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Breaking the Highway Code

‘Millions’ breaking the Highway Code and potentially committing traffic offences

Some driving behaviours are clearly a breach of the Highway Code. One such offence is ‘running’ a traffic signal, which can attract a minimum £100 fine and three penalty points or even disqualification. This doesn’t seem to have deterred millions of drivers after a survey found a fifth admitted driving through a red traffic light.

It discovered that 21% of motorists and 27% of cyclists have ignored a red traffic light in the last year.

More than 2,000 people were polled, but if the results were extrapolated out to the total population then around nine million motorists are driving around having committed road traffic offences.

The research from comparison site uSwitch also found that 62% have exceeded the speed limit – 9% apparently having done so within the last 24 hours – and 29% have used their mobile phone while driving, which is absolutely believable given the number you see doing it every day.

Despite all this, only a third of road users (36%) believe they have broken the Highway Code and more than a quarter (28%) aren’t sure whether they have or not. If you break the Highway Code, then you’re at greater risk for prosecution for Careless Driving – even if there was no accident.

Hint: if you’ve done any of the above then you’ve really broken it.

Lack of understanding of the Highway Code

However, facetious comments aside, there’s an important point here.

The reason why so many people probably think they’ve not broken the code, or aren’t sure whether they have, is understandable as in reality no-one reads the Highway Code after they’ve passed their theory test. For most drivers, that is often when they’re were a teenager.

Rod Jones, senior commercial manager at uSwitch says: “It’s clear there’s a lack of understanding of the Highway Code among drivers, cyclists and pedestrians and the consequences could be fatal, even before you think about the financial and legal risks.”

It’s worth having a copy of the latest Code and it can be downloaded for free here.

If you’re facing a driving offence and don’t know whether to plead guilty or not, then you should take advice. It doesn’t necessarily follow that a breach of the Highway Code should result in a prosecution.

No-show

Non-Appearance at Public Inquiry a No-No

Ever wondered what would happen if you failed to turn up to your public inquiry?

Well, here’s an example…

The East of England Traffic Commissioner, Richard Turfitt, was not in a good mood this month after concluding that a haulier requested a hearing simply in order to delay an inevitable revocation.

For a licensing system that is already underfunded, failing to withdraw a public inquiry request and wasting valuable tribunal time, is never going to get you on to TC Turfitt’s Christmas card list.

But it does make you wonder how many other operators are roguish enough to game the system.

In this case, the Leighton Buzzard operator NCH Logistics failed to turn up at a public inquiry in Cambridge to address its financial standing issues, despite having asked the TC to hold one.

In a written decision, the TC says the operator was warned that this had better not be a device to gain further commercial advantage, but probably with a weary heart and one eye on our very brief time on earth, the PI was agreed and scheduled.

And the operator duly didn’t bother turning up.

A Question of Fairness

“The approach, whereby operators use the proposal to revoke system to request a public inquiry as a means of delaying the inevitable, is to be deprecated,” said Turfitt.

“It has a negative impact on the resources of the office of the traffic commissioner and therefore the ability to regulate.

“The resources of this office are provided through operator licence fees, which responsible operators are entitled to expect will be used to best effect. This is not merely a question of resource, it is a question of fairness.

“If all operators were to behave in this way then the operator licensing system may very well be brought into disrepute.”

The licence was revoked, the repute was lost and serious questions will be asked if the directors make an attempt to return to the industry.

And then no doubt the traffic commissioner went for a lie down.

The Moral of the Story

Even if revocation is a foregone conclusion, failing to appear is not a good move. Particularly if you have any aspirations to operate large goods vehicles in the future. Please get in touch if you need further advice.

Scotland’s Drug Driving Deaths on the Rise

Scotland’s increase in Drug Driving Deaths may be linked to Cut in Alcohol Limit 

Drug use among drivers who die in accidents in Scotland has increased since the country’s drink driving limit was reduced in 2014, according to a new study.

This surprising finding has added weight to campaigners calling for Scotland to follow England and Wales’ example and introduce drug driving limits, but it’s also raised a question of whether motorists have switched to drugs as a result of the tougher drink laws.

In December 2014, the drink driving limit in Scotland was reduced to 50mg/100ml, leaving England and its Welsh neighbour with one of the highest alcohol limits in the world, at 80mg/100ml.

However, while a new drug driving law was introduced south of the border during 2015, Scotland isn’t planning on changing its legislation until next year.

But a study by researchers at Imperial College London has put pressure on the Scottish government to speed matters up, after it suggested that drivers were swapping booze for narcotics in order to fool the police.

It found that out of the 38 fatal accidents that were examined in the year before the drink limit was tightened, evidence of illegal or prescription drugs was found in 14 of the drivers (37%).

This compares with 27 drivers in 51 fatalities (53%) in the year following the change in Scotland.

Alcohol was found in six of the 38 fatalities in the year before the law change, compared with in nine out of 51 fatalities afterwards.

The research quoted a survey suggesting that many drivers do not believe their driving is adversely affected by drug use and also quoted research that suggested you were less likely to be caught drug driving than drink driving.

According to a Scottish newspaper report, detailed analysis of the results found that the proportion of fatalities where cannabis was detected had not changed following the drink drive law change.

However, there was a notable increase in the amount of opioids detected, which includes codeine, as well as antidepressants, cocaine, Valium and sleeping pills.

Drug Driving: the facts

In England and Wales, it’s illegal to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving.

It’s also an offence to drive if you have over the specified limits of certain drugs in your blood and you haven’t been prescribed them.

The list includes amphetamine, clonazepam, diazepam, temazepam and methadone. However, you can drive after taking these drugs if you’ve been prescribed them and followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional and they aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits.

There is a zero tolerance approach to eight drugs most associated with illegal use and including cocaine, ketamine, LSD, cannabis and MDMA.

If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get a minimum of a one year driving ban, an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison and a criminal record.

For more information or advice on a drink or drug driving charge, call 0330 1330 081, or fill in our contact form.

Fines for Drivers’ Hours Offences Given Overhaul

DVSA Crackdown on Historic Drivers’ Hours Offences – Changes to Enforcement Powers

On 5th March the DVSA’s traffic examiners will start fining lorry drivers for drivers’ hours offences committed up to 28 days previously.

As things stand, officers can only issue fines of up to £300 to drivers for offences committed that day or for ongoing offences, such as manipulating tachograph records.

But the rules are being shaken up so that on-the-spot fines can be dished out for historic offences too, no matter where they were committed.

In a single roadside check, the DVSA will be able to issued fines for up to five drivers’ hours offences, meaning a possible total bill of £1,500.

Non-UK drivers will also become liable for these fines, although they’ll have to cough up immediately, before being allowed to continue their journey.

Fines will also be levied for taking improper rest, so any HGV driver who hasn’t taken a 45-hour break at least every fortnight will be made to pay up.

Controversially, this also includes if the rest was taken in their cab in a layby.

Resources Targeted at Hotspots

But, I hear you all say, how will this change anything when resources are tight and there seem to be more DVSA staff carrying out MOTs than lying in wait along the road network?

The answer is that traffic examiners will be targeting areas where there have been the biggest problems, such as residential areas and laybys.

The Freight Transport Association says that for years, the DVSA has been “virtually powerless” to deal with the problem of non-UK lorry drivers racking up offences seemingly with impunity.

The new powers should give them the ability to take action against anyone found flouting road safety laws.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents believes one in five of all accidents and a quarter of serious and fatal crashes are causing by a tired driver.

It costs an estimated £16.3bn a year to the economy and adds pressure to the NHS and emergency services.

Frustrated Traffic Commissioners

Traffic Commissioners’ Frustration at Basic Compliance Issues

Annual Report Highlights Repeated Themes at Public Inquiries

An early Christmas present was given to the haulage industry by the Traffic Commissioners just before festivities began, with the publication of their annual report.

It’s always useful to discover what has been preying on the minds of the men and women tasked with ensuring haulage is a safe, fair and efficient industry and who remain steadfast in showing the cowboys an extreme close-up of the saloon doors.

Turns out that there is a barely concealed frustration among the TCs at the same old reasons operators are appearing before them at public inquiries.

And it’s not difficult to see why they are exasperated; sadly, we’re talking about the basics here.

The safety and licensing issues that “frequently” crop up time and time again are listed as a failure to:

  • Download driver cards and vehicle unit data and compare them
  • Use up to date safety inspection paperwork
  • Notify material changes
  • Demonstrate effective brake testing
  • Carry out regular driver licence checks

The former senior TC Beverley Bell probably snapped the lead in her pencil when she wrote: “Alarmingly, far too many operators still have little idea of what useful reports the sophisticated software systems they have purchased are able to deliver.”

The West Midlands TC Nick Denton was similar unimpressed, listing many of the same issues raised by Bell and tossing in “[using] the hardware and software to identify driver’s hours infringements but don’t feel it necessary to do anything about the infringements” for good measure.

It’s easy to see why all of this is annoying to them. Not only are these issues straightforward to address, but they are also taking the TCs’ time away from the “serially and seriously non-compliant” operators that they and the DVSA have been banging on about for the last few years.

Perhaps repeatedly failing to download driver card data makes you serially non-compliant, but it doesn’t necessarily make you seriously non-compliant and so you may not be the sort of rogue operator the DVSA wants to tackle.

It’s all a bit too similar to the people with a bad cold who turn up at A+E and then wonder why the underfunded NHS is struggling to cope.

Fairy Tale Ending

In fact, in her last foreword before her retirement, Bell explicitly referred to the issue of money, pointing out that quick, strong action against errant operators can only be taken if the TCs are properly funded.

Referring to the very low cost of licence fees, she said:

“The initial licence application and grant fees for a goods licence total £651 with a continuation fee of £401 every five years, meaning that the annual cost of a licence is less than £100.

“A cursory look at the fees of some other regulators will show just how low and disproportionate operator licence fees are – and they have been for far too long.

“There is good reason why operator licensing is known as the ‘Cinderella service’ of regulators.”

In our view though, most operators would be more than willing to pay more for their operator’s licence if it meant they got a better service.

Driving using mobile phone

Fewer Drivers Caught Using Their Phones

Are Tougher Penalties Working for Drivers using Mobile Phones?

There has been a 10% reduction in the number of motorists caught using their mobile phones at the wheel, but it might not be down to harsher penalties.

In March, new legislation was introduced to address the “epidemic” levels of people dangerously distracted from their phone calls by attempting to drive their vehicles at the same time.

The penalty was doubled to £200 and six penalty points, with new drivers facing an immediate ban if they are caught texting or phoning someone at the wheel. This is assuming the driver accepts a fixed penalty. If the matter is dealt with by a court, then penalty can be higher.

It has been illegal to use a mobile phone, held in the hand, while driving or while stopped with the engine on, since December 2003.

For the moment, it remains legal to use a hands-free phone while driving, but if the police suspect you are distracted then you can be stopped and are at risk of prosecution for failing to have proper control of a vehicle, or for careless or reckless driving.

According to the RAC, in the three months following the toughening up of the law, there were 1,700 fewer motorists caught offending.

The figures prompted the Daily Mail to take credit for making everyone safer after it launched a hastily cobbled together campaign on the issue.

But given that the newspaper does its level best to make readers feel like they are very unsafe, its apparent success must have come as a bit of a shock.

Reduction in Offences Detected

In total, 14,160 drivers were caught for the offence between March and May 2017, down from 15,861 between December and February.

It’s not a huge reduction when put into the context of the total numbers involved, and as the RAC says, it’s not even clear if stricter penalties are the reason for the change.

In fact, the motoring organisation points to the fact that the number of dedicated roads policing officers in the UK fell by more than a quarter between 2010 and 2015 as budgets were slashed, which suggests that these latest figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

It could be argued that the reduction in offenders is as a result of there being no police officers around to detect the offences.

Maybe there should be a national newspaper campaign about that.

HGV & PSV Standard Operator’s Licences – Financial Standing in 2018

OTC Announces New Levels for Operators

Operating trucks larger than 3.5t? Then you, my friend, need to demonstrate you have enough money in the bank to ensure your vehicles are safe to use.

This month, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner (OTC) announced what “enough” is defined as in 2018.

For the moment at least, the UK adopts a financial standing rate set by the EU.

However, the drop in the value of our currency, due to everyone having no idea what a post-Brexit world will look like, means that one pound just about buys you one Euro. Plus a white chocolate mouse.

As a result, the new financial standing rates differ only slightly from 2017.

Standard national and international licence applicants will be required to demonstrate £7,950 (previously £7,850) for the first vehicle and £4,400 (previously £4,350) for each additional vehicle they request to be authorised.

Operators making variation applications will be required to demonstrate financial standing for their existing fleet and any additional authorisation against the new levels.

If you are due to appear before a TC at a PI after 1 January 2018 where additional evidence of financial standing is requested, then you must be able to satisfy these new levels.

Restricted Licence Holders

The OTC says there is no change to the rates of finance which must be available to support a restricted licence or application: £3,100 for the first vehicle and £1,700 for each additional authorised vehicle.

Looking ahead, there are calls for us to set our own rate of financial standing when we leave the EU.

The FTA points out that between 2012 and 2016, the figure required fluctuated by almost £2,000 for the first vehicle, simply because of the exchange rate for euros.

This call for control over setting the levels sounds fair enough, as does a review of why own-account operators enjoy significantly lower rates compared to third party hauliers.

The rates of finance to support these restricted licence holders, or for applications, have remained conspicuously static for some years now.

As the FTA’s head of licensing policy, James Firth, says: “What are the greater financial risks to the hire and reward sector that the government perceives justify continued rates so substantially elevated above those in the own account sector – which, of course, takes in almost every type of industry and sector across the UK economy?”

Depth of the Tyre Problem

Police to Focus on Tyre Treads

More than 10m cars are estimated to be running on the roads with illegal tyres and now the police are paying particular attention to the problem.

For the first time, tyres have been added to the list of recommended visual checks carried out by traffic officers at the roadside, in an effort to reduce the 1,100 casualties from defective tyre related accidents each year.

As well as tread depth, the police will also be paying attention to your tyres’ general condition and whether they are correctly inflated.

How Deep is Your Knowledge?

Do you know what the minimum legal tread depth is?* Do you know what the correct pressure is for your tyres?**

It’s worth finding out. For each defective tyre found being used on the roads, there is a potential £2,500 maximum fine and three-penalty points.

That sounds harsh, but charity TyreSafe says ‘bulging’ in a tyre’s sidewall, caused by internal damage due to being driven over a pothole or from hitting a kerb, can lead to catastrophic failure of the tyre while driving, with a high risk of causing a serious incident.

Gauging the Problem

TyreSafe also says it’s giving the police 2,000 digital tread depth gauges to use in order to help them find out who’s got less depth than the entire cast of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!

It seems strange that a charity is giving away kit to help out the police, but then pretty much everything seems strange these days so perhaps we should just be thankful the tread depth gauges don’t broadcast fake news before voicing controversial and unpalatable opinions about Kevin Spacey.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for road policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham says: “While the initiative’s main objective is to pass on that potentially life-saving education, drivers should be aware it is our duty to enforce the law and, where warranted, we will not hesitate to do so to maximise the safety of all road users.”

*1.6mm

** https://www.tyresafe.org/check-your-pressures/

Traffic Light

Trust is a Two-Way Street

Earned Recognition Needs You

Imagine if the DVSA promised you it would stop using its Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS) against your fleet of lorries.

Your vehicles wouldn’t be pulled over at the roadside and instead a DVSA officer would stand to attention and salute your drivers as they sailed merrily on past.

Well, that offer is actually on the table, if you forget about the saluting bit.

There’s just one catch: you have to provide the agency regularly with data about your vehicles and drivers that demonstrates you are meeting target key performance indicators (KPIs).

This supposed Faustian pact is called Earned Recognition and the DVSA has been having a little bit of trouble selling the concept to the haulage industry.

It’s currently in the middle of a pilot phase, but a pilot needs willing participants and willing participants have been as thin on the ground as evidence of a coherent Brexit strategy.

Earned Recognition Targets the Non-Compliant

The idea behind Earned Recognition seems sound.

Why focus stretched resources at operators that always do their job professionally and within the law when there are companies out there that’ll do practically anything to make a buck or three?

Earned Recognition is meant to give compliant operators a chance to demonstrate they are not the droids the Empire is looking for and gives the DVSA the evidence not to dig in the wrong place, if you’ll excuse the shoddy and badly thought through splicing of scenes from two different films.

But the KPIs that hauliers taking part in the trial must meet are quite tough.

Some demand 100% compliance, such as the completion of a full set of safety inspection records; inspection records completed correctly and signed off as being roadworthy; and road safety defects appropriately dealt with where drivers have reported issues.

The FTA has said the pilot is meant to put the strict KPIs to the test and also stretch operators, but operators would probably argue they are already being stretched thank you very much, and are on the verge of breaking point as it is.

And can they trust the DVSA when it says it won’t use the information it gathers to bring prosecutions, just to flag up when there appears to be a problem?

Trust is Earned

It would be a shame if a scheme designed to remove from the roads companies that give the industry a bad name failed to take off because of cynicism and mistrust.

But there are hauliers that would say that’s simply the result of an agency failing a long-standing earned recognition scheme with operators that it hadn’t ever appreciated it was taking part in.

For advice in relation to DVSA matters, please call 0330 1330 081 or fill in our contact form

Driver with alcohol

Drink Driving Limit Comes Under Scrutiny

Drink Driving – 50th Anniversary

While the tabloid press enjoys playing ‘Spot Wayne Rooney Working off his Community Service’ for his Drink Driving conviction, the RAC is playing a different boozy ball game.

This month sees the 50th anniversary of the introduction of drink driving laws in this country and roadside breath testing.

England and Wales are currently holding tight to the 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood drink driving limit that has been in place since the legal maximum was introduced.

However, this is higher than other European countries and, potentially confusingly for many motorists, also higher than our Scottish neighbours.

Scotland Tightens Up

In 2014, Scotland decided to tighten up its laws and cut the limit to 50mg.

Northern Ireland wants to do the same. But the province also wants to go further and set up a two-tier system, with new and professional drivers subject to a temperance-tastic limit of 20mg.

To put this into context, this limit is so low that if you even think about a pint of foaming nut brown ale you’ll probably get yourself banned.

RAC Demands Overhaul

Knowing that times are changing and that there isn’t much justification for keeping our limit at 80mg, the RAC smells blood.

It is one of a number of organisations demanding that the limit is reviewed, claiming that motorists are overwhelmingly in favour of toughening up the law.

It recently polled 1,700 drivers and found 59% supported a reduction of the drink driving limit in both England and Wales.

Not sure that’s overwhelmingly in favour, but there’s certainly an appetite out there.

A conviction for drink driving, or attempting to drive with excess alcohol in your body, will result in a driving ban.

The minimum period is 12 months for a first offence. The court does have discretion to allow defendants to complete a drink driving rehabilitation course which has the effect of reducing the length of the ban by 25%.

Penalties will depend on the level of intoxication. The maximum financial penalty for drink driving is an unlimited fine.

And of course, punishment could include a period of imprisonment, depending on the circumstances.

However, there may also be a defence to your offence or alternatively special reasons. Both of these could allow you to avoid a ban for drink driving.

For more information or advice on a drink driving charge, call 0330 1330 081, or fill in our contact form.