Increased penalties at driver conduct hearings

The Senior Traffic Commissioner has recently published a draft Statutory Guidance and Directions document on Vocational Driver Conduct.  The publication is currently out for formal consultation, which will close on 7 September 2015.

The draft, if adopted, will replace  the 2011 version of the Senior Traffic Commissioner’s Statutory Guidance and is to assist in providing consistency of approach in dealing with offences and infringements committed by vocational drivers.  Whilst operators might initially think that it is of little relevance to themselves, there are some significant changes proposed which will affect their businesses.

Traffic Commissioners are getting tough with drivers who are found to be using mobile phones or other mobile devices whilst driving.  The guidance includes starting points for the considering the period of suspension of a driver’s vocational entitlement.  Although each case is considered on its own merits and evidence, the starting points provide an indication of the action that is likely to be taken against a driver.   What is striking from the draft proposals is the increase in the starting point for penalties.  The  starting point for a penalty for a first offence of using a mobile phone whilst driving a commercial vehicle has increased from a three week suspension to a four week suspension; for a second offence whilst driving a commercial vehicle , which is dealt with by the Traffic Commissioner, from six weeks to sixteen weeks.   Furthermore, drivers can be called to a driver conduct hearing for failing to have proper control due to using a mobile device, in any vehicle.  A driver who had been caught twice using a mobile phone in a private car and over which an operator would have had no control, would be looking at a starting point of a six week suspension.

If the proposals go through, these will be significant periods of suspension, which will have a knock on effect on the operator’s business.    Whilst the message being sent out by the Traffic Commissioners to the drivers is to bring home the seriousness and danger of failing to have proper control of the vehicle, operators may suddenly find themselves, through no fault of their own,  having to find replacement staff, with all the associated costs.   As unemployment falls and older drivers leave the industry, this may not be an easy task.

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