Despite what some people might think, most HGV operators are honest and want to comply with the rules. The problem seems to be a lack of understanding about what traffic commissioners (TCs) expect an operator to do to remain compliant.
There are simple and easily avoidable mistakes - some administrative - that licence holders regularly make that can lead to enforcement action. Here’s CM’s top 10 list of common mistakes operators make and how to avoid and rectify them.
. An operator may receive a prohibition and file it away without investigating the root cause and implementing a system to prevent it occurring again. This investigative process should be documented in writing. Operators no longer need to notify the Office of the Traffic Commissioner (OTC) regarding isolated prohibitions but should a number of prohibitions be issued during a short period an operator must write to the local OTC outlining the reasons for this and what preventative measures have been put in place to prevent a recurrence. Operators cannot be criticised for supplying too much information.
. An operator may not look at the company’s preventative maintenance Inspection (PMI) sheets - commonly undertaken at six-weekly intervals - to check that defects are signed off as rectified, even though the repair work has been completed. Although the work has been done, paperwork needs to confirm this.
. Again, with daily defect checks, if a fault is recorded by the driver the operator needs to ensure the rectification work is recorded on the daily defect sheet. Make sure it is signed off and dated. If an external contractor is used to do the repair work, staple the invoice to the daily defect sheet. Ensure defects are rectified promptly and be able to demonstrate that. There are few things that will irritate a TC more than the same defect being repeatedly recorded by a driver and no rectification taking place.
. Operators often fail to notify a TC about a change in company directors. Although changes are made to Companies House documents, often no one at the business informs the OTC in writing, which should be done as soon as possible.
. On the advice of its accountant, a sole trader or partnership forms a limited company but fails to apply for a new O-licence in the name of the limited company. Many operators fall foul of this, unknowingly committing criminal offences by inadvertently operating vehicles without an O-licence. This can have serious consequences and may mean the new application is called to a public inquiry.
. Operators often fail to notify the TC about a notifiable conviction, particularly if it is a DVSA prosecution. This has to be done in writing within 28 days of the conviction. Operators should consider providing the TC with an explanation for the cause of the offence and the steps taken to prevent it recurring. If you can demonstrate an improvement with evidence, that is even better.
. Operators may apply to the TC for an increase in their licence without first checking that their operation is being run compliantly. This application will likely trigger a DVSA visit so operators should ensure they are compliant, perhaps through the use of an independent audit, before submitting the application. This can also be done by checking their OCRS, MoT pass rate and roadside encounter history online.
. Operators should not rely on their external maintenance contractor to do their job properly. Operators should be permanently monitoring them to ensure paperwork is completed on time and correctly. It is important that roadworthiness declarations are signed and brake checks are recorded on the sheets. PMI sheets should be properly reviewed to ensure all relevant sections are documented, that defects are rectified and that driver detectable defects are not occurring. There is merit in documenting this review in writing, including the investigation with a driver and mechanic if a driver detectable fault has been found. PMI sheets should be returned with the vehicles and not returned when an invoice is provided at the end of the month because the operator will have no idea about the condition of the vehicle until they see the PMI sheet. Operators should also monitor the MoT pass rate and investigate MoT failures with the maintenance provider. If the maintenance provider cannot do an adequate job, the operator should find a suitable alternative and inform the TC.
. If a vehicle is off the road, place a vehicle off-road (VOR) sign in the cab. It may be useful to also record this on the forward planner. It can often happen that a driver will take a vehicle on the road without the company’s authority because no one has told him it is off-road and there is no sign in the cab to inform him. To prevent this, do not leave keys where drivers have open access to them.
. Operators pay for tachograph analysis but then do not use the information provided to them properly. Each infringement should be investigated thoroughly at a driver infringement meeting and documented in writing. The operator should then react to the problem accordingly, whether that is by providing further training, disciplinary action or adjusting workloads. Many operators do not run missing mileage reports or lead-in reports. These are important respectively to see whether or not vehicles have been driven without a card and drivers are spending enough time undertaking a proper walk-around check.
By Jared Dunbar
Jared Dunbar is director of road transport services at Dyne Solicitors 01829 773105 or email@example.com.