An operator’s licence or not an operator’s licence?

What is and is not a goods vehicle, do I need an operator’s licence or not an operator’s licence? These are not as easy questions as you may think. A recent case has given some clarification to this difficult problem.

It is an offence to use a goods vehicle on a road for the carriage of goods for hire or reward or in connection with a trade or business unless, subject to some exemptions, one has a goods vehicle operator’s licence. The exemptions include 29 classes of exempted vehicles which are set out in statutory regulations.

Some of the exemptions relate to the character of the vehicle, for example an electrically propelled vehicle, some relate to who is the user of the vehicle, whilst others relate to the use to which the vehicle is being put.

In a recent case, the operator of the vehicle believed that he did not need to have an operator’s licence as he believed that he fell under the exemption of a vehicle that was being used for funerals. The operator provided a horse drawn hearse for funerals but used a 7.5 tonne vehicle to transport the horse drawn hearse and the horse to the location where the cortege was to take place. The vehicle was specifically adapted to carry the hearse and horse and was marked up with the funeral director’s livery.

The court held that such use of the vehicle was too remote to come within the funeral exemption and that the operator should have had an operator’s licence. The decision shows if one is relying on one of the exemptions from holding an operator’s licence, you need to look very carefully at the wording of the exemption and how the courts have interpreted that wording. It is best to seek legal advice, as if you are stopped by VOSA the onus is on you to show that you fall within the exemption. Get it wrong and you could risk a fine of up to £2500 and losing the vehicle.

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