Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
420. How many lorries have you impounded?
(Mr Newey) The impounding arrangements are not yet
in force, they come in in June this year. That is under the Impounding
legislation. We do not have any power currently but we will have
421. When it comes in in June, how many vehicles
are you likely to take off the road and impound each month?
(Mr Newey) We shall aim to hit the bad operators who
are operating without an operator's licence very hard. At the
moment we think the level of that sort of offending is only about
1 per cent of the total fleet, but it is our intention to target
those who we know already are operating or have operated outside
the law, so whatever the number is we shall try and attack the
problem very quickly.
422. Have you got space for impounding those
(Mr Newey) It will be put out to contract, in the
same way the police contract out these sort of things. We shall
identify the vehicle and place the order, but then the actual
physical removal, storage and then sale of the vehicle if necessary
will be in the hands of a contractor.
423. Is this going to take place on the motorways
and on the roads, or is it going to take place at the depots of
the hauliers themselves?
(Mr Newey) It can happen anywhere that the vehicle
is found to be operating without a licence, but I think it is
probably more likely to happen when the vehicle is in use, because
you have to prove the vehicle is operating as a goods business
in order to say it is operating without a licence.
424. As I go round the country in a car I can
see the places where you have provision so you can pull people
over and do the checks, if I was operating a rather dodgy lorry
I would be sensible enough not to go past one of those spots,
would I not?
(Mr Newey) Yes, that is a very fair point. One of
the strands in our new initiative is to mount more surprise exercises
by hiring or loaning land or sites where we can carry out checks.
The Highways Agency have been very helpful to us in that respect.
We have also got much more mobile equipment now to do checks in
places where operators might not expect them to be happening.
For example, we have mobile weigh pads so we can weigh for-over-weight
vehicles, which sometimes has been a systematic abuse by some
operators. This year we are trialling mobile brake testers so
if we think there are vehicles from an operator who is trying
to avoid our normal checks, we can mount special checks specifically
to target those offenders.
425. Are you responsible for tachographs?
(Mr Newey) Yes, for the enforcement.
426. So when you pull one of these lorries over,
how easy is it to check the tachograph information against the
driver's hours and those sort of issues?
(Mr Newey) There are several things to say here. The
first is that we have just acquired some new equipment, a piece
of kit, which can test the correct functioning of tachographs
and also speed limiters on vehicles. That is a major break-through
for us because it means field staff at the road side can actually
do those sort of checks there and then. The other thing we can
do is require drivers and operators to produce the actual tachograph
chartswhich we may take away and examine at in detail for
offences to see if there has been any systematic abuseas
well as to check for offences on the particular day when we stopped
427. Have you done anything about talking to
the Home Office about the need to train magistrates to understand
the seriousness of tachograph offences?
(Mr Newey) Yes. We have not had any recent initiative
on that but in the past we have run courses for magistrates to,
for example, try and persuade them and inform them about the seriousness
of offences, and try to get fines which are more commensurate
with the offence, because as the figures show often the fines
exacted are derisory against the offences being committed.
428. You are now quite satisfied that the tachograph
cannot be dealt with fraudulently?
(Mr Newey) People will try all sorts of things to
429. Mr Newey, you do not have to tell me about
people, I know about people, I have been around quite a long time.
What I am asking you is something different. Can I fix a tachograph?
(Mr Newey) You can but, if you do, it is likely to
be detected. If you break the seal on it, for example, and it
has been tampered with, our engineers will be able to see it has
been tampered with.
430. Who sets the seal?
(Mr Newey) It is set by approved tachograph centres
which VI approve.
431. And you presumably check?
(Mr Newey) When we encounter vehicles at the road
side, that is one of the things we would have a look at.
432. I want to ask a question about tachographs
but I have some other questions too. Tachographs, as I understood
the situation, were designed to be almost a self-regulatory evidence-producing
enforcement piece of equipment, and I think there is a feeling
that your Inspectorate is not giving the priority it ought to
give to abuse of the tachograph system. I think there is a feeling
that it is much easier to abuse that system than perhaps you are
indicating here today. Would you accept any of those propositions
(Mr Newey) In relative terms, I would say the answer
to that is no. If I can explain what we have done in the last
couple of years, we have recognised the importance to road safety
of driver's hours offences and we have put relatively more staff
on to mounting major exercises. We have taken one or two major
operators to court or put them through the Traffic Commissioners
and curtailed their licences for abuses of the tachograph system.
We examine a million and a half tachograph charts every year and
increasingly we are doing that on a targeted basis. The points
prosecution value which appears in our report shows we dramatically
exceeded our points target. If the target was 100 per cent, we
achieved 160 per cent of our target last year, which was a huge
volume increase on the previous years, in prosecuted offences
for tachographs and driver's hours offences. So this is an area
where we have been very, very pro-active recently.
433. That is encouraging but when you have operators
who are offering bonuses to their drivers in terms of the miles
they operate and the swiftness of their delivery, the temptation
to abuse tachographs I would suggest becomes greater. When you
have organisations that want just-in-time deliveries, they want
them yesterday, they do not want them tomorrow, so the temptation
is much greater than it was when the tachographs were introduced,
I would suggest.
(Mr Newey) I accept there is a very high level of
temptation. I think the fact we have taken one or two quite big
national operators to court and had their licences removed or
curtailed is a massive deterrent, and I think we are really showing
our teeth on this.
434. That is encouraging. Can I come back to
your good, bad and ugly pecking order, and your comment that compliance
remains unsatisfactory. That is what you said. You have taken
a number of major operators to court on tachographs. How does
that square with your strategy of the good, the bad and the ugly,
leaving the good alone, looking at the bad with a more critical
eye and the ugly with a concentrated eye? Is that not almost self-regulation
for many? Has the fact that you have had to take major operators
to court not effectively thrown a question mark over your strategy?
(Mr Newey) I think it is very important for us to
not be hoodwinked about who the good and the bad and the ugly
are, as you put it. I think that we are showing increasing effectiveness
in tackling the serious problem. The fact, as I said, that compliance
is not at a level we would like is a reflection of the annual
test failure rate, and what we find when we do targeted checks
at the road side. The people who fail those tests are the ones
who we target for special attention, be they traffic offences
or be they vehicle condition offences.
435. Can I move to that very quickly? We have
heard evidence that your inspectorate prefer not to inspect foreign-registered
lorries, and one of the reasons given was the problem of examining
documentation because of the language barrier. Is there any validity
in that evidence?
(Mr Newey) The language issue has been one we have
had to attend to in the past. We have tried to overcome it by
more use of forms with multi language sections in them. Of course
there is a growing number of foreign vehicles coming into the
country, including Eastern European ones. But there is no lack
of willingness on the part of our examiners.
436. Have you got or could you provide the Committee
with the latest information you have statistically on the total
amount of inspections in this category, and how many of those
are foreign based and, if you are able, how many of them come
from Eastern Europe?
(Mr Newey) I can certainly provide the broad figures
you ask for and indeed they are available in our various reports,
but I can write to you with that detail.
437. I have one final question and that is to
do with passenger vehicles which you are also responsible for.
What we have is the Traffic Commissioners responsible for issuing
licences for passenger transport operators who now are working
under a regime that allows them to issue licences providing they
are satisfied that the vehicles are there, there are maintenance
facilities and that there is financial credibility. What is your
relationship like with the Traffic Commissioners?
(Mr Newey) It is a very close and good relationship.
438. You are pro-active here, are you, in the
sense that as and when these licences are issued, or possibly
before they are issued, you are involved in assessing whether
the people who are applying for licences meet the sort of criteria
they are required to?
(Mr Newey) Yes. When the Traffic Commissioner issues
an operator's licence, the Traffic Commissioner's office will
normally ask VI to go and do an inspection of the site and assess
the maintenance facilities available to that operator. That is
initially when an operator sets upnormally within three
to nine months of an operator receiving his licence.
Then the Traffic Commissioner can ask VI at any other time to
go in and do a maintenance assessment or some sort of targeted
inspection if he is worried about that particular operator or
he is receiving complaints.
439. Do you inspect the vehicles when you are
inspecting the premises?
(Mr Newey) We may inspect the vehicles.
7 Note by Witness: Traffic Commissioners and VI agreed
a number of years ago that, instead of VI Examiners visiting operators
before they were issued with an operator's licence, it would be
more effective to inspect their workshop facilities or other arrangements
for maintenance etc when the system was installed and working.
For example, within 3-9 months of obtaining their licence, operators
could be expected to have bought vehicles, equipped and staffed
their workshops, and be able to show evidence of written records
of maintenance and safety inspections. Examiners could also check
vehicle condition. Back