Driver Defect Checks: HGV daily walkaround checks
The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has issued an update, reminding drivers of what checks should be carried out inside and outside any vehicle. It is a well-established principle that every driver must carry out a walk-around check before their first use of any vehicle (and any trailer that is part of any combination) on any day, including subsequent vehicles/trailers used after the first ones.
This is not only a formal operator’s licence requirement but part and parcel of proper health and safety systems, even where no such licence is required. Hence, this should be the regime for exempt goods vehicles and ones under 3.5t mam.
Whilst such checks continue to be recorded today in written format on pre-prepared sheets, driver defect apps are increasingly being used so drivers can carry this out on a smartphone. Deployment of such systems is entirely acceptable, though the DVSA set out what operators are expected to retain and the format of evidence it expects to be able to see. Electronic records of actual defects still have to be retained for 15 months, together with any repair record, in the same way as paper records. Often, records are called in by DVSA for a remote desk-based assessment, so the material has to be capable of being provided properly in some way, the onus being on the operator to supply this. This is also true where electronic records are used.
Such electronic systems have distinct advantages: this process records the duration of any check that of itself provides management information as to the time spent by drivers on this – there can be driver follow-up to create more effective defect checks; such apps are able to update the business immediately so a transport manager can check and monitor the drivers, not least where they are away from base; the phone/app be used to take photographs of defects – indeed some resourceful drivers record pictures of their vehicles as a routine, in order to have a formal record of their condition, i.e. to positively prove the absence of defects.
The carrying out of a defect check that is properly recorded also creates positive evidence to the police or to any DVSA Examiner that the check took place and that any defect discovered has occurred since the time of the check, e.g. a defective bulb. Whilst the condition of a vehicle at any time it is inspected by the authorities is the responsibility of the driver (and operator), no penalty should be issued where there is good evidence the fault occurred since the check.
For Operator’s Licence purposes, records of driver defects form part of maintenance records and hence need to be retained for a minimum period of 15 months. This is a licencing requirement and not a direct statutory requirement as such. Only reports of actual defects need to be retained – however, there is merit in retaining all nil defects as this positively evidences the constant checks being carried out by drivers on a daily basis.
Whilst DVSA suggests ‘nil’ defects only need retaining for, say, three months, there is arguably merit in retaining them longer – do they not of themselves prove that there has been a constant system in place? In the event of an investigation or Traffic Commissioner hearing, there is clear proof of every driver carrying daily checks. Of course, whilst retention of mountains of paper defect reports is a headache for operators, this is somewhat easier where an app is used, and all checks are kept within IT systems.
Operator Responsibilities and Management
Responsible Operators should be monitoring the effectiveness of the driver defect reporting system in a number of ways, including:
- Ensuring all defect reports are fully completed (whether nil defects or actual defects).
- Where there is a defect, there should be a clear audit trail of the defect, action taken and sign-off – (the ‘loop’ must be closed).
- Random checks of vehicles after drivers have conducted checks but pre-departure; such checks need to be recorded and retained with the maintenance records; this can be a very simple system that does not need to be onerous – but should be in place.
- Close examination of service inspection sheets after PMIs have been conducted to monitor defects that should or could have been discovered by drivers; it is a good idea to monitor driver trends and, if any fault is found on a PMI, to track back into previous defect sheets to see what, if any, input the driver has had;
- Evidence of specific types of issues, e.g. defective bulbs and tyre problems (low tread, cuts, etc.), are examples that may suggest that drivers are not conducting checks properly; some other items may be less safety-critical but may tend to paint a general picture of the degree of driver diligence, e.g. a cracked mirror or broken step;
- Clear written daily driver defect procedures and training (with clear documented evidence of the training carried out by trainers and signed attendance sheets).
- Actual face-to-face follow-up with drivers, with re-training as the starting point and escalated disciplinary action for those who cannot or will not comply.
- ‘Checking the checkers’ – ensuring transport management staff themselves are conducting proper policing of this area.
Driver defect issues are a perpetual recurring theme in DVSA investigations and Traffic Commissioner hearings. In our experience, most issues relating to driver defect reporting link back to poor management in the areas highlighted above. Best practice should adopt the following approach (as with other aspects of fleet management):
- Having the clearest system and procedure in place (simple and documented)
- Clear information and training for all drivers and non-driving staff concerned
- Clear monitoring systems that constantly manage and monitor driver defect systems
- Constant review/disciplinary/follow-up and retraining regime where there is non-compliance.
It may seem odd to be revisiting this area yet again – however, as stated, it is this very area that rears its head time and time and time again because the system an operator may deploy is not sufficiently robust, as the “best practice” approach above is not in place. Poor and persistent mismanagement in this area can ultimately lead to the downfall of an operator’s licence (and the business), it is no exaggeration to suggest.
Contact our road transport solicitors today
If you require advice and assistance in the areas of investigations conducted by DVSA (in-person or desk-based assessments) or Operator Licensing (including Traffic Commissioner hearings), please contact us using our online enquiry form or by calling 0330 404 7949.
How can we help?
If you have an enquiry or you would like to find out more about our services, why not contact us?