Wednesday 13 December 2017

Authorities call for ‘change of attitude’ on brake testing

Both the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the traffic commissioners (TCs) of Great Britain have warned the road transport industry to lift its game urgently in the area of brake performance testing.

Investigations by DVSA enforcement officers have reportedly found that inadequate brake testing – or a complete absence of any checks – is being uncovered “far too frequently”, despite what the TCs called “clear lessons” from the 2015 Bath manslaughter case, in which a 32-tonne tipper with faulty brakes killed four people.

Too many operators are “simply paying lip service” to brake testing, the TCs warned, with too little often recorded to constitute a meaningful assessment – while in other cases, no information is recorded at all. Operators are also failing to carry out brake testing sufficiently frequently.

Meanwhile, DVSA warned that braking issues had been identified as the most common type of defect across all types of vehicle, in both British and foreign trucks, in its latest Fleet Compliance Checks survey published in November.

In a random sample of more than 6,000 vehicles, 28 per cent of the mechanical defects uncovered on British HGVs were brake-related, and 44 per cent in trailers. For foreign HGVs and trailers, those figures were 33 and 42 per cent respectively.

In a press statement released on the same day as the survey was published, Sarah Bell and Kevin Rooney, the lead TCs for enforcement, urged a “change of attitude” towards brake testing, stressing the ubiquity of the problem.

“This is not limited to a specific type of licence, size of operator or a particular sector – it is across the board,” they warned.

“There should be no compromise in any operator’s approach, no flexibility around standards.”

The TCs’ statement referred to guidance laid out in DVSA’s Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness, which was revised in 2014 in part to strengthen advice around brake testing.

They particularly emphasised the Guide’s requirement to assess vehicles’ and trailers’ braking performance at every safety inspection, and reiterated the DVSA’s assessment in the Guide that: “a road test method to assess the brake performance for all planned safety inspections will usually be inadequate.”

The TCs highlighted some recent cases from public inquiries, including a vehicle with a braking defect that had been identified during daily checks but was nonetheless used for a whole week.

Some firms were found not to have subjected their vehicles to sufficiently frequent brake performance tests – while another operator attracted censure for having written ‘not applicable’ in the brake test section of every PMI.

“Operators should carry out an urgent review of their brake testing regime now,” Kevin Rooney and Sarah Bell said.

“This should include an analysis of safety inspection records over the last 15 months, looking at whether the type of test and the information recorded is sufficient.

“Operators must make sure their brake tests are planned in line with DVSA guidance and satisfy themselves that the vehicles and trailers running under their licence are roadworthy.”

Gareth Llewellyn, chief executive of the DVSA, said: “Brakes that don’t work, particularly in something with the weight and power of a lorry, can devastate families and their communities.

“So it’s disappointing that a minority of operators are still not performing effective checks. If we catch you with brakes that don’t work, we will take your vehicles off the road to ensure the safety of the travelling public.”

In a post released simultaneously on the agency’s Moving On blog, DVSA enforcement policy manager Dave Wood offered more detailed advice on what is required of operators as regards brake testing. The blog can be accessed here.

Operators can also access the DVSA’s full Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness here.

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