The Department of Transport (the DFT) has announced the commencement of a consultation in relation to domestic drivers’ hours regulations. The consultation will look at every aspect of the current regulations from the number of hours worked/driven, adherence to driving limits, monitoring and enforcement. A diverse range of organisations will feel the impact of the consultation across various business sectors.
During the course of 2007 new Drivers’ Hours Regulations came into force governing operators and drivers whose vehicles were subject to EU Regulations. The purpose of these Regulations is to ensure uniformity on the application and enforcement of drivers’ hours rules across the EU. However, there remains in the United Kingdom a significant section of the road transport industry governed by Domestic Hours Rules (the Rules), which have been in force for a number of years. The Rules have not been reviewed since the 1960’s and as such it was felt that they were out of step with modern working practices.
On the 21 July 2009 the DFT commenced a consultation on the Rules (the Consultation). The consultation period runs from 21 July 2009 to 13 October 2009 and is seeking views from all those involved in road transport.
The purpose of the Consultation is to look at every aspect of the current Rules to include but not limited to:
- scope and exemptions;
- maximum driving times;
- maximum duty time;
- daily rests;
- weekly/fortnightly rests;
- record keeping requirement, and;
- enforcement, obligations and penalties
The Consultation is intended to be comprehensive and it is possible that the process will be used to bring the Rules into line with those currently in place for EU regulated vehicles.
As mentioned previously part of the consultation process will be concerned with looking at rest periods taken by drivers. It is envisaged that all aspects of drivers’ rest including daily, weekly/ fortnightly rest as well as breaks from driving during the day, will be reviewed. This could lead to a situation whereby rest periods for domestic drivers could mirror those of EU regulated drivers. As such domestic drivers’ could be required to take a minimum break of 45 minutes after no more than 4 and a half hours driving, for instance.
The Consultation provides details on the type of vehicles that will be included in the review. These will include:
- Vans not exceeding 3.5 tonnes (in Great Britain (GB) but not in Northern Ireland (NI));
- Passenger Transport (operating on regular routes up to 50km);
- Tradesmen (e.g. building/construction);
- NHS & publicly owned medical vehicles;
- Refuse collection;
- Local authority services for the elderly and disabled;
- Utilities & road maintenance (e.g. gas/water);
- Agricultural, fishing and forestry;
- Charity work (where employed drivers are used); and
- Special vehicles (e.g. vehicles that operate on natural gas, electric or are not capable of speeds over 40 km).
The number of drivers and operators that would be subject to any changes in the Rules would be considerable with the proposed amendments having a significant impact upon a large number of business sectors as can be seen from the areas identified above.
The main driving force behind the review is to ensure safety of other road users, pedestrians as well as drivers and operators of the vehicles subject to the Consultation. As such it is the authors’ view that a key element to the Consultation will be to ensure that drivers’ hours and rest periods are monitored closely and rigorously enforced.
There exists the very real possibility of a move towards a similar system as already exists with regards vehicles subject to EU regulations whereby tachograph monitoring equipment is used to monitor drivers’ hours. This would require the formalising of a monitoring framework for Domestic Hours Rules.
The obligations that are owed by operators and drivers who operate tachograph fitted vehicles can be onerous and as such if this were to be introduced for operators of vehicles covered by Domestic Hours Rules then similar processes would have to be applied accordingly. A more formalised approach to the monitoring and subsequent enforcement for domestic drivers’ hours would lead to a situation whereby operators and drivers would require improvements in their systems to monitor these hours to ensure compliance and avoid a potential prosecution by VOSA who, it is assumed, would monitor and enforce the Rules.
Although the thinking behind the review is to ensure that operators and drivers drive safely by ensuring that excessive hours are not worked, if a situation were to occur whereby significant amendments are introduced this would mean another layer of regulation for an industry that already considers itself to be over regulated.
It is important for all operators and indeed drivers who are subject to the Domestic Hours Rules to take the opportunity to reply to the Consultation to ensure that the DFT takes into account industry-wide views. A copy of the Consultation can be found on the DFT website: www.dft.gov.uk/consultations.