Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)

WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001

MR CLIVE BENNETT, MR DEREK HARVEY AND MR MAURICE NEWEY

  420. How many lorries have you impounded?
  (Mr Newey) The impounding arrangements are not yet in force, they come in in June this year. That is under the Impounding legislation. We do not have any power currently but we will have from then.

  421. When it comes in in June, how many vehicles are you likely to take off the road and impound each month?
  (Mr Newey) We shall aim to hit the bad operators who are operating without an operator's licence very hard. At the moment we think the level of that sort of offending is only about 1 per cent of the total fleet, but it is our intention to target those who we know already are operating or have operated outside the law, so whatever the number is we shall try and attack the problem very quickly.

  422. Have you got space for impounding those lorries?
  (Mr Newey) It will be put out to contract, in the same way the police contract out these sort of things. We shall identify the vehicle and place the order, but then the actual physical removal, storage and then sale of the vehicle if necessary will be in the hands of a contractor.

  423. Is this going to take place on the motorways and on the roads, or is it going to take place at the depots of the hauliers themselves?
  (Mr Newey) It can happen anywhere that the vehicle is found to be operating without a licence, but I think it is probably more likely to happen when the vehicle is in use, because you have to prove the vehicle is operating as a goods business in order to say it is operating without a licence.

  424. As I go round the country in a car I can see the places where you have provision so you can pull people over and do the checks, if I was operating a rather dodgy lorry I would be sensible enough not to go past one of those spots, would I not?
  (Mr Newey) Yes, that is a very fair point. One of the strands in our new initiative is to mount more surprise exercises by hiring or loaning land or sites where we can carry out checks. The Highways Agency have been very helpful to us in that respect. We have also got much more mobile equipment now to do checks in places where operators might not expect them to be happening. For example, we have mobile weigh pads so we can weigh for-over-weight vehicles, which sometimes has been a systematic abuse by some operators. This year we are trialling mobile brake testers so if we think there are vehicles from an operator who is trying to avoid our normal checks, we can mount special checks specifically to target those offenders.

  425. Are you responsible for tachographs?
  (Mr Newey) Yes, for the enforcement.

  426. So when you pull one of these lorries over, how easy is it to check the tachograph information against the driver's hours and those sort of issues?
  (Mr Newey) There are several things to say here. The first is that we have just acquired some new equipment, a piece of kit, which can test the correct functioning of tachographs and also speed limiters on vehicles. That is a major break-through for us because it means field staff at the road side can actually do those sort of checks there and then. The other thing we can do is require drivers and operators to produce the actual tachograph charts—which we may take away and examine at in detail for offences to see if there has been any systematic abuse—as well as to check for offences on the particular day when we stopped the vehicle.

Chairman

  427. Have you done anything about talking to the Home Office about the need to train magistrates to understand the seriousness of tachograph offences?
  (Mr Newey) Yes. We have not had any recent initiative on that but in the past we have run courses for magistrates to, for example, try and persuade them and inform them about the seriousness of offences, and try to get fines which are more commensurate with the offence, because as the figures show often the fines exacted are derisory against the offences being committed.

  428. You are now quite satisfied that the tachograph cannot be dealt with fraudulently?
  (Mr Newey) People will try all sorts of things to do this.

  429. Mr Newey, you do not have to tell me about people, I know about people, I have been around quite a long time. What I am asking you is something different. Can I fix a tachograph?
  (Mr Newey) You can but, if you do, it is likely to be detected. If you break the seal on it, for example, and it has been tampered with, our engineers will be able to see it has been tampered with.

Mr Donohoe

  430. Who sets the seal?
  (Mr Newey) It is set by approved tachograph centres which VI approve.

Chairman

  431. And you presumably check?
  (Mr Newey) When we encounter vehicles at the road side, that is one of the things we would have a look at.

Mr Stevenson

  432. I want to ask a question about tachographs but I have some other questions too. Tachographs, as I understood the situation, were designed to be almost a self-regulatory evidence-producing enforcement piece of equipment, and I think there is a feeling that your Inspectorate is not giving the priority it ought to give to abuse of the tachograph system. I think there is a feeling that it is much easier to abuse that system than perhaps you are indicating here today. Would you accept any of those propositions at all?
  (Mr Newey) In relative terms, I would say the answer to that is no. If I can explain what we have done in the last couple of years, we have recognised the importance to road safety of driver's hours offences and we have put relatively more staff on to mounting major exercises. We have taken one or two major operators to court or put them through the Traffic Commissioners and curtailed their licences for abuses of the tachograph system. We examine a million and a half tachograph charts every year and increasingly we are doing that on a targeted basis. The points prosecution value which appears in our report shows we dramatically exceeded our points target. If the target was 100 per cent, we achieved 160 per cent of our target last year, which was a huge volume increase on the previous years, in prosecuted offences for tachographs and driver's hours offences. So this is an area where we have been very, very pro-active recently.

  433. That is encouraging but when you have operators who are offering bonuses to their drivers in terms of the miles they operate and the swiftness of their delivery, the temptation to abuse tachographs I would suggest becomes greater. When you have organisations that want just-in-time deliveries, they want them yesterday, they do not want them tomorrow, so the temptation is much greater than it was when the tachographs were introduced, I would suggest.
  (Mr Newey) I accept there is a very high level of temptation. I think the fact we have taken one or two quite big national operators to court and had their licences removed or curtailed is a massive deterrent, and I think we are really showing our teeth on this.

  434. That is encouraging. Can I come back to your good, bad and ugly pecking order, and your comment that compliance remains unsatisfactory. That is what you said. You have taken a number of major operators to court on tachographs. How does that square with your strategy of the good, the bad and the ugly, leaving the good alone, looking at the bad with a more critical eye and the ugly with a concentrated eye? Is that not almost self-regulation for many? Has the fact that you have had to take major operators to court not effectively thrown a question mark over your strategy?
  (Mr Newey) I think it is very important for us to not be hoodwinked about who the good and the bad and the ugly are, as you put it. I think that we are showing increasing effectiveness in tackling the serious problem. The fact, as I said, that compliance is not at a level we would like is a reflection of the annual test failure rate, and what we find when we do targeted checks at the road side. The people who fail those tests are the ones who we target for special attention, be they traffic offences or be they vehicle condition offences.

  435. Can I move to that very quickly? We have heard evidence that your inspectorate prefer not to inspect foreign-registered lorries, and one of the reasons given was the problem of examining documentation because of the language barrier. Is there any validity in that evidence?
  (Mr Newey) The language issue has been one we have had to attend to in the past. We have tried to overcome it by more use of forms with multi language sections in them. Of course there is a growing number of foreign vehicles coming into the country, including Eastern European ones. But there is no lack of willingness on the part of our examiners.

  436. Have you got or could you provide the Committee with the latest information you have statistically on the total amount of inspections in this category, and how many of those are foreign based and, if you are able, how many of them come from Eastern Europe?
  (Mr Newey) I can certainly provide the broad figures you ask for and indeed they are available in our various reports, but I can write to you with that detail.

  437. I have one final question and that is to do with passenger vehicles which you are also responsible for. What we have is the Traffic Commissioners responsible for issuing licences for passenger transport operators who now are working under a regime that allows them to issue licences providing they are satisfied that the vehicles are there, there are maintenance facilities and that there is financial credibility. What is your relationship like with the Traffic Commissioners?
  (Mr Newey) It is a very close and good relationship.

  438. You are pro-active here, are you, in the sense that as and when these licences are issued, or possibly before they are issued, you are involved in assessing whether the people who are applying for licences meet the sort of criteria they are required to?
  (Mr Newey) Yes. When the Traffic Commissioner issues an operator's licence, the Traffic Commissioner's office will normally ask VI to go and do an inspection of the site and assess the maintenance facilities available to that operator. That is initially when an operator sets up—normally within three to nine months of an operator receiving his licence[7]. Then the Traffic Commissioner can ask VI at any other time to go in and do a maintenance assessment or some sort of targeted inspection if he is worried about that particular operator or he is receiving complaints.

  439. Do you inspect the vehicles when you are inspecting the premises?
  (Mr Newey) We may inspect the vehicles.


7   Note by Witness: Traffic Commissioners and VI agreed a number of years ago that, instead of VI Examiners visiting operators before they were issued with an operator's licence, it would be more effective to inspect their workshop facilities or other arrangements for maintenance etc when the system was installed and working. For example, within 3-9 months of obtaining their licence, operators could be expected to have bought vehicles, equipped and staffed their workshops, and be able to show evidence of written records of maintenance and safety inspections. Examiners could also check vehicle condition. Back


 
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