The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has confirmed that over 100 operators, some running as many as 80 vehicles, are under investigation after emissions control defeat devices were found by vehicle examiners – while traffic commissioners are already acting on the evidence found, by revoking O-licences and disqualifying transport managers.
The agency has been examining trucks for the devices at five roadside checkpoint locations since August of last year. Of the 3,735 trucks examined, 293 – just under eight per cent – had been found to be fitted with such devices by the end of November, triggering further investigations into the fleets involved.
Initially, drivers and operators are given 10 days to fix the emissions system, or face a £300 fine and having the vehicle taken off the road. Repeat offenders face instant impounding.
Foreign-registered vehicles were found to be more compliant than British ones. Just 4.9 per cent of foreign vehicles examined had the devices fitted, compared to 8.5 per cent of those registered in Great Britain. The worst offenders were trucks registered in Northern Ireland, over 20 per cent of which had the devices installed.
The problem is not just confined to ‘AdBlue emulators’, which stop the truck’s SCR system from functioning while allowing the engine to continue to deliver full power. Other illegal modifications include the removal of the exhaust particulate filter, the use of sub-standard or fake fluid in place of AdBlue, illegal modifications including ‘chipping’ and remapping which cause excessive emissions, and the removal or bypassing of the engine’s exhaust gas recirculation valve.
The roadside examinations have triggered over 100 fleet inspections, with some offending operators running up to 80 vehicles. DVSA will pass the results of these inspections on to the traffic commissioners (TCs), who have the power to suspend UK operators’ licences, and to authorities abroad for foreign-registered trucks.
A new programme of testing will be rolled out across more checkpoints this spring.
Speaking at the FTA Fleet Engineer Conference in Coventry late last year, Dave Wood (right), roadworthiness policy manager at the DVSA, said that vehicles issued with emissions-related prohibitions could go back into service only after the truck manufacturer concerned confirmed that they had been returned to standard.
He said that the main motive given for fitting AdBlue emulators was not to avoid the cost of buying the fluid, but as an alternative to costly repairs or replacements for systems which had gone wrong. Mr Wood explained that his examiners were looking for two types of emulators: one was plugged into the diagnostic socket on the vehicle dashboard and the other was connected directly to the engine ECU.
“We can find, and have found, both types,” he said, and added that emissions control would be included in the next DVSA Guide to Roadworthiness, due for launch at the Commercial Vehicle Show in 2018.
Devices were most likely to be found on vehicles equipped with first and second-generation SCR systems.
“We are finding emulators on Euro 6 vehicles, but not many. It may be that these systems are being manipulated in a way that we cannot detect,” he admitted.
DVSA was currently working on the acquisition of equipment that could easily detect the removal of physical emissions-control systems such as DPFs, and more sophisticated devices that could accurately measure exhaust gas content and smoke levels at the roadside.
“Remapped engines are our biggest challenge,” he said. Such engines have reprogrammed ECUs which allow the injectors to deliver more fuel earlier in the compression stroke, but there is no physical modification to the engine.
A statement released by senior traffic commissioner Richard Turfitt said: “TCs welcome the steps being taken by the enforcement agency to identify emissions cheats. Use of these devices threatens to undercut responsible and compliant operators as well as damaging the environment and public health.
“TCs will look to take action wherever an operator seeks an unfair and illegal advantage over the rest of industry.”
Said action was already very much in evidence as January progressed, with West of England commissioner Kevin Rooney warning that fitting an AdBlue emulator was equivalent to using a magnet to manipulate tachograph readings.
His comments followed a public inquiry at which a transport manager was disqualified for 12 months after an emulation device was found on a vehicle.
“This is a generally compliant operator who has made a very serious mistake. I consider the fitting of the emulator as equivalent, for example, to using a magnet to interrupt a tachograph,” said TC Rooney.
“Each is an act of fraud. Each can kill; one just does it more violently and quickly than the other. For that reason, the generally compliant operation cannot counterbalance this serious event, and regulatory action is necessary.”
In another case, which led to revocation of an operator’s licence, TC Rooney said that the licence-holder’s assertion that he didn’t know one of his vehicles was fitted with an emulation device was “clear nonsense” – and that he had “shut his eyes to the absolutely blindingly obvious”.
“The operator had purchased a vehicle so that it could go in to London without attracting a penalty charge and so was Euro 6-compliant,” he said.
“It had a tank next to the fuel tank for AdBlue. It had an AdBlue gauge on the dash that never moved.”
In the West Midlands, TC Nick Denton revoked another operator’s licence – remarking that, while there was not enough evidence to conclude that the operator had fitted the device to their vehicle, it had still been run for three years without anyone realising AdBlue was required.
The device had disabled the warning light on the dashboard which would have told the driver that the system was not functioning.
But TC Denton said that: “the need for AdBlue should have been self-evident to anyone who understood the business of operating HGVs and who had kept up even a marginal acquaintance with the trade press over the last few years.
“The ignorance of basic operational issues displayed by everyone at the company is astonishing.”
DVSA chief executive Gareth Llewellyn said: “DVSA’s priority is to protect you from unsafe drivers and vehicles. We are committed to taking dangerous lorries off Britain’s roads. Stopping emissions fraud is a vital part of that.
“Anyone who flouts the law is putting the quality of our air and the health of vulnerable people at risk. We won’t hesitate to take action against these drivers, operators and vehicles.”
Enforcement images: DVSA Crown copyright