With the periodic training deadline for bus and coach now passed, VOSA has clarified that it will not issue fines or penalties to those found breaching Driver CPC rules if they are to be covered by new exemptions announced by the government, but not yet implemented.
The Driving Standards Agency recently announced that around 76,000 individuals, including mechanics, who drive heavy vehicles for short distances for the purposes of delivery or repair, will soon be exempt from the requirement to hold the Driver CPC.
The news of the new exemptions came just weeks before the Driver CPC training deadline for bus and coach operators, which passed on 10 September, leaving no time prior to that date to amend the necessary legislation. Shortly before Transport Operator went to press in September, however, VOSA confirmed that: “between 10 September 2013 and the date when the new regulations come into force for PSV drivers with acquired rights, VOSA will not prioritise pursuing Driver CPC infringements against people who would be exempt once the new regulations were introduced [and] not issue fines or penalties to those people.”
The policy U-turn follows an accelerated consultation on the subject during June, after trade groups including the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and Road Haulage Association (RHA) raised concerns with government over its interpretation of the European directive behind the Driver CPC scheme.
Mechanics taking vehicles for annual test, for example, had previously been said by the government to require Driver CPC – but the associations said this was placing a burden on the industry that was disproportionate and unnecessary.
The reversal of the controversial policy, which is being presented as an efficiency triumph by the government under its ‘Red Tape Challenge’ commitment, follows Transport Operator’s continuous coverage of the issue since February this year. The change is set to save UK businesses £29 million in the first year alone, roads minister Stephen Hammond claimed.
Said Hammond: “Driver training is essential to ensure that lorry and bus drivers keep their skills up to scratch and keep our roads safe.
“But making the training compulsory for those who only drive HGVs over short distances – because they are delivering them for repair or testing – is costly and time-consuming. That is why we are making these exemptions which will reduce costs and administration for businesses.”
The exemptions are set to be implemented this autumn. The first exemption, the government says, will benefit both mechanics and valets, and will apply in scenarios where “no goods or passengers are being carried, the vehicle is not being used for hire or reward, driving heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) or public service vehicles (PSVs) is not the driver’s main job and the vehicle remains within 50 kilometres of the driver’s base.”
The second exemption, said to benefit mechanics, “applies as long as the vehicle is being driven to an official test at a VOSA or authorised testing facility.”
The DSA said it had received 141 responses to the online consultation, including from traffic commissioners, driver trainers and vehicle operators, dealers and hirers.
“The overwhelming majority of respondents supported the proposals in full,” the DSA added, “while five respondents were totally opposed.”
Some respondents had raised the issue of whether existing rules would be enforced during the transitional period prior to the enactment of the legislative changes that will be required to introduce the exemptions, which the agency vowed to bring forward “as soon as we can.”
The DSA said: “We will publicise any changes to be made to the legislation and implementation date as soon as possible.” While VOSA has since said it will not issue fines or penalties to those who would be exempt were the planned changes already in force, the DSA also warned that driving without a CPC may invalidate a driver’s insurance policy.
“Whilst DSA hopes that the insurance industry will take a pragmatic approach in these circumstances, concerned drivers are encouraged to discuss this with their insurance providers,” it said.
Of costs incurred by companies who had already begun Driver CPC training for the affected individuals, the DSA said: “There is no case for the repayment of any costs incurred. The proposal to amend the legislation was not a result of an error in the implementation of the EU Directive. The proposal emerged following representations made by the various industry stakeholders.
“Drivers who completed their DCPC benefit from the training received and from having a transferable qualification and their employers benefit from having better trained employees.”
James Firth, head of road freight and enforcement policy at the FTA, was quick to welcome the change in policy.
“At last – a common sense decision by the government – FTA has long been calling for this exemption to be introduced. Professional lorry drivers have to work within a plethora of rules aimed at improving road safety, and it’s right that those driving for a living every day have access to continuous refresher training,” he said.
“But a mechanic who only ever drives HGVs on a public road to test them or take them for their statutory annual test, should not need to take the same refresher training as a professional, full time lorry driver.”
He continued: “It is disappointing that this has taken so long to be implemented and has happened at the last minute. While enforcement authorities are unlikely to take specific action against such drivers during the shortfall – which is expected to be a few weeks – drivers and operators still need to consider carefully their responsibilities for making sure drivers behind the wheel are road-legal. But in the long term, this is an unnecessary burden that the government has, quite rightly, lifted from industry.”
The government is also reviewing whether the scope of exemptions can be extended in respect of farmers – and has said it will also be reissuing guidance shortly “to clarify the situation for drivers with grandfather rights minibus entitlements, to enable them to progress straight to the periodic training element of Driver CPC. This will considerably cut burdens on this small group.
“So where driving requires CPC, D1 (NFHR) and D (NFHR) licence entitlement holders will now be able to progress straight to the CPC periodic training requirement of 35 hours training per 5 years, rather than needing to take the initial licence acquisition and CPC test as well.”