Commons Gate

The enforcement activities of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) (HC 1196-i)

Transport Committee 12 Nov 2008

Labour Party logo

Evidence given by; Road Haulage Association: Roger King, Chief Executive, Jack Semple, Policy Director.
Freight Transport Association: Chris Welsh, General Manager - Policy Campaigns, James Hookham, Managing Director - Policy and Communications:
Passenger Transport Executive Group (pteg), Neil Scales, pteg Chair and Director General of Merseytravel.
FirstGroup plc: Nicola Shaw, Managing Director, UK bus division:
VOSA Trade Union Side: Kevin Warden, Trade Union Side Secretary; Gary Washer, Assistant Trade Union Side Secretary.

Unite the Union: Roger Sealey, Transport Sector Researcher; Dave Williams, Executive Member for Road Transport Commercial

Q13 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Just on the overloading of vehicles, I used to see years ago quite a number of weighbridges in various parts of the country. In fact there is one on the A74 link between Carlisle and the Scottish border and I presume when the motorway is built that will disappear. Are there enough checks going on and is there a real problem with overloading the vehicles, especially foreign vehicles?

Mr King: I think there is a problem with overloading vehicles particularly those on international work and certainly those coming in from Europe - left-hand drive foreign trucks as we might call them, EU partner vehicles we might also call them.

Q14 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): You used to be a member, did you not, I remember that!

Mr King: EU partner vehicles then! The level of being able to check needs to be improved of course but we now have weigh-in-motion sensors at strategic points in the country. We would like to see more of those. The difficulty is that they are picking up vehicles on motorways that are overladen and you do not have to go out and bring them in and find somewhere to park in order to conduct a static weigh test because you cannot rely at the moment on the weigh-in-motion sensors to actually produce a certificate of prohibition. The vehicle has got to be weighed on a standard weighbridge. We feel that there needs to be some changes there we feel so that vehicles that are overladen and picked up by the WIMS device do not necessarily need a static weighbridge to confirm that.

Q15 Graham Stringer: Can you put a number on how many vehicle are weighed that are suspected to be over the limit?

Mr King: It is difficult to say exactly how many are overweight but in recent tests that VOSA has conducted 50% of the foreign vehicles that were checked were in breach of some rule or regulation, whether it was driversí hours or being overweight. I have not got the split but I think from memory it is round about 20% of foreign vehicles stopped are overweight. However, one would not want to run away with the idea that we are all absolutely pure as the virgin snow in the UK haulage sector because a similar percentage of vehicles - 50% stopped - were found to be in infringement of some rule or regulation, the difference being that the foreign vehicles were randomly selected and VOSA were focusing on and targeting known miscreants in the UK sector for their stoppages, so I think it sends out a very, very important message that far too many vehicles are not running legally.

Q16 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Obviously VOSA has a targeting policy for UK vehicles or foreign ones. Do you think that is a good system that those with previous convictions should be targeted?

Mr Hookham: I think there is ample evidence to suggest that this is a high-risk area. It repays the higher proportion of resources required to tackle it. I think this is endemic and it is something that we discussed the last time we were here. The higher standards of licensing and requirements of routine inspection and maintenance of vehicles in this country do not appear to prevail on the Continent or in the Republic of Ireland. I have said before to this Committee that I think this is something that Great Britain can be quite proud of, having in the Transport Act 1968 the putting in of a quality system for judging the capability and competence of goods vehicle operators, which I think has got great potential to be exported to the rest of Europe given the apparent low standards of compliance which are manifest in vehicles visiting here. I think that the justification for that is well made in the evidence that VOSA has produced in their effectiveness reports and it has certainly satisfied ministers.

Mr King: Chairman, I think it would be a good step and there can be no reason why, instead of VOSA trying to stop vehicles that are leaving the Channel ports and being restricted by where they can park them if they are overladen, vehicles could not be inspected before embarkation into the UK at a juxtaposed customs point. What is to stop vehicles being weighed on a WIMS system on the way into Calais either on the ferry or on the train or anywhere else in Europe? What is to stop VOSA checking driversí records, whether they have had their weekly rest break and whether they are fit to drive on UK roads? There is absolutely no reason why they cannot do it at Larne in Northern Ireland for every Irish truck coming into the UK via Holyhead or Stranraer. Would the EU object because it was a sort of border control? In our view, the EU would welcome this kind of exercise because they have set very high standards for road haulage but they lack the ability for any Member State to carry out any compliance because they do not have the same systems as we have here, so why not talk to the EU about literally checking every vehicle that is crossing Europe coming into the UK and sorting out overladen vehicles and drivers not taking rest breaks once and for all.

Q17 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Has your Association suggested this to VOSA?

Mr King: Yes we have. Well, I do not think we have suggested it to VOSA; we have certainly suggested it to the Transport Minister.

Q18 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): And what has been the response?

Mr King: "Interesting".

Q19 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): How long ago was the interesting?

Mr King: Five weeks.

Q20 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That is not bad then!

Mr Semple: It might be worth adding that in terms of the prohibitions that VOSA issues at roadside checks, the serious infringement, the real running a coach and horses through the driversí hours or vehicle condition regulations, are very much weighted to the foreign vehicles. There is clear evidence from VOSA that behind the prohibition figures the really serious infringements are with the vehicles from abroad.

Q21 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The issue about two-axle vehicles and three-axle vehicles as well; the British vehicles tend to have three, is that right?

Mr Semple: The problem is one of weight because at the end of the 1990s the Government wanted to get rid of four by two axles and that was stated clearly in the DETR policy paper in 1998 (or it may have been 1999) because of the road damage factor. It was stated that they wanted to tax the four by two 40-tonner off the road. Now we are in the situation where the number of vehicles coming in from abroad has grown out of all proportion and they are almost all four by twos because that is what they are allowed to do under EU international haulage regulations, but they are very likely to be overloaded on the drive axle or the steering axle or both. There is partly a road safety issue and partly also a fair competition issue because they are cheaper vehicles to buy and to run.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

Legislative Work page | Return to Homepage

On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB