Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Van fleets ‘to face compliance crackdown’ . . .


Van fleets ‘to face compliance crackdown’

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Van owners can look forward to a crackdown by the police and the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), thanks to mounting concerns over slipshod maintenance and overloading.

That is the stark warning issued by Mark Cartwright (pictured, right), head of vans and light commercial vehicles at the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

Cartwright points out that almost 50 per cent of vans grossing at from 3.0 to 3.5 tonnes fail their Class 7 MoT test first time round, according to DVSA statistics. That is a far higher failure rate than that of any other class of vehicle, and a clear indication that maintenance is often inadequate.

“It’s the sort of figure that’s like a red rag to legislators,” he says.

Vans lighter than 3.0 tonnes are included in Classes III and IV for test purposes. The categories also include passenger cars, although the failure rates for cars and vans are not separated out.

Cartwright suggests, however, that there is no reason to believe that smaller vans are any more adept at passing their MoT test on first presentation than their bigger counterparts.

“That means there could be as many as 1.65 million unroadworthy vans on the road,” he contends.

If true, then that is not a figure the authorities will be prepared to ignore.

He does not believe the government has any intention at present of lowering the operator licence threshold to below 3.5 tonnes. It does, however, intend to ensure that the existing legislation that affects vans is obeyed.

“Vans have led a charmed life up until now from an enforcement viewpoint, but that’s about to end,” he states. “And it’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel so far as the enforcers are concerned.”

The ridiculous thing is that, in many cases, van operators would not need to do all that much to ensure their vans pass their MoT test.

Cartwright points out that failure is often the result of a headlight not working or a badly-worn tyre: faults that are not exactly difficult to spot.

“That tells you that some operators aren’t even bothering to look at their vans before they present them for test,” he says.

So far as overloading is concerned, figures recently published by the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency reveal that almost 90 per cent of the 2,381 vans it weighed last year – an admittedly small number given that there are now over four million on the road, a record – were overburdened.

Tough penalties await those who are found guilty of overloading their vehicles.

“A gross overload, a front axle overload and a rear axle overload are each counted as separate offences and can each result in a fine of up to £5,000 on conviction,” points out Andy Hill (right), commercial vehicle manager at leasing and contract hire specialist Lex Autolease.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders points out that overloading a van can undermine many of the benefits accrued by the latest advantages in light commercial safety technology.

As well as increasing the braking distance and upsetting the handling it can cause key components – the tyres, for example – to wear out more quickly.

Both Cartwright and Hill were speaking at ‘A Van for All Reasons’ – a seminar dedicated to vans organised by the Association of Car Fleet Operators.

A cavalier attitude to maintenance, and the fact that some firms burden light commercials with far more weight than they are legally allowed to carry, are not the only issues the industry needs to tackle, says Hill.

He is talking, for example, about businesses doing everything from ensuring that each of their drivers has a valid licence and has signed a declaration that they have no health problems that would prevent them from driving, to instructing them to carry out a walk-around check each morning.

Serious defects should be reported and dealt with before the van goes back on the road, and a record should be kept of the remedial action taken.

Hill refers to the daily walk-around inspection as a FLOWER check – Fuel, Lights, Oil, Water, Electrics, Rubber.

The licence check should include making sure that the individual has the correct entitlement for the vehicle he or she is being asked to drive. Drivers who are instructed to tow a trailer with a van may need to take a separate test before they are legally permitted to do so.

Steps should also be taken to prevent people driving vans on company business while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, says Hill.

Other areas that need addressing include the way in which the cargo is secured in the vehicle.

“You do not want to end up with a situation where a driver opens the van’s back doors only to have a loaded pallet fall on his feet because the cargo has shifted,” Hill says.

“What is more, all vans should be equipped with a full-height steel bulkhead to protect the driver if the load moves forwards.”

Businesses that fail to act responsibly could face severe penalties if their attitude leads to a serious accident involving life-changing injuries or fatalities.

New guidance on penalties for health and safety offences issued to the courts by the Sentencing Council earlier this year mandates substantial fines related to the size of a firm’s turnover, and prison sentences for company executives in the worst cases on conviction.

Remember too that a guilty verdict in the criminal courts is likely to result in civil proceedings being brought on behalf of the injured party; and the award made by the civil court could be substantial.

A conviction for corporate manslaughter will result in heavy criminal penalties too.

There are well-established programmes that can help businesses avoid such undesirable fates.

FORS, the national Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme, embraces vans as well as trucks. Put together by FTA members who run major van fleets, the Van Excellence scheme provides training, guidance and a wide-ranging audit of compliance.

Over 100 companies of varying sizes collectively running some 125,000 vehicles are accredited to the programme, and the FTA has recently introduced a best practice scheme aimed at businesses with up to ten vans.

“Fleet operators who get van operations right run them like truck operations,” observes Cartwright.

“Those who don’t treat vans like funny-shaped cars.”

Safety first

1. Check that all van drivers have a valid licence, and re-check licences every six months to ensure they have no undeclared points.

2. Get drivers to sign a declaration that they have no health problems that would prevent them from driving. Make sure they have regular eyesight checks.

3. Have your vans maintained according to manufacturer recommendations, but treat that as a minimum requirement. Work with your service provider to devise a maintenance schedule tailored to the needs of your particular operation.

4. Ensure that everybody involved in loading vans understands exactly how much weight they are permitted to carry. Think seriously about fitting onboard weighing systems.

5. Draw up a clear company policy that covers areas such as driving while under the influence of drink and drugs and speeding and issue it to all drivers. Get each of them to sign a copy to show that they have read and understood it and return it to you.

6. Instruct drivers to carry out daily walk-around checks of their vehicles. Defects should be reported and appropriate action taken.

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