Authorities have a load on their mind
08 August 2007
Author: Tristan Young
A BusinessCar investigation has revealed the vehicle enforcement authorities are being ever more strict on load safety. Keeping a cargo secured is now more important than ever, writes Tristan Young
BusinessCar has uncovered a potentially huge problem with vehicle load safety that could affect thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of drivers.
According to recent reports from fleet mangers, enforcement agencies such as the police and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) have started to crack down on poorly secured loads, particularly for LCVs, and that could mean businesses and drivers face prosecution - even if they thought they were following official guidelines.
That's because whereas previously the police and VOSA were only inspecting the safety of loads on a journey, they are now considering load safety in the event of an accident.
Paul Wood, a member of the Freight Transport Association's utilities working group, said there had been a change in policy: "The law says that 'a load shouldn't move in relationship to the vehicle' and that applies to travelling from A to B. However, we're aware certain agencies are considering applying it for crashes too."
Although VOSA wouldn't confirm that that was the case, a spokesman said: "We certainly are clamping down on load safety. We've started a scheme called Viper, which uses number plate recognition software and sensors mounted in the road to detect a vehicle's weight. The two are linked and it's all instant. If a vehicle is overloaded an inspector can then pull the vehicle over for a proper inspection."
The system is currently being tested on a section of the M6.
Masterlease's commercial vehicle boss Eddie Parker also confirmed the change in VOSA's approach: "VOSA is looking at the safety of commercial vehicles and is actively targeting the LCV market. Previously it was mainly HGVs.
"They've realised that LCVs transgressing the regulations on load safety are equally serious. Both the Government and the Health and Safety Executive are looking at these things under the Driving at Work regs, but there are no definitive guidelines."
Parker continued: "Enforcement agencies are taking a serious interest in vehicles being as safe as possible. If they have reason to stop [a vehicle] then it's one of the things they will investigate. This is a marked change from a year ago.
"Already, for all vehicles, enforcement agencies have the power to stop a vehicle for being overloaded, and rightly so."
The FTA launched an investigation into load safety last month [July] with the intention of generating a best practice guide. Under the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, set to become law in April 2008, once a risk has been identified, there's a responsibility to act on it.
The FTA's Paul Wood explained: "Regulations say loads must be secured to withstand 1g of force fore and aft and 0.5g side to side.
"But a 20G force is not uncommon in an accident and as soon as you know this then there's a responsibility under a risk assessment and, in theory, you'd have to do something about it.
"But there's nothing to say what's reasonable, that's why the Transport Research Laboratory and the FTA are putting a guide together to set what's reasonable. We [the industry] just want a clarification."
Although the clampdown is primarily targeting LCVs it could easily be applied to drivers leaving laptop PCs on the back seat of their or even a drinks can left loose in a van cab.
An FTA spokesman said: "The need for the research to be carried out has emerged as it has become apparent that the long-standing code of practice issued by the Department for Transport (DfT) on safe loading can no longer be relied upon by operators as to what is a reasonable expectation of load retention performance.
"Currently, opinion amongst enforcement agencies varies between a load remaining in position and not moving in relation to the vehicle in any incident, irrespective of the severity and decelerations involved, and the current DfT guidance that loads should withstand forces of up to 1G, which is the current universally applied level. Operators are therefore in a legal limbo."
VOSA's enforcement powers will also be given a further boost if a new DfT consultation is given the green light. The Graduated Fixed Penalty and Deposit Schemes consultation paper proposes that VOSA officers be given the power to issue fixed penalty notices for a wide range of offences, but excluding speeding.
The consultation also proposes graduated penalties for a range of offences that VOSA already pursues with fines in four bands: £30, £60, £120 and £200. The paper would also allow VOSA to use cameras to capture offences and then issue fines by post.
The consultation closes on 30 August 2007.
A second consultation paper (due in September) is expected on graduated penalties for speeding.