Secure your vehicle load – or face the consequences
The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has updated its guidance on vehicle load security.
This is vitally important not just for large goods vehicles, but also vans, cars and trailers in both commercial and personal use. If something goes wrong, the consequences may be catastrophic, involving death, serious injury, damaged goods and other losses including compensation, payment for damage to highways and insurance payouts. It can lead to large fines, penalty points or driving bans – or worse. (A link to an HM Government video showing the fatal consequences of a detached load can be found here.)
DVSA and police will impose roadside prohibitions and Fixed Penalties for load insecurity. They may prosecute. The DVSA starting point is a warning, prohibition and/or fixed penalty depending on the type of load and the nature of the load security (if any!).
An insecure load is a fundamental breach of the requirement to maintain a vehicle in a fit and serviceable condition. Road transport operators may very well find themselves called to a Traffic Commissioner Public Inquiry, as a result of such events, where regulatory action may be taken: loss of operators’ licence or its suspension or reduction.
The guidance covers:
- load securing systems
- good practice
- correct & adequate securing methods
- staff training/information/responsibilities
- driver and operator responsibilities
- load security equipment and solutions.
Under Section 40A Road Traffic Act 1898 it is an offence to use a vehicle or trailer on a road if it involves a danger of injury to any person. This includes any situations where the weight, position or distribution of a load, or how it is secured, involves this danger. If a load is insecure, then it follows that it is likely to involve a danger by falling from the vehicle or by causing the vehicle not to operate as it should.
The offence can be committed not only by the driver but by anyone who causes or permits this, i.e. the business.
Offences can be committed in different ways: where there is no load restraint or it is not good enough; the load is uneven; the ropes or straps are of the wrong type; the load is wrongly distributed or it is too high or wide or can move within the vehicle/trailer. The load does not have to have fallen from the vehicle for there to be an offence. The existence of danger is key.
The penalty for this offence carries a maximum fine of £2,500 but if it involves a goods vehicle (or a vehicle adapted to carry more than eight passengers) it is now an unlimited fine. Three penalty points must be endorsed on the driver’s licence (although if the offender is a limited company it has no licence to endorse, of course) and, if the offence is committed for a second time within three years, there is an obligatory driving disqualification, a less well-known fact. NB if the operator of the vehicle is prosecuted, and they are a sole trader and partner, then their own driving licence will be endorsed with three penalty points. This is another reason why it is advisable to trade as a limited company or LLP, to avoid personal liability.
A prosecution can also take place through Section 42 Road Traffic Act 1988, with a maximum £1,000 fine (or £2,500 for goods vehicles/passenger vehicles adapted to carry more than eight passengers). There is no driving licence endorsement for this offence.
These offences are “strict liability”. It is no defence simply to argue that it was believed the load was secure: there was either danger or not. In some cases, it will be obvious that the load security is inadequate; in others, there may be a genuine and respectable argument that the load restraint is sufficient, with straps and ties that are sufficient for forward and lateral (side-to-side) forces. Here, expert evidence may sometimes be needed.
Death/serious injury/dangerous driving
Remember that if the offence is very bad, including ones where a death or serious injury occurs, it is possible for far more serious offences to be charged. The offence of dangerous driving can be committed not just be bad driving but also by driving a vehicle that is not roadworthy. The test is whether if it would be obvious to a competent careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous. In looking at this, the Court can take into account anything attached to or carried on a vehicle or the way in which it is attached or it is carried.
So, a driver can be guilty of dangerous driving (where there is no death/injury), or causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving, through bad load security. NB driving disqualifications are mandatory for any dangerous driving offences and they are imprisonable offences. The driving test must be re-taken, following disqualification.
Must you follow the guidance?
Of itself, it is not an offence to fail to follow the guidance. However, if there is a dispute as to whether a load was insecure it will be hard to fight one’s case if the guidance has not been followed. Conversely, it will help in a case to demonstrate that the load was secured or restrained, entirely in accordance with this guidance.
As a package of overall guidance – all of which should be followed as best practice – the new DVSA guidance should also be read in conjunction with the existing Department for Transport Code of Practice and the European Best Practice Guideline: Cargo Securing for Road Transport.
We Can Help You
Alternatively, if you or your business require advice or need assistance for any road transport matters, please get in touch with our specialist Road Transport team through this website or by calling 0330 404 0778.
How can we help?
If you have an enquiry or you would like to find out more about our services, why not contact us?