Agricultural tractors "likely" to require an O-licence
Agricultural tractors that carry out commercial haulage will be subject to roadworthiness testing requirements from next year - and are likely to fall under the O-licensing regime.
From 20 May 2018, operators of agricultural tractors capable of travelling more than 40km/h (approximately 25mph), used to carry commercial goods, will be required to undergo a roadworthiness test four years after their registration and every two years thereafter.
In its response to a consultation carried out last year, the DfT also noted that operators of such tractors would likely require an O-licence.
However, the RHA said the changes did not go far enough to address the concerns about competition, and said allowing tractors to carry freight will encourage more to be used for haulage.
“Ideally we would like to see these vehicles banned from moving freight on public roads entirely as their design is not equivalent to well-designed lorries for that task,” said policy director Duncan Buchanan.
“We do not believe that the frequency, four years for the first test then every two years, is justified. It looks very odd for heavy vehicles like these to be tested so infrequently when a 50cc moped is required to be tested every year after three years.”
The FTA’s head of policy and compliance information, James Firth, added: “If it looks like a truck or it’s doing the work of a truck, test it like a truck. Members in areas where agriculture is a primary economy have long raised concerns that agricultural tractor units, and specially developed fast tractors, were competing in the haulage market without being burdened by the same safety standards.”
On the subject of O-licensing, Buchanan added: “If it is the case then operators would need to obtain O-licences from when the vehicle was new. They should also have to comply with the same level of rigour as lorries.”
Vernon Hill, director at Kings Lynn-based Vernon Hill Agricultural Services, supported bringing tractors into the O-licensing regime.
He said: “An agricultural contractor friend of mine who runs lorries and tractors thinks the cost of each is very similar, so if farmers think they are saving money by not using a haulier they may be kidding themselves.
“If they are doing commercial haulage, why shouldn’t they be in scope of O-licensing?”
The weight and speed limits for farm tractors and trailers on UK roads increased in 2015. Tractors are not currently subject to mandatory testing.
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Know your limits: how to spot if a driver has a drink or drugs problem
On Saturday 26 August, eight people were killed when two HGVs and a minibus collided just past junction 14 of the M1 at Milton Keynes. Although the cause of the crash is still unknown, one of the most shocking incidents was that one of the HGV drivers involved, Ryszard Masierak, was over the legal drink-driving limit.
Most people’s image of addiction – to alcohol or other substances – is of someone who is intoxicated, leading a chaotic lifestyle scraping together enough money for their next hit; but this is not always the case. There are also many functional addicts; people who juggle their problem to maintain what appears to be a normal life.
“As far as I was concerned, I was beyond the point where I was looking to get any kind of high – I was just trying to feel normal,” says Greg, a former functional addict. “If you’d asked me, I would have said I was unfit to drive without anything.”
But keeping himself in this state was not easy in an industry as unpredictable as transport; long hours and unexpected nights out took their toll. “I became incredibly manipulative,” he tells CM, “allowing my employers to think my partner had mental health issues to enable me to leave work early.”
Concern about his partner was also the excuse he gave when he made mistakes. Eventually Greg realised he needed help before something went seriously wrong and took a break from driving to get it – but many may not be so lucky. As far as he knows, his employer never had any idea what was really going on.
Spotting this kind of low-level misuse can be difficult, especially when the drug concerned is alcohol. Many drivers still consider having a few pints with a meal each night acceptable, which may seem fine until you consider they may only be taking nine hours’ rest, leaving little time for the alcohol to leave their systems – especially if they are taking that rest at home and need to drive themselves to and from work.
Independent alcohol education charity Drinkaware has researched morning after driving. “The amount of alcohol in your bloodstream depends on three things,” says Drinkaware chief medical adviser Dr Paul Wallace. “The amount you consume, over what period of time, and the speed at which your body gets rid of it.”
The general rule of thumb is that the body processes one unit of alcohol an hour, but that can vary depending on your size, how much you have eaten, the state of your liver (which does the lion’s share of the work) and your metabolism. There is also nothing you can do to speed this process up.
“Having a coffee or a cold shower won’t do anything to get rid of the alcohol,” says Wallace. “They may make you feel different, but they haven’t eliminated the alcohol.”
Spotting the signs of addiction
Fellow organisation Alcohol Concern works with employers to create effective alcohol policies for the workplace. “Alcohol misuse is associated with a variety of negative outcomes,” it says, “including higher levels of unauthorised leave and increased incidence of accidents and arguments.”
It recommends robust and regular training for line managers and HR staff as a matter of good practice, but cautions that staff members should “be reminded that their job is not to diagnose problems but to monitor factors that may indicate underlying issues, such as performance, work relationships and behaviour at work.”
It recommends options for intervention, including company health campaigns; the use of informal screening tools such as questionnaires, coupled with five-minute advice sessions with trained practitioners; and web-based intervention programmes.
These are considered to be most effective within an established workplace alcohol policy; however, this is something few operators have. Add the urgent nature of dealing with such issues within a safety-critical occupation such as driving, and we are left wondering what the majority can and should do if they realise they have a problem.
What to do if you suspect a driver has a drink or drugs problem
“Even if you haven’t got a policy in your employment contract on this, you are still entitled to take a driver to one side, tell him you suspect he has a problem and request he takes a test,” says Backhouse Jones director and solicitor Jonathon Backhouse. “If he refuses, you can’t let him drive again; that’s the starting point, so you’re going to have to suspend him – on pay.”
The majority of modern employment contracts include a clause that enables an employer to direct an employee to see either their GP or a company doctor if there is a health concern, and obtain a certificate of fitness to work.
However, many haulage firms have simpler arrangements, in which case they may still request a driver sees a medical professional, but they cannot force the driver to comply. “If the driver continues to refuse – to talk about the situation, to take a test or to see a doctor – at that point you say you’re going to put him through disciplinary action,” Backhouse says, “because you have a valid concern and would be causing a serious offence if you let him drive and your concerns proved right.”
This could lead to an employment dispute, but any tribunal is going to question the complainant as to why he did not agree to testing. “Operators should take legal advice in this situation,” Backhouse concludes, “but it’s better to lose a tribunal than let a driver go out when you suspect something is wrong and find he kills people [in a collision].”
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By Lucy Radley