New fines could increase your transport costs

Ian Smith, of the FTA’s Member Advice Centre, discusses the legislation and reveals how defects can be dramatically reduced to improve fleet safety and save money

While the world’s economy may be slowing down, the pace of new transport legislation facing commercial transport managers in the public and private sector is gathering momentum. With supply chains being squeezed ever tighter to attract maximum value, it is more important than ever for drivers to stay on the right side of the law.
Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) examiners were expected to start issuing fixed penalty notices to commercial vehicle drivers found to have broken the law at roadside checks from a ‘go live’ date of 28 May.
Fixed penalties have been extended to apply to more offences, such as drivers’ hours and driver certification infringements, so drivers and their transport managers need to be aware of these changes to remain compliant and avoid fines of up to £200 each.

What´s new
Graduated fixed penalties came into force in April and from the end of May have been enforceable at the roadside by VOSA. A fixed penalty is a system whereby offenders are penalised for certain offences without being convicted in court. Not only does this mean that offenders will avoid a criminal record, but it will also save the courts and enforcement agencies a lot of time.
This system was already available to police officers dealing with traffic violations, but new legislation means that VOSA examiners now have the power to issue fixed penalties too. Strictly speaking fixed penalties may be dealt with by either police or VOSA, but the latter does not intend to issue fixed penalties outside their normal area of enforcement, such as speeding, for example.
The new system means there is effectively a middle ground for offences that are too small to go to court minor infringements simply arent in the public interest but still deserving of a financial penalty. Indeed, the scale of fines is graduated from £30 (e.g. for parking an HGV on a verge of public footway) to £200 (e.g.for serious overloading offences). Previously, minor offences would go unpunished where perhaps a stronger approach was warranted, although it is worth noting that the VOSA examiner can still exercise their discretion when administering fines.
Most importantly, graduated fixed penalties mean that drivers themselves are now liable to face the music if certain offences are discovered. By putting more responsibility on the driver, VOSA has effectively given operators a surer way to reduce the chances of vehicle prohibitions and helped to ensure that that the standard of roadworthiness is maintained.

Better safe than sorry

As well as overloading offences, there are other fixed penalty offences that can be applied to operators and drivers as they are using the vehicle. However, VOSA advises that it only intends to issue fixed penalties to drivers at the roadside. It should be remembered, this does not prevent VOSA examiners from making further investigations or pursuing operators via the courts or the operator licensing system.
Infringements can affect an operator’s Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS) a traffic light system based on mechanical and non-mechanical defects where a red rating, for example, will identify to enforcement officers a higher risk of non-compliance, flagging them up for roadside checks. Due to the robust system that requires the Traffic Commissioner to be notified of non-compliance, it certainly pays to be clued up on what is now expected or else risk suspension or revocation of a driver’s vocational driving licence entitlement.
Reduce your safety defects
Daily vehicle checks have always been crucial to the safe operation of vehicles but drivers should be aware that they could now be facing fixed penalties if they fail to conduct these checks properly. FTA research shows that over half of vehicle safety defects could be avoided by a thorough driver walk round check.
Simply by educating drivers about potential infringements and ensuring that they conduct robust daily checks, companies can not only save their drivers from being hit in the wallet, but also make their fleet safer and more efficient too.
Any improvements to the safety of roads via stronger enforcement and better targeting of potentially unsafe vehicles must be welcomed. However, for transport managers and operators they will need to make sure that they are fully cognisant of the new rules that apply to them and employ best practice methods that will reduce the chances of their drivers being fined and, in very serious cases, being brought before the Traffic Commissioner.
To avoid higher transport costs resulting from the introduction of new fines, companies must work with their distribution channels to ensure that their fleet and drivers are compliant. 

Avoiding penalties
To avoid penalty points and fines, drivers should be encouraged to:

  • Perform a vehicle defect check every time the vehicle is taken out, checking for things like defective brakes, steering-gear or tyres
  • Check their load is safe, secure and they are not overloaded 
  • Comply with all the rules on drivers hours  and records. Drivers could be fined up to £200, or more if it is taken to court 
  • Obey all traffic rules and speed limits 
  • Never use a hand-held phone when driving 
  • Keep their driving licence address up to date (one can be fined £1,000 for failing to do this anyway) 
  • Always comply with requests from enforcement officers – obstructing them is a serious criminal offence

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