Traffic Commissioner Nick Jones has reminded operator licence holders they need to understand and respect the rights of public employees, including those who carry out enforcement activities.
His message follows a public inquiry in Birmingham earlier this year which saw a professional driver make unjustified allegations of serious misconduct against a Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) traffic examiner.
He added that those who run commercial vehicles need to reflect on their behaviours because they set the culture for a business.
“Public employees whose roles include enforcement are entitled to go about their work without harassment and unjustified abuse,” the regulator said. “In this case there were unjustified allegations of serious misconduct, albeit by an employee but I find they were made with tacit approval by the operator.”
In a written decision issued after a hearing in February, the Traffic Commissioner concluded that the “appalling behaviour” of driver Paul Green had been condoned by his “irresponsible” employer, A1 Scaffolding (Shropshire), and resulted in a “significantly disproportionate” complaint being made against an experienced traffic examiner.
“It is clear that the operator condoned and encouraged the action of his driver. Moreover it was the culture of non-compliance and attitude to authority set by the operator that contributed to Paul Green’s demeanour,” Jones added.
The Traffic Commissioner said he did not “for a moment” accept there was any cogent evidence of the DVSA traffic examiner perverting the course of justice or attempting to do so, as driver Paul Green had alleged to the Police.
Following a police investigation into the complaint made by Paul Green, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) took no action. Green subsequently appealed that decision and a further review resulted in no action by the CPS.
“The appeal against the CPS decision of no action can only be interpreted as an act of cruelty, making life more difficult for the traffic examiner,” Jones concluded.
The case was referred to the Traffic Commissioner following a roadside check by DVSA officers in August 2015.
On carrying out an inspection of one of the company’s vehicles, traffic examiner Katherine Cox asked the driver Green to produce his digital driver card. Green explained that he did not have it with him and was actually not aware of the requirement to carry it – because he was driving a vehicle fitted with an analogue tachograph. It was at this point that the traffic examiner said Green became aggressive and abusive.
When she told Green he had until three o’clock to produce his digital driver card otherwise she would be required to issue a fixed penalty, the traffic examiner said he became even more aggressive and accused her of making up the offence to make some money.
She even gave him a written copy of the regulations outlining the requirement to carry his digital driver card.
The examiner explained to Green why his digital card was required for analysis, even though he did not drive digital vehicles. The card needed to be read in conjunction with any analogue tachograph records in order to confirm that he was compliant with drivers’ hours rules.
TE Cox subsequently spoke to the company director, Alexanda Bailey, on the phone. Bailey also become aggressive and was abusive to her, suggesting DVSA was a privately owned company out to make a profit.
A number of other DVSA officers were present at the checksite and witnessed some of the incident as it unfolded.
In evidence to the Traffic Commissioner, Bailey denied making this accusations and said he had never known his driver, Green, to lose his temper. He accepted that the lack of knowledge about carrying the digital card was because his driver had not been trained and that this also related to his role as operator.
Both Bailey and Green denied being aggressive and using foul language.
However, in his written decision, Jones rejected the version of events put forward by the director and driver. He also concluded there had been a number of material contradictions in the evidence given by Green and Bailey.
The regulator ruled that Bailey had misled him by suggesting that he had obtained independent advice from a specialist transport consultant to ensure matters were in order, when he had not done so. He also criticised Bailey’s decision to deliver the digital driver card to the checksite and fail to interact with DVSA officers.
“A diligent prudent operator would have spoken to examiners to ascertain what had happened and come to a rational balancing exercise between the evidence of his employee and that of specialist enforcement staff,” said Jones.
Turning to Green, Jones said he accepted that Green did not know about the requirement to carry his digital driver card when driving an analogue vehicle.
“It is evident that Paul Green was genuinely aggrieved that he could receive a fixed penalty for failing to carry a digital driver card, where had not thought it was necessary,” said Jones.
“From his demeanour and from reflecting on the evidence as a whole, it would appear that the feature that made it so difficult for Paul Green to accept that he had done wrong, was as a result of his being told of his wrongdoing by a woman.
“During the course of this hearing I made reference to the fact that, whilst one must always avoid generalisations, there were pockets of industry where misogyny existed.”
He also issued a reminder to operators about the need to cooperate with enforcement staff at all times.
He said: “Examiners abandoned the check as a result of the difficulties caused by the driver and director, this is an unacceptable state of affairs.
“Both operators and drivers should know that full cooperation must be provided to DVSA officials when they are conducting their business.”
He added that where operators had a genuine concern with regard to enforcement activities, they should pursue them through the appropriate channels within DVSA.
The Traffic Commissioner made an order to curtail the company’s operator’s licence from five to two vehicles, for three months, with effect from July 1.
Green’s professional driving licence will be suspended for two months from July 1, 2017.