The enforcement activities of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) - Transport Committee Contents

3  International vehicles

21.  The number of foreign-registered vehicles being driven on UK roads continues to rise. The proxy often used to measure the volume of foreign-registered heavy goods traffic on Britain's roads is the number of foreign-registered vehicles leaving the country. In 2008, 1.67 million foreign-registered vehicles left the UK, having fallen back slightly from an all-time high of 1.72 million in 2007.[32] Foreign-registered vehicles account for more than 80% of the heavy goods traffic leaving the UK, and the proportion of vehicles which are registered in the newest EU Member States has increased rapidly in recent years. In 2008, 35% of all powered goods vehicles leaving the UK were registered in the 12 newest EU Member States.

22.  Foreign vehicles are statistically more likely to be non-compliant than UK vehicles. Since 2005-06, prohibition rates for foreign-registered vehicles have consistently been significantly higher than those for UK registered vehicles for all offences.[33] Foreign-registered HGVs are also, reportedly involved in more accidents than UK-registered vehicles.[34]Table 2: Prohibition rates for UK registered and foreign-registered HGV vehicles
UK-registered vehicles
Foreign-registered vehicles
Prohibition rate for vehicles and trailers tested for roadworthiness 37.5%46.5%
Prohibition rate for vehicles tested for drivers' hours and tachograph offences 15.8%23.9%
Prohibition rate for vehicles tested for overloading 28.6%33.1%

Source: VOSA: Effectiveness Report 2007-08, Tables A1.30 and A1.36

23.  In 2007-08, the prohibition rate[35] among Czech HGVs subjected to roadworthiness tests was more than 60% with Polish and Hungarian vehicles also exceeding 50%. Belgian, German and Italian vehicles all had prohibition rates of more than 40% of those tested.[36] These figures are all the more worrying when taking into account that sophisticated targeting techniques which are used to select UK vehicles for testing cannot be used for foreign-registered vehicles. VOSA is able to target known and likely UK registered offenders through the Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS), but examiners have to rely on weigh-in-motion sensors (WIMS) and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems alone for foreign-registered vehicles.

24.  Industry representatives also argued that the penalties for non-compliant foreign operators were unsatisfactory. They therefore welcomed the new system of graduated fixed penalties though the Road Haulage Association doubted whether even this would create a level playing field:

There is nothing more galling than to pull up a foreign truck, find there is something wrong and just tell the driver to rest up and […] when he has had his four-hour break he can go on his way. To the UK operator, the penalties are much more severe. If he is apprehended by VOSA in any way he has to submit a letter to the Traffic Commissioner and say 'I have been a naughty boy' and the Traffic Commissioner can call them in for an interview and revoke his licence or reduce the number of vehicles that he can operate.[37]

25.  The rise in the number of foreign-registered heavy goods vehicles in the UK poses serious challenges to the Government and to VOSA. Our 2008 report on Freight Transport pointed to the damaging distortion of competition caused by foreign hauliers who are able to operate with a cost base that is significantly lower than that of their UK competitors.[38] An even more serious challenge is the high level of non-compliance with basic road safety standards of foreign-registered vehicles on UK roads. The number of foreign-registered heavy goods vehicles on Britain's roads, particularly from the newer EU Member States, is rising. They bring unacceptable levels of non-compliance with basic road safety standards. We recognise that the Government and VOSA cannot specifically target foreign operators, but it is imperative that the Government works intensively to identify ways to improve enforcement and compliance among foreign-registered heavy goods vehicles.

26.  In April 2008, The Government announced additional funding of £24 million over three years to develop the High Risk Traffic Initiative (HRTI). The objective of HRTI is to target high risk traffic, much of which is international traffic, through a 50% increase in vehicle checks. 148 staff will run the scheme across 15 strategically located sites, with particular emphasis on international vehicles entering the UK through Dover and Folkestone, where 65% enter the UK.[39] This initiative followed a pilot in the South East of England in 2007, where VOSA had put additional resources into enforcement for high risk international traffic. In the course of this pilot, the number of accidents on the M25 involving foreign-registered vehicles had declined very significantly.[40] Industry representatives expressed support for the renewed focus on enforcement in relation to non-compliant foreign-registered vehicles, including additional funding and staff.[41] The VOSA Trade Union Side, however, raised concern that staffing and systems were inadequate to achieve the objective of 24/7 inspection services at all sites.[42] We are pleased to see the Government and VOSA initiating schemes, such as the High Risk Traffic Initiative (HRTI), which concentrate additional funding and staff resources on those vehicles that pose the greatest risk to road safety, often foreign-registered vehicles. It can only be right that resources are concentrated where they are most likely to save lives. This is a significant step in the right direction, but we are concerned whether the number of additional staff is adequate, and we urge the Government and VOSA to take immediate action if it becomes clear that more staff is required for such schemes.

Graduated Fixed Penalty, Financial Penalty Deposit and Immobilisation Scheme

27.  The Graduated Fixed Penalty, Financial Penalty Deposit and Immobilisation Scheme, which we have previously called for, was finally introduced in May 2009.[43] The Government hopes that the scheme will provide a robust deterrent against non-compliance among foreign vehicles.[44] The scheme enables police officers and VOSA examiners to:

a)  issue fixed penalties to UK and non-UK-resident offenders alike;

b)  request immediate financial deposits from non-UK-resident offenders and those without a credible address within the UK—either in respect of a fixed penalty or as a form of surety in respect of an offence which is subsequently to be prosecuted in court, and

c)  immobilise vehicles in any case where a driver or vehicle has been prohibited from continuing a journey or in any case where a driver declines to pay the requested deposit.[45]

28.  Stephen Tetlow, the then Chief Executive of VOSA, told us that the introduction of fixed penalties which could be used at the roadside gave inspectors a very important new weapon against foreign operators. He expected the deterrent impact of these new powers to be substantial.[46] The VOSA Trade Union Side expressed some concern about the safety of staff handling cash and imposing stricter regulations without a police presence.[47] These concerns are valid and the safety of staff members must be a priority. However, despite these reservations, the scheme provides real new powers which will have a direct impact on VOSA's ability to penalise offending foreign operators. Witnesses were broadly in support of these new powers as a way of tackling foreign vehicle non-compliance, but we note that the range of fines available is small, i.e. up to £200,[48] and this instrument is therefore not likely to deter serious and repeat offenders.

29.  We welcome the introduction of the Graduated Fixed Penalty, Financial Penalty Deposit and Immobilisation Schemes. We believe it will enhance VOSA's ability to punish and deter non-compliance among non-UK operators. However, the fines are small and we recommend that there should be increases so that there is a real level of deterrence. The Government and VOSA must continue to explore ways to strengthen VOSA's ability to enforce vehicle and drivers' hours standards among foreign operators on UK roads.

Developments in the European Union

30.  The introduction of the Graduated Fixed Penalty, Financial Penalty Deposit and Immobilisation Schemes represent a step in the right direction. However, the only long-term solution to the disproportionate level of infringements of vehicle safety regulations by foreign-registered vehicles will be better co-operation with authorities at EU level and in other EU countries. The Freight Transport Association argued that the greatest improvement to VOSA's enforcement work could be achieved by inspectors having access to the vehicle registration databases of other EU Member States, in order that operators based in other countries could be traced and held to account, if necessary.[49]

31.  Britain has one of the best safety records and one of the strictest enforcement regimes in Europe. A number of witnesses highlighted that the regulation and enforcement of the haulage and public service vehicle industries in the UK is considered a model of best practice not only in Europe, but in the world.[50] Mr Philip Brown, the Senior Traffic Commissioner told the Committee that "quite clearly Great Britain comes up as the safest and best regulated within the European Union and that is down to both VOSA and the Traffic Commissioners".[51] The Road Haulage Association (RHA) concurred:

I think there is a recognition in Brussels and parts of Europe that the UK is ahead on this. I think we are the only country that regularly puts companies out of the industry for non-compliance as opposed to just fining them. The drivers' hours regulation 56106 recognises that implicitly when it says that we should move to a system of banning companies who breach the drivers' hours regulation on a regular basis. We are the only country that does that. I think to a degree we are recognised as a role model in parts of Europe.[52]

The Freight Transport Association explained that they, supported by the RHA, and the Department for Transport had actively taken the message to Europe by organising a seminar for colleagues from other EU Member States to demonstrate the virtues of the British system:

That was so successful and it was such a well-attended [event] that we are going to repeat it again next year. We are doing all we think we can from the industry side to drive up those standards and make our colleagues on the Continent aware of the importance of this and the benefits of it.[53]

32.  We are pleased to hear that the Government, VOSA and the industry organisations have all been involved in working with European authorities and governments in other Member States to help unify transport policy throughout Europe and that Britain has been taking a lead in directing negotiations.[54] An agreement to create a Europe-wide database of safety performance records by 2013 was reached at the Transport Council in June 2008.[55] This development is most welcome. Such collaboration with European authorities is critical in order to help develop a Europe-wide consensus on HGV and PSV safety regulations and to address the problem of enforcing foreign vehicles travelling on British roads. At European level, VOSA's enforcement work is seen as a model of best practice. We congratulate VOSA on this achievement.

  1. We are pleased to learn that the UK is taking the lead on work to improve enforcement and vehicle safety within the European Union. We welcome the work that is being done by officials from both VOSA and the Department for Transport with the Transport Council and the European Commission to co-ordinate work and develop a Europe-wide database of information regarding the safety records of European operators. The implementation of a Europe-wide database is vital work which is urgently needed to help save lives across the continent. It is heartening that the Government and industry representatives are working together to educate colleagues elsewhere in Europe about the benefits of our system and standards.

32   Department for Transport, Transport Statistics Bulletin: Road Goods Vehicles Travelling to Mainland Europe - 2008 Back

33   VOSA: Effectiveness Report 2007-08 Back

34   Ev 64, Road Haulage Association, para 18; Q 174-175; Daily Mail, Polish drivers are worst culprits as road accidents caused by foreign juggernauts soar, 10 May 2009; see also paragraph 26 of this report. Back

35   There are several types of enforcement action that a VOSA Officer can take when confronted with a non compliant vehicle or driver. They are: a verbal warning; one of a range of prohibition notices, some of which come into effect immediately, whilst others come into force after a certain time; an inspection notice, an offence rectification notice, or a fixed penalty notice. Back

36   VOSA: Effectiveness Report 2007-08, Table A1.30 Back

37   Q 24 Back

38   Transport Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2007-08, Freight Transport, HC249, para 112 ff Back

39   Ev 67, Department for Transport, paras 6.1 and 6.2; Qq 169-171 Back

40   Q 174-175 Back

41   Ev 64, Road Haulage Association, para 17; VOSA 14 Freight Transport Association, para 1 Back

42   Ev 56, VOSA Trade Union Side, para 8 Back

43   Transport Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2007-08, Freight Transport, HC249, para 122 Back

44   The scheme was initially legislated for in the Road Safety Act 2006 and a consultation on the implementing regulations was held in 2008, see: DFT Graduated Fixed Penalties and Financial Penalty Deposit Schemes: A Consultation, July 2008 Back

45   Explanatory notes to Statutory Instruments 2009/483, 488, 491, 493, 494, 495, and 498 Back

46   Q 155 Back

47   Ev 56, VOSA TUS, para 17 Back

48   VOSA: Enforcement Sanctions Policy  Back

49   Q 32 Back

50   See for example Qq 22-23 Back

51   Q 112 Back

52   Q 23 Back

53   Q 23 Back

54   Qq 23, 112, 158 & 217  Back

55   Q 218; see also Ev 50, ITS UK Back

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