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Live Updates: The latest coronavirus transport regulation changes


Transport solicitor Chris Powell is providing regular updates to the transport sector on how covid-19 is impacting transport regulation

Written by
Transport Solicitor
Chris Powell
Senior Associate Solicitor

This article is now out of date and may not reflect the current law

Traffic Commissioners announce relaxation of maintenance requirements – but strict limitations apply

On 26 March the Senior Traffic Commissioner issued further temporary advice to operators struggling to maintain their vehicles in line with their stated inspection intervals.  The updated advice can be found here:

The new advice makes it clear that operators should never operate a vehicle in an unsafe condition. However, in exceptional and limited situations, maintenance intervals can be extended where it is not possible to obtain a preventative maintenance inspection (PMI) under the normal inspection arrangements. Any extension must be in line with the principles detailed in the advice. A summary of those principles is set out below.

Warning: These concessions only apply to certain classes of operators in certain circumstances. Operators must read the full Traffic Commissioner’s advice note and principles before adopting any changes to their maintenance arrangements.  If in doubt, take specialist advice.

Summary of principles

The following principles apply when an operator’s normal maintenance arrangements are affected by the Covid-19 crisis:

  • Intervals can in some cases be extended by up to 50% with a maximum of 17 weeks, whichever is the lesser;
  • There is no need for a fresh maintenance contract but operators should update their licence records online;
  • Evidence of the justification for the reduction must be kept and produced on request;
  • Operators should consider using mobile inspections provided they are suitable;
  • No DVSA enforcement action against certain types of “in-service reported” non-safety critical defects;
  • Delayed PG9 prohibition action to be suspended for certain classes of vehicle;
  • DVSA may be able to remove PG9s remotely if evidence of repair work is provided.

Pre-use inspections

There is also advice for operators wishing to bring off-road vehicles back into service but who have been unable to book pre-use inspections because of the coronavirus disruption. For those operators, the following principles apply:

  • The PMI schedule is frozen or paused during the period that the vehicle is not used;
  • If the regular PMI period has been exceeded, the first walk-round check prior to use is to be performed by a technician and include a check of tyre pressures and a brake test with temperatures measured;
  • Vehicles over 12 years old and more than 50% or 4 weeks, whichever is greater, over their PMI cycle will receive a full preventative maintenance inspection before use.

A word of warning

There are very strict limits on when operators can rely upon the above concessions. The concessions are limited in scope and time span and cover only those operations involved in the Covid-19 response. The burden of proof is on an operator to demonstrate that they need to rely upon one of these concessions. Before doing so, transport operators should:

  • Fully familiarise themselves with the concessions and the limitations contained in the “small-print”;
  • Consider whether it is really necessary to take advantage of a concession and keep full written evidence of that decision-making process including all supporting documentation;
  • Conduct a pre-use risk assessment and keep this under regular review;
  • Take all steps to mitigate risk, evidence this, and only use any concession for as limited a time as is necessary to achieve the urgent need;
  • Check the government website at least one a day to ensure that any concession has not be amended or withdrawn;
  • Be prepared to justify your use of a concession to the DVSA or Office of the Traffic Commissioner.

The Covid-19 crisis is a unique situation and the transport industry is at the forefront of the UK national response. It is in this context that the regulatory relaxations have been made. The DVSA and Traffic Commissioners will take a dim view of operators who take advantage of these relaxations unnecessarily or for the purposes of obtaining an unfair commercial advantage. When in doubt, operators should seek advice from the DVSA, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner or a road transport regulatory lawyer.

23 March 2020: We’re updating this blog daily to ensure you have the latest information in response to government updates.

Transport operators seeking to rely upon the recent emergency temporary relaxations of drivers hours should so with caution. The new measures are designed to support under pressure supply chains during this crucial time. They should not be seen as a “free-for-all”.

At present, there are four separate drivers’ hours relaxations in place:

Check before you use

Before relying on an exemption, operators must read the respective guidance in full and consider the following:

1. Is it “necessary” to use the new transport regulation rules?

The “All sectors carriage of goods by road” guidance is clear:

“Anyone driving under the EU drivers’ hours rules or the GB drivers’ hours rules and undertaking carriage of goods by road can use the relevant relaxation where necessary.”

Operators who use the new rules for unfair commercial advantage or other unnecessary reasons unrelated to the Covid-19 response are likely to find themselves in trouble with the DVSA.

2. Is the relaxation still in force?

These are emergency temporary exemptions, they are not open-ended. The time periods in which they are in force differ depending upon which relaxation an operator is relying upon.

For example, the “all sectors carriage of goods by road” exemption currently applies from 00:01 on 23 March 2020 to 23:59 on 21 April 2020, whereas the “essential items to retailers” exemption only applies from 0:01 on 20 March 2020 to 23:59 on 3 April 2020.

Using an exemption when it is no longer in force is against the law. Furthermore, the Department for Transport has made it clear that it reserves the right to withdraw the relaxation earlier or extend the relaxation if circumstances change. Operators should therefore check at least once a day to ensure that any exemption remains in force.

3. Could road safety be jeopardised by the new road transport regulations?

Even if an operator appears to fall within an exemption, before allowing a driver to drive under it they must first consider and assess driver and road safety.  The guidance is explicitly clear:

“The department wishes to make clear that driver safety must not be compromised. Drivers should not be expected to drive whilst tired – employers remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees and other road users.”

Before relying on an exemption, operators should conduct appropriate risk assessments and reach agreement with drivers. This process should be recorded in writing to demonstrate that it has been conducted. Whether a driver should be asked to use an exemption should be assessed on a case-by-case basis with all relevant factors considered. Considerations might include:

  • How many hours has the driver driven in the last fortnight?
  • How must rest have they had?
  • Are there any circumstances in their personal life that means they are tired?
  • Do they appear fit and well?
  • Are they happy to use the exemption?

This is not an exhaustive list.

4. Is the implementation of the new rules fully understood?

The number of hours you can work and drive differ according to which exemption is being relied upon. Some apply to driving under EU rules only, whereas other apply to the GB domestic rules. It is essential that drivers and operators check the rules thoroughly before use. Drivers who get it wrong, innocently or otherwise could be facing prosecution.

If there is any uncertainty over how the rules should be implemented, there is a telephone hotline operators can call to seek advice. This is in each guidance note.

21 March 2020: We’re updating this blog daily to ensure you have the latest information in response to government updates.

UK Government announces the most extensive relaxation of drivers’ hours rules yet

The UK government has announced a further temporary urgent relaxation of both EU and domestic drivers hours rules. The new relaxation is the most extensive yet, applying to all sectors of the transport industry. It takes effect from 00.01 this coming Monday the 23 March 2020. Anyone transporting goods under the EU or GB drivers’ hours rules can use the relaxation where necessary.

The new rules can be found here on the website

The new guidance does however contain a word of warning:

“The department wishes to make clear that driver safety must not be compromised. Drivers should not be expected to drive whilst tired – employers remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees and other road users.”

London Road Charging Schemes to be suspended

It has also been reported that, from Monday the 23 March all road user charging schemes in London will be temporarily suspended. This is to include:

  • The London congestion charge
  • The London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ)

National rail services are also due to be scaled back over the coming days and weeks.

Goods vehicle MOT tests suspended

The DVSA have suspended all Heavy Goods Vehicle and Public Service Vehicle MOT tests for up to three months. Certificates of exemption will be issued to those vehicles due a test during this period.

Restrictions mount up but at what cost?

The new measures are all intended to relieve pressures on national supply chains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It will inevitably mean however, that in the coming days and weeks some drivers will be driving more tired and some vehicles may be less roadworthy. The extent of the regulatory rollback in the transport sector serves to indicate just how seriously the UK Government is taking the threat to the national supply chain.

20 March 2020: We’re updating this blog daily to ensure you have the latest information in response to government updates.

As the coronavirus pandemic escalates, the UK government continues to bring in additional measures to support the transport industry and to protect vital supply chains.

Further emergency relaxation of drivers’ hours rules

From the 20th March 2020 drivers’ hours rules have been temporarily relaxed for drivers of vehicles involved in the delivery of food, non-food (personal care and household paper and cleaning), over the counter pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies when undertaking the following journeys:

  • manufacturer to consumer’s home
  • stores / distribution centre to consumer’s home
  • supplier to consumer’s home
  • fulfillment centre to consumer’s home
  • retailer to consumer’s home

The aim is to address shortages caused by panic-buying at supermarkets and to make it easier for supermarkets to deliver food and essential supplies to members of the public in self-isolation.

The new rules apply to deliveries under the GB domestic rules and are as follows:

  1. Replacement of the GB duty time limit of 11 hours with 12 hours.
  2. Replacement of the GB daily driving time limit of 10 hours with 11 hours.
  3. Drivers can only take advantage of this temporary relaxation 5 days in any 7 day period, and must take a rest period of 24 hours within the same 7 day period when taking advantage of this relaxation.

Full details can be found here:

Transport sector recognised as “critical industry”

As schools across the UK close, the government has made special provision for parents working in the transport sector.  Workers in the following sectors are classed as workers critical to the Covid-19 response:

  • Food and other necessary goods – This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).
  • Transport – This includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.

Parents working in these sectors will be able to leave their children at school to be cared for during the working day so that vital supply chains are not interrupted.

HGV MOT tests suspended for 2 days

In an effort to reduce the spread of the covid-19 virus, goods vehicle MOT tests have been suspended for at least 2 days. Driving tests have also been cancelled.

Further advice from the Senior Traffic Commissioner

Today the Senior Traffic Commissioner published further advice for operators struggling with the coronavirus outbreak. The advice accompanies an already released statutory guidance note. The new advice follows a question and answer format, with questions including:

  1. Can I temporarily operate more vehicles than authorised to meet an urgent public demand?
  2. Due to challenging trading conditions I can no longer meet the requirement to be of the appropriate financial standing?
  3. Due to restrictions on movement I no longer have access to my operating centre. What steps do I need to take?
  4. I am a transport manager but am required to self-isolate or I am absent from work through ill health.
  5. I have been called to a Public Inquiry or a Driver Conduct hearing, will it go ahead during the coronavirus outbreak?

Answers to the above, and more can be found here:

Operators are encouraged to seek advice if their businesses are struggling in the current crisis. Further and more restrictive measures have been hinted at however, and it remains to be seen what effect this will have on the transport industry.

18th March 2020: We’re updating this blog daily to ensure you have the latest information in response to government updates.

The UK government has relaxed the rules on driving hours and rest periods to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. The measures have been brought in following food shortages at supermarkets as UK citizens prepare for possible quarantine. The new rules apply to drivers involved in certain deliveries of food and pharmaceuticals, mostly between distribution centres and stores.

The changes

The main changes are as follows:

a) The daily driving limit of 9 hours has been increased to 11 hours

b) The daily rest requirement has dropped from 11 hours to 9 hours

c) The weekly (56 hours) and fortnightly driving limits (90 hours) have increased to 60 and 96 hours respectively

d) A weekly rest period can be taken after seven 24 hour periods, although two rest periods will still be required in a fortnight

e) Drivers can now drive up to 5.5 hours before taking a 45 minute break

Full details are contained in the newly released guidance:

An escalating response

These new rules follow other measures brought in by the UK government to support under-pressure supply chains. Drivers hours rules have already been relaxed for drivers making “trunk” deliveries of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) throughout the country.

The Traffic Commissioners responsible for regulating road haulage in the UK have announced emergency measures to support the transport industry. This even includes the option of granting companies the right to temporarily operate without an EU Operators licence in an emergency.

Meanwhile in London, rules preventing night time deliveries (the London Lorry Control Scheme) have been suspended.

Financial support for the transport industry

In addition to the above measures, the UK government has announced a sweeping package of financial support for transport companies at risk of collapse. These include immediate cash injections and deferred tax payments.

Taken together, these measures represent perhaps the most significant rollback of transport regulation and financial support for industry since the Second World War.

This is a rapidly changing situation and further announcements are expected soon.

Chris Powell is a road transport regulatory solicitor at Rotheras.


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