Van fleets are wilfully disregarding mechanical defects and ignoring the need for regular maintenance checks.
The warning comes from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), which claims that van fleet offences in these two areas exceed those of heavy goods vehicle and PSV operators.
More than half the 21,000 roadside checks VOSA carried out on vans last year uncovered mechanical defects, compared to 24% of HGVs and 15% of PSVs. The most common issue was faults with brakes.
In addition, almost half (45%) of vans fail their MoT compared to 34% of HGVs and 24% of PSVs.
“Vans have the worst roadside mechanical prohibition rate and the worst annual test rate,” said Graham Owen, VOSA area manager.
“It suggests that these vehicles are not being subjected to proper maintenance throughout the year.”
Owen, speaking at the Freight Transport Association’s Utilities and Civil Engineering conference, told fleets they would be held criminally responsible for unroadworthy vehicles or drivers because they have the authority and responsibility to remove them from the road.
He called on them to treat vans in the same way as HGVs by following the good practice laid out in the ‘O’ licence on preventative maintenance.
This includes making it the driver’s responsibility to do a daily walk-round of the vehicle to ensure it is in a roadworthy condition, and keeping records.
“Don’t rely on the MoT – it’s the worst standard you can apply,” Owen warned.
“It is the minimum standard of a vehicle that has ticked the boxes at a moment in time. You want your standard to be higher so that over the period between inspection – whether that’s 12 weeks, six months or a year – you never fall below the compliance line.”
He points to London Transport, whose prohibition level prior to privatisation was 25%. Post privatisation, with a minimum service standard, it fell to 10%.
After the company introduced driver walk-rounds, prohibition fell to just 4%.
VOSA’s roadside spot checks also revealed significant concerns with overloading.
Of the 6,800 vans weighed last year, 73% were given a prohibition.
Overloading or poorly loaded goods are a key contributor to van rollovers. The tipping point of an unladen van is 40 degrees; for a fully laden van it is 34 degrees.
“Load density and distribution is also important,” says Iain Knight, of the Transport Research Laboratory. “Put heavy loads at the bottom and don’t overload them at the front axle.”
The advice from the experts to van fleet operators is to think and act in the same way as an HGV fleet. ‘O’ licences might not be the law for 3.5-tonne vans but fleet operators should act as if they are.
because they need to have the same processes in place to avoid prosecution in the event of an incident.
The main offenders
Defective tacho (driver)
Penalty level 2 - £60 fine
Tyres worn beyond legal limit
Penalty level 3 - £120 fine per tyre
Tacho not fitted correctly
Penalty level 4 - £200 fine
Vehicle in dangerous condition
Serious offence – court case
Keep on the right side of the law
Vehicle Check mechanical condition, with reports on repairs, and set up pre-planned maintenance policy with daily driver inspections and reports.
“It’s your get-out-of-jail card but it has to be part of a full system that starts with training on how to carry out checks and auditing to ensure the driver does them properly,” said Andrew Woolfall, of Backhouse Jones Solicitors.
Driver Acknowledge that driving is rarely their main job.
Assess their ability to drive, check they hold the correct licence, use tachographs and be aware that someone who has worked a full shift of manual labour will be tired if they have to drive afterwards.
Pre-authorise drivers and issue them with a drive card for their entitled vehicles, eg. car-derived vans or 3.5-tonne vans.
Load Watch out for overloading, load security and the need for a tachograph if you use a trailer on a 3.5-tonne van.
Consequences of failing to act
- Criminal prosecution for driver/operator
- Regulatory action, with implications for the ‘O’ licence if the fleet operates HGVs
- Civil proceedings, with claims for compensation and insurance implications