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Transport law & Haulage solicitors
Transport Law is the area of law which permits, regulates, and prohibits the activities of road haulage. The framework is important having regard to the size and value of this sector operation. Accordingly, in the UK alone, the transport industry is said to generate in the region of £125 billion towards the economy.
The road haulage sector has the difficult task of delivering goods safely to customers, all the while adhering to the strict rules and regulations in force. The law governing this area is highly complex and an increasing number of companies are finding themselves falling foul of these strict regulations.
We are experienced in assisting, and representing, a diverse range of transport operators, managers and professional drivers across all issues within the sphere of Transport Law. We provide legal advice, defence, and representation on a wide range of issues pertaining to goods and passenger vehicles, from the initial licensing application and beyond.
Operators Licensing Regime
The predominant purpose of the regime is to ensure the safe and proper use of goods and passenger vehicles. Together with the protection of the environment in the surrounding areas of an operating centre where the vehicles are housed.
An operator’s licence is the legal authority to operate specific categories of vehicles within the UK. This directly applies to both Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) and Passenger Service Vehicles (PSVs) such as buses, coaches and alike.
We can assist with applications for new or interim licences, including those instances where variation is required. It is important to note that the submission of any application may prompt a Public Inquiry. This is either due to a concern being identified or following objections being received in response to an application.
We can assist with ensuring compliance to the regime, business requirements, which includes both the general and specific undertakings associated with the granting of a particular licence.
HGVs (Heavy Goods Vehicles)
The obligation to hold a valid operator’s licence relates to the use of a relevant vehicle. The licence must be held by the person (individual or company) who ‘uses’ the vehicle notwithstanding whether or not they are also the owner.
There are two predominant types of ‘goods’ licences that can be sought:
Standard licence – under which a goods vehicle may be used on a road for the carriage of goods for hire, reward or in connection with a business. Should you carry other parties’ goods only occasionally, you must have a valid standard licence to do so. A standard licence can be granted on either a national or international basis depending on the geographical activities of the business concerned.
Restricted licence – permits the use of a relevant vehicle to carry your own goods during your trade or business. If you have a restricted licence, then you must not carry goods for others.
PSVs (Passenger Service Vehicles)
A PSV operator’s licence is required if you operate a vehicle for hire or reward that can carry 9 or more passengers (seats within a vehicle). It is also required if you operate a smaller vehicle carrying passengers and charging separate fares for the journey
There are 4 distinct types of PSV operator licenses, plus special licensing rules apply in London.
Enforcement Action by the DVSA and Police
The enforcement of the standards and requirements set down in an operator’s licence and under road transport law, is the responsibility of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the police.
DVSA and the police have legal powers to stop vehicles and conduct roadside checks on vehicles (or direct them to the nearest dedicated testing sites). They have a range of powers regarding respective actions they can take if any issues are identified. Increasingly, the DVSA and police are creating local task forces to drive up regulatory compliance in road transport.
The checks carried out are to ensure overall compliance with the regulatory regime, some of which will include:
- Authorised load weights and the type of load permitted
- Checking the roadworthiness of vehicles and mechanical faults
- Tachograph records
- Ensuring the specific driver has a valid and effective occupational driving licence
The DVSA and police have various options at their disposal in the event they identify any shortcomings. This with the driver (for example infringement of drivers’ hours) or with the vehicle itself (such as mechanical defects, including:
- Prohibition Notices
- Fixed Penalty Notices (including graduated fixed penalties)
- Immobilisation of the vehicle
- Seizure of the vehicle
- Interviews under caution.
- Decision to issue a summons and proceed with a prosecution (after the roadside procedure)
- Notification to the Traffic Commissioner
Issues identified at the roadside in respect of any vehicle or driver can subsequently lead to full inspections by the DVSA on an operator. Also, the calling in of the operator and/or driver involved to a Public Inquiry or driver conduct hearing held by the Traffic Commissioner.
Traffic Commissioners have primary responsibility for the licensing and regulation of those who operate HGVs or PSVs as well as the registration of local bus services.
Traffic Commissioners are statutorily independent authorities who have the powers to act against operators, as well as vocational entitlement of bus, coach and lorry drivers who commit road offences.
They can call for a Public Inquiry to obtain further evidence to assist them in the decision-making process about whether to:
- Grant or refuse licenses for HGV or PSV operators; and/or
- Take action against a vehicle or bus service operator, or driver of a bus, minibus, lorry or coach.
A Public Inquiry could be prompted due to a concern by the licensing authority or objections to a licence being granted. These concerns may be in relation to compliance issues and the operator’s ability to comply with the terms of a respective licence.
There may also be environmental concerns such as those relating to the suitability of the proposed operating centre. A Public Inquiry may also happen as a result from concerns of non-compliance of the lifetime of the relevant licence as specific instances and certain offences engaged the positive notification obligations to the Traffic Commissioner.
The Traffic Commissioner has the power to grant or refuse a licence. If the process relates to an already active licence, the Traffic Commission has options to:
- take no action
- issue a formal warning
- to impose additional undertakings to the licence
- curtail a licence (thus reducing the number of authorised vehicles)
- suspend the licence for a specific period of time
- revoke a licence
- to disqualify a director
Driver Conduct Hearings
As well as public inquiries for operators and transport managers, the Traffic Commissioner holds hearings to consider driver conduct.
The matters considered at these hearings often follow criminal proceedings (or sanction). For example, where a vocational driver has been identified contravening driver’s hours or using a mobile telephone when driving (even in their personal capacity). Such hearings are also used to establish whether any individual is determined fit to hold a vocational driving licence having regard to their specific conduct concerned.
A ‘Clandestine Entrant’ is defined as a person who hides in or on a vehicle to avoid passing through UK Border Control. In the event any such clandestine entrant is identified; the owner operator and driver can face the imposition of civil penalties either jointly or separately.
Where it is alleged that any person is liable to such a penalty for bringing a Clandestine Entrant into the UK, they will have a defence if the below can be shown:
- He did not know and had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that a clandestine entrant was, or even might be, concealed in the transporter.
- There was an effective system in operation in relation to the transporter to prevent the carriage of an entrant; and
- On the specific occasion concerned, the person(s) responsible for operating the ‘system’ in place did so properly.
If you are faced with any issues in respect of any aspect of road haulage and transport law, then please contact our regulatory lawyer, Tej Thakkar, on 01206 217312.