Senior TC issues conference compliance advice

By Categories: NewsPublished On: Saturday 25 June 2022

Failures to notify the authorities of substantive changes to O-licences are a big issue, senior traffic commissioner Richard Turfitt (pictured, right) warned delegates at the Microsoft Transport Conference in Coventry.

“You need to notify the Office of the Traffic Commissioners of such changes, for instance when the nominated transport manager leaves,” he said.

“Check who has access to your account at the OTC and check that we have your correct current contact details: failure to respond to a query from the OTC can kill a licence,” he warned.

The UK freight sector was expanding fast, post-Covid: there had been a 15 per cent rise in O-licence applications in the last two years, entirely attributable to freight as the passenger sector was still in decline.

New applicants needed to help speed their applications by maximising use of digital services.

“We cannot provide legal advice over the phone, it just clogs up the system,” he warned. “Read the guidance before submitting your applications and seek professional advice if required.”

One of the fastest-growing sectors in the industry was the provision of third-party traction by hauliers to trailer operators.

“Only 50 per cent of new operators now have their own trailers, while 28 per cent are offering traction services,” he reported.

“But the user is responsible for the safe mechanical condition of the trailer: and that means the driver and the operator of the tractor unit that is coupled to the trailer, and not the trailer’s owner.

“We are now seeing a growing number of operators called to public inquiry over trailer condition.”

“It can be challenging where a large company owns the trailers, and can make things problematic for haulage contractors,” he conceded.

Operators needed to refer to Section 3.3 of the Department for Transport’s Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness, and to technical guidance published by the IRTE. Regular brake testing was essential for trailers, and operators should ensure that third-party trailers were inspected in accordance with their own schedules.

“Many traction-only operators ignore this, or don’t see the trailers as their responsibility,” he warned.

After some years of improvement, annual test pass rates for trucks and trailers were now declining, he noted.

“Vehicles are becoming more sophisticated, and this raises the question as to whether maintenance providers should be qualified or recognised.

“Many operators don’t even check the pass rate that their provider achieves.”

TC Turfitt explained that the annual test was a minimum standard for roadworthiness.

“Legally, every part of the braking system must work all of the time. Operators need to check and understand the reports they get from brake-testing.”

He recommended checking the DVSA blog: Beyond the brake test – are you taking action?

All businesses need to take all reasonable steps to prevent incidents, he reminded delegates.

Turning to one of the hot topics of the conference, he urged attendees to remember that: “drivers deserve our support.

“Don’t let beating the driver shortage come at the expense of safety. Drivers must feel free to report health issues, including mental health issues.

“We can’t lose sight of driver welfare.”

Moving on to public inquiries, he warned the conference: “If something goes wrong, it is not unreasonable for us to seek an explanation.

“We must uphold road safety and fair competition. Responsible operators should read the decisions that we make. There’s never just a single issue to be dealt with at a public inquiry: it’s always multiple problems.”

Finally, he turned to environmental issues, saying that currently the traffic commissioner was required to act as a duplication of the local council’s planning department. Under the environmental heading, the TCs just considered the impact of transport operations on locals in term of sight, sound and vibration.

“The operator licensing system needs to change in this regard, particularly with regard to meeting net zero objectives,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy (right) reminded delegates at the conference of the importance of awareness around bridge strikes.

“Every hit bridge has to be inspected, causing delays on road and rail, and disruption to local communities. Bridge strikes cost at least £20 million a year,” he said.

“In 2021, the incident involving the Tesco lorry in Plymouth cost over £1 million and closed the South Devon Main Line for three days.”

Bridge strike incidents were predominantly caused by the driver not knowing the height of his vehicle, the driver not believing the signs, or the signs being inadequate.

“At the top 10 bridge strike locations we are looking at either lowering the road or raising the bridge, but this is not always possible,” Sir Peter said.

“All strikes are an offence, and may also call into question the competence of an operator to hold an O licence,” he warned. “Hitting a bridge is at very least a failure to observe a roadsign and may also be an offence of due care and attention.”

There had been a gentle reduction in the number of strikes in recent years, he reported, and Network Rail was now working on a database listing all low bridges, but this was still “work in progress” and made more difficult by the fact that the bridge data did not belong to Network Rail.

Responsibility for signage rested with local authorities, but they sometimes inadvertently reduced bridge heights by resurfacing the road beneath by laying the new surface onto the old.

Sir Peter said that many incidents were caused by professional drivers following car sat navs when truck-specific systems were available, and operators should impart suitable knowledge and guidance in route planning to their drivers.