At some point today, many of us will have got in our cars for all kinds of purposes: getting to work, delivering children to school, going shopping, seeing friends and family, the list goes on. And when we do, we share the highways and byways of the nation with lorries and buses. There is the hopeful assumption that these vehicles are safe and operated correctly by those who drive and manage them, for all our sakes.
In legal terms, many assume that the regulation of these vehicles comes under the general heading of road traffic law. But, they would be wrong. Instead, it is Road Transport Law, and the regulatory regime applying to these vehicles is quite distinct and specialised.
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (formerly the Vehicle Inspectorate and VOSA) regulates these vehicles under the operator licensing scheme. If you’re an operator, manager, or driver, you could potentially be hauled before a Public Inquiry in front of specialist Traffic Commissioners if you fail to comply with road transport law and abide by the promises or undertakings you give when you obtain their licence to operate. Or, you can be subject to enforcement sanctions or even be privately prosecuted by the DVSA in the criminal courts for breaches of the law. I prosecuted for the regulator for several years, so I have seen plenty of these instances first-hand.
Road transport law may not seem glamorous. Indeed, it can be complex and rather dull. However, it is critical to uphold standards in the vast transport, logistics and passenger-carrying vehicle sector, which is crucial to the economy. Ask yourself some questions:
- Would you want the coach carrying your child on a school trip to be suffering from mechanical defects?
- Would you want the lorry you overtake on a dark, wet night to be driven by an overtired driver?
- Would you want to be on the road with a large vehicle overloaded with construction materials to the extent that the driver couldn’t steer it properly?
The answer to all of these is, of course, a resounding ‘no.’ Road transport law exists to try and prevent these dangers with laws about maintenance, drivers’ hours, loading, and so on.
On the flip side, transport operators, managers, and drivers need advice to stay on the right side of the law and to be defended when they allegedly fail to do so. The consequences of failure to comply with the law can easily be fatal and result in manslaughter charges for individuals and companies alike.
So, if you operate in the road transport sector, and either need compliance advice, or find yourself in trouble with the regulator, don’t hesitate to contact a specialist in road transport law. I am here to help.
Written by Edmund Conybeare
Consultant Regulatory Solicitor