above 3.5 tonnes, and the domestic rules apply to goods vehicles in the UK not covered by the EU legislation.
The EU rules are only likely to affect van operators if the vehicle’s MPW is pushed above 3.5 tonnes through towing a trailer.
So the vast majority of LCV operators in the UK must abide by the domestic rules. These allow for any LCV driver to spend a maximum of 10 hours behind the wheel in a 24-hour period. The daily duty limit is 11 hours, meaning a driver can spend 11 hours at work but no more than 10 driving.
A driver who does not drive for more than four hours on any working day is exempt from the daily duty limit.
Doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives and vets are subject to the 10-hour driving limit but exempt from the 11-hour daily duty limit.
Perhaps more relevant to van operators, according to the Freight Transport Association’s Van Drivers’ Handbook, the same exemption applies to inspection, cleaning, maintenance, repair, installation and fitting services as well as drivers employed by the AA, RAC or RSAC.
Driving off-road, as is common for agricultural or forestry work, for example, does not count towards the four hours driving time but does count as duty time.
As previously stated, once the 3.5-tonne threshold is passed, a tachograph is required and more stringent rules apply.
These include a daily driving limit of nine hours – extendable to 10 up to twice a week, a weekly limit of 56 hours and a fortnightly maximum of 90 hours.
Drivers must take a rest of at least 11 consecutive hours between shifts, which can be reduced to nine hours no more than three times between weekly rests, which must be 45 hours or reduced to 24 hours following six days work. In a two-week period, drivers must have at least two rests, one being not less than 45 hours long.
Drivers must take a 45 minute break for every 4.5 hours driven.
Maximum penalties for breaking drivers’ hours rules include fines of £2500 for not observing driving times or breaking rest period
rules, £2500 for failing to keep records, £5000 for failing to fit a tachograph and £5000 for failing to use a tachograph.
Failing to hand over recording equipment records to an enforcement officer can trigger a £5000 penalty and altering records with "intent to deceive" can lead to a fine of £5000 on summary conviction and two years imprisonment upon indictment.
Fixed penalties for exceeding the 10 hour driving limit are £60 for less than an hour over the limit, £120 for between one and two hours over and £200 for exceeding the limit by at least two hours.

Speed limits

Car-derived vans such as the Ford Fiesta van and Vauxhall Corsa Van are subject to the same conditions as passenger cars but other CVs are restricted to 10mph less (60mph) on dual carriageways and 60mph on motorways if towing a trailer.
On single carriageways vans, excluding car-derived vans, are restricted to 50mph.
In built-up areas the speed limit is generally 30mph for all vehicles although the Government and local authorities are increasingly introducing 20mph limits.
The minimum penalty for breaking the speed limit is a £60 fine and three points on the driver’s licence.

Safe loading

As well as remaining within weight limits operators must also make sure vans’ loads are safely secured. It is a legal requirement that loads in a vehicle or on a trailer must be secured so that they are not a danger to the vehicle’s occupants or other road users.
As Dickeson says: “Loads do move in an accident and the mere fact that they have can be as good as a guilty verdict. Steel internal bulkheads should be a minimum.”
Both the consignor (the person loading the van) and the driver can be held responsible for load security.
The load must be restrained (tied firmly to the load bed) and contained so that it cannot move around inside the van.
The Health & Safety Executive has published an example loading plan, available on the www.hse.gov.uk website.
Failing to secure a load safely can result in a fine of up to £5000.
If a van is carrying dangerous goods, such as flammable material, this must be clearly displayed on the outside of the vehicle.
When loading or unloading drivers should if possible use dedicated bays where they can stop for 20 minutes.
It is permissible to load and unload on roads marked with single or double yellow lines but not where there are yellow stripes on the kerb. Double stripes indicate no loading at any time and single stripes indicate restricted loading times.

Room for improvement.

Maintenance is an area where the light commercial sector lags behind the heavy freight market.
According to VOSA, less than 50% of vans pass their MoTs first time compared to 90% of dealer-prepared trucks.
VOSA inspects heavy trucks every six weeks and Timms warns: “It can’t be a million miles away for LCVs.”

It’s not good to talk

Drivers caught using hand-held mobile phones or being distracted by other equipment can be fined £60 and get three penalty points on their driving licence.
They could also be liable for the more serious offences of careless or dangerous driving if it is proved that a collision or poor driving was caused by a distraction leading to the driver failing to have proper control of the vehicle.
Employers can also be prosecuted if they ”cause or permit” employees to use mobile phones while driving.

Type Approval

The need to conform to European Union Whole Vehicle Type Approval legislation is now looming over the light commercial vehicle industry.
The legislation is being phased in for goods vehicles from 2010 to 2014 but hones in on van conversions from June 2011.
Operators need to ensure the body builders they use are fully compliant or they will not be able to register the converted van. If the conversion is factory fitted the manufacturer will deal with the approval. Luckily for van operators, according to Dickeson, type approval “is largely for the van maker, the dealer and the bodybuilder to sort out”.

Did you know?

Commercial vehicles, unlike cars, are prohibited from driving through London’s eight Royal Parks and are also banned from using most local authorities’ recycling centres without a permit.

 

Help is at hand

For van operators trying to pick their way through the legal maze the Department for Transport’s Van Best Practice programme has produced an information pack: ‘Driver Essentials - Top Tips and Advice for Van Drivers’.
A more comprehensive guide to laws affecting light commercial vehicles is the Freight Transport Association’s (FTA) ‘Van Drivers’ Handbook.
Last year the FTA launched a voluntary code of practice for LCVs – Van Excellence, which seeks to bring the professionalism and best practice of the heavy goods sector to commercial vehicles of up to 3.5-tonnes.
The FTA’s membership project manager Mark Cartwright says the code will give light commercial vehicle operators “a distinct voice and improve the sector’s image”.



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