When should my drivers do a DAILY DEFECT CHECK on heavy good vehicles ? The formal phrase used to describe this element of defect detection is a "first use check". On EACH DAY of HGV operation the vehicle MUST NOT enter the public highway until it has first had key safety elements checked by the driver i.e.; lights, tyres wheel nuts, battery security, steering...

There is a common misunderstanding that if the check is done the night before on return to the depot, this will be sufficient for operation the next day. Defects can develop or manifest themselves overnight hence the importance of checking the vehicle before use the next day. For example a vehicle could be vandalised, a tyre deflate or an oil leak establish itself overnight.Nor is it acceptable to allow your drivers to perform the defect check say at the point of his first break, even if this may only be half an hour down the road. If the vehicle does not undergo the check prior to leaving the depot that day any subsequent operation will not only be a potential threat to other road users but also a breach of the Operator Licence. One of the main reasons for disciplinary action taken by the Traffic Commissioner is for failure in the defect reporting system. An Operator should regard this, as well as regular periodic servicing, as the most important element of its maintenance system. For the system to be effective it should include quality training for and supervision of all drivers, proper record completion, a follow through system when defects are detected and a record of defect rectified. V.O.S.A on request will expect an operator to provide a written defect sheet for each day of vehicle operation for at least a period of 15 months.Not only is this system crucial but should dramatically reduce the likelihood of roadside prohibitions occurring.Practical advice on managing your Operator Licence is provided by Elizabeth Caple, Transport Law Solicitor. 0117 9075699 0781 441 4374

Make your manual entries!

Failing to ensure that driver's make a proper note on the back of tachograph charts for unexpected events arising in the course of a journey, or even 'off road' driving, can prove costly...

A case from last week should act as a warning to all operators on the importance of ensuring that drivers write appropriate notes on the back of tachograph charts.

In the proceedings my firm was acting for the operator and several drivers in relation to alleged breaches of the drivers' hours rules. For their part, the company and drivers claimed that some of the rules had been broken due to vehicles being unavoidably delayed as a result of road traffic accidents. Another explanation centred on 'off road' driving when vehicles had been used in quarries or at the docks. Unfortunately there was no evidence to substantiate these claims and both the prosecution and court were reluctant to accept them.Sometimes there can be additional evidence available to prove that accidents have occurred (for example police reports) or vehicles have driven off road (weighbridge tickets or gatehouse logs) but on other occasions it might not exist or be difficult to obtain. In such circumstances a clear note, made by the driver on the back of the chart, will go a long way to persuading the court that there is a defence.

In fact if it is seen by the police or VOSA at the time of the investigation it may even deter them from prosecuting in the first place.The note must be made at the end of the day's driving in question - it will loose all credibility if it is added later. If it relates to an accident it should be clear as to where and when the congestion arose. If it covers 'off road driving' it should say where this took place and between what times (though do remember that the rules on such driving will change next month). The note will make it easier for the driver to recall the exact circumstances and therefore help him in giving good clear evidence rather than see him struggling to recall something that could have occurred a long time ago. Operators should regularly remind drivers of the importance of making these notes as it might just help 'save' both of them if the matter comes to court!Andrew WoolfallBackhouse Jones Solicitors