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27 March 2020

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 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 once 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.

Chris Powell is a road transport lawyer at Rotheras Solicitors in the UK.

Photo: TruckPR/ FlickR

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