Transporting humanitarian aid to Ukraine:  operator licensing and EU drivers’ hours rules 

The terrible situation in Ukraine is causing a lot of people to ask what more they can be doing to provide humanitarian aid to the war-torn country. The UK Government has strongly recommended that any aid be provided via the Disasters and Emergencies Committee Appeal or by way of donation to a registered charity. If however, you want to transport your own humanitarian aid to the region, you must be aware of the operator licensing and drivers’ hours rules, and what exceptions may apply.

Transporting humanitarian aid to Ukraine:  operator licensing and EU drivers’ hours rules 
Photo credits @ Straż Graniczna/Twitter

Operator Licensing

The general rule is that you need a goods vehicle operators’ licence if you use a goods vehicle of over 3.5t gross plated weight to transport goods for hire or reward or in connection with a trade or business.

There is no specific exemption covering the transport of humanitarian aid. Whether an operators’ licence will be needed will depend mostly on the terms under which the humanitarian goods are being transported. If you are paid to transport the goods, this would be classed as “hire and reward” and an operator’s licence would be required.

If you run a business transporting humanitarian aid, this would also likely require an operators’ licence. An individual, however, who transports humanitarian aid on a personal basis, and does so not as part of a business and receiving no payment for doing so, could potentially do so without an operator’s licence, depending on the circumstances.

EU Drivers’ Hours Rules

The general rule is that vehicles over 3.5t engaged in the transport of goods must comply with the EU drivers’ hours rules. There is however an exemption under Article 3(d) of the EU drivers’ hours regulations that can apply to humanitarian aid. This is as follows:

“Vehicles, including vehicles used in the non-commercial transport of humanitarian aid, used in emergencies or rescue operations.”

The term “emergency” is not defined in the EU rules, however, DVSA guidance indicates that it would include situations where immediate preventative action is needed to avoid:

  • danger to life or health of people or animals;
  • serious interruption to the maintenance of public services (such as water, gas, electricity or drainage) or in the use of roads;
  • serious interruption in private or public transport;
  • serious damage to property.

The guidance indicates that vehicles engaged in work closely associated with an immediate response to a specific emergency or rescue operation will benefit from the exemption, where they are:

  • working on alleviating either the immediate impact or effects of the emergency
  • rescuing someone/something

The use of this exemption is at the discretion of an individual, however, it is good practice to contact the Department for Transport immediately if it is to be relied upon.

There is also a separate power under Article 14 to apply to the Department for Transport in advance for permission to be granted a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours rules for a period not exceeding 30 days. An applicant must be able to show with evidence why such an application should be granted.

More detailed guidance can be found >>> HERE <<< 

In the opinion of the author, it is most unlikely that the transport of humanitarian aid to Ukraine would be capable of falling under the Article 3(d) exemption. Whilst the crisis clearly involves danger to life, health and property, it is unlikely that any law enforcement authorities would consider that “immediate preventative action” was required to justify a departure from the rules.  To rely on this exemption would also be high risk and, if challenged, the burden of proof would be on you to demonstrate that the exemption applied, or face prosecution.

A safer approach would be to apply instead to the Department for Transport for an exemption under Article 14, following the guidance set out in the link above. After considering any application the Department for Transport will either grant or refuse it, in advance of the journey. Prior authorisation or refusal of this kind would let you know where you stand and would thereby remove the risk of prosecution.

Operators should also be aware of the customs rules that apply to the transport of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Full guidance can be found here: Customs rules: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/taking-humanitarian-aid-out-of-great-britain-to-support-ukraine

Chris Powell is a specialist transport regulatory solicitor at Rotheras.

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