There are a number of developments in transport regulation which are expected to be under a particularly bright spotlight this coming year

  • Looking back at 2022: A year of recovery and reinforcement
  • Looking ahead to 2023: Forthcoming developments in transport regulation
  • DVSA desk-based assessments
  • In-cab technology: Friend or foe?
  • Crunching the data on roadworthiness
  • Third-party trailers an enforcement priority
  • New Year Resolutions for fleet managers

There is no doubt that 2023 will be a busy year for road transport regulation. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) remote-enforcement drive continues to gather pace, with increasingly intelligent use of data to target instances of non-compliance. Certain categories of vehicle operators such as traction-only hauliers will find themselves under greater scrutiny than ever before, and there will be a growing focus on how data gathered by advanced in-cab vehicle technologies is safely managed.

Looking back at 2022: A year of recovery and reinforcement

Before we look ahead, let us take a look back. 2022 was a busy year for transport regulation and enforcement. Throughout the Covid pandemic there had been a recognition from government and the public that companies involved in transport and the supply chain played a crucial role in keeping the country moving. Numerous temporary relaxations to transport regulations were introduced to support the national supply chain. These included changes which allowed drivers to drive for longer with less rest, and vehicles to be serviced less frequently. This was accompanied by a drastic reduction in the number of DVSA prosecutions and Traffic Commissioner hearings.

As the world slowly emerged from the pandemic throughout the course of 2022, these temporary regulatory relaxations started to come to an end and transport regulation enforcement bounced back with a new vigour. The number of DVSA investigations, Traffic Commissioner Public Inquiries and prosecutions all climbed sharply throughout the course of the year and this trend shows no signs of levelling off yet.

Looking ahead to 2023: Forthcoming developments in transport regulation

The current trend of more robust and targeted enforcement looks set to continue through 2023 as the DVSA, Police and the Office of the Traffic Commissioner continue to clamp down on non-compliance.

Much of this focus will inevitably be on longstanding, high-priority risk areas. These include brake testing, bridge strikes, drivers' hours offending and wheel security. There are however a number of areas which are expected to be under a particularly bright spotlight this coming year:

DVSA desk-based assessments

The use by DVSA of the desk-based assessment procedure is expected to grow as the Agency continues its move towards remote enforcement. Whilst this may mean fewer DVSA "boots on the ground" at operating centres, it will also mean that perhaps more operators than ever before can expect to be targeted by DVSA enforcement.

Operators who are served with a desk-based assessment usually have just 14 days to complete a detailed compliance questionnaire and to supply comprehensive fleet management compliance records covering a six-month period. An inadequate response will usually result in a follow up investigation and a referral to the Traffic Commissioner. This of course places a huge responsibility on a company to produce a satisfactory response on the very first occasion, and in very little time.

This coming year, more than ever, companies must ensure they have robust, pre-existing procedures in place and ready to be implemented should they be served with a desk-based assessment. For most companies their operator's licence is a business-critical asset and so any regulatory intervention must be a board-level reportable matter. Most large operators will already have a pre-existing relationship with a transport lawyer for just this kind of incident response assistance.

In-cab technology: Friend or foe?

In recent years the rise of in-cab vehicle technology has delivered great benefit in areas of road safety, efficiencies, and fleet planning. Unfortunately, these advantages can be outweighed by the additional risks that arise if operators do not have proper systems and procedures in place to manage this new technology.

As an example, many operators employ driver-facing cameras and advanced telematics that monitor how safely a vehicle is being driven. The fact that this data is then accessible to a transport manager could be said to put an operator "on notice" of any emerging risks developing, whether the data is in fact looked at or not. If an incident were to occur, the police or DVSA will seize all this data and will want to know how it was being monitored and whether the incident could have been avoided had the data been managed differently.

Similarly, many vehicles have additional safety features such as extra cameras and advanced emergency braking systems. Whilst many of these features are not required by law, if a fault were to develop with one of these systems, an operational decision would need to be taken as to whether the vehicle should be taken off the road immediately or allowed to continue until next service. How that decision was made, and the risk assessed, can be expected to come under greater scrutiny the aftermath of an incident.

It must also be remembered that most driving data would be classed as personal data for the purposes of GDPR. Substantial fines can be issued by the ICO to companies who fail to manage this data lawfully.

Next year must, therefore, be the year that operators review their current policies, risk assessments and procedures to make sure they are up-to-date and account for recent developments in vehicle technology and data gathering. The Police, DVSA, Information Commissioner and Office of the Traffic Commissioner are increasingly alive to this issue. Operators and directors who simply follow business-as-usual will increasingly find themselves at risk of regulatory sanction, reputational damage and, should a serious incident occur, prosecution.

Crunching the data on roadworthiness

Staying on the theme of data, the DVSA and other enforcement authorities continue to ratchet up their data-led enforcement model. A recent DVSA analysis identified that commercial vehicles are issued 10 times more prohibitions 3 months after their annual test. DVSA examiners also encountered a 25-percentage point increase in prohibitions compared to the first month after an MOT.

Using data in this way it will now be increasingly possible for transport enforcement authorities to target individual vehicles based upon where they are in their maintenance cycle.

Taken together with the Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS), access to the Police's national Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system, and other intelligence gathering, it is likely that next year will see an ever-more targeted approach to roadside enforcement and vehicle roadworthiness inspections.

Third-party trailers an enforcement priority

It is well understood that the explosion in ecommerce during the Covid pandemic led to a large increase in the traction-only haulage model. A large percentage of trailers on UK roads are now neither loaded nor maintained by the company pulling them. Unsurprisingly, traction-only haulage operations are considered particularly high-risk by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner and DVSA and much effort has already been made by the regulator to drive-up standards in this area.

The current DVSA Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness already sets out the strict expectations that traction-only hauliers are required to meet. The year 2023 will see an even greater regulatory focus on traction only operations, coupled with an anticipated further revision to the Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness to reflect this.

New Year Resolutions for fleet managers

Directors and fleet managers should strongly consider the following New Year Resolutions:

  • Conduct a thorough review of your policies and procedures governing vehicle technology and data gathering to ensure that they are not placing the business at unnecessary risk, and seek professional input if required;
  • Review your trailer maintenance arrangements to ensure they are in line with the Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness (particularly important for traction only hauliers);
  • Ensure that all key staff have had some form of appropriate operator licence compliance training, and that all staff understand that a desk-based assessment or other regulatory intervention is a board-level reportable matter;

Consider stress-testing your transport compliance practices, either by way of an external compliance audit or a confidential review by a law firm with a transport regulation

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.