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FREIGHT TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION

HeavyTorque Issue Two: FTA

FTA COLUMN

DRIVER LICENCE CHECKING SYSTEM STILL NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

DRIVER HEALTH CHECKS CAUSE HEADACHES FOR TRANSPORT OPERATORS

DRIVER LICENCE CHECKING SYSTEM STILL NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

The Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority’s (DVLA) new licence checking service has been in operation since June. The paper counterpart that accompanied all UK photocard licences has been removed: in its place is a phone and online checking system.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) highlighted initial teething problems. This led to changes – the premium rate phone number was taken down, while the validity of online access codes increased from 72 hours to 21 days.

However, FTA believes more changes are needed to make the system fit for purpose. Prior to the launch, the Association entered into prolonged dialogue with DVLA – in the hope that employers would easily be able to check licences in bulk. Many are now using third-party services: at a cost, because of the added time and resources required to check each one separately, online. In fact, the Association for Driving Licence Verification (ADLV) has reported a surge of business from fleets – for online commercial-licence checking – since the abolition of the paper licence.

FTA also believes operators should be able to check non-GB licences online instead of via an office-hours-only phone line. Details of licences for non-GB drivers (who have registered with DVLA) may be checked by an operator – but not via the View Driving Licence and Share Driving Licence systems. The data for non-GB licence holders is held on a separate database, and is accessed using a different method.

Checking non-GB licences is fraught with complication. It depends on whether the driver is from another EU member state, the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway); or other groups of licence holders.

These groups, classed as designated countries, consist of Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe. Holders of licences from these countries, who become resident in the UK, can drive small vehicles (up to eight passengers or 3,500kg MAM) for 12 months from initial residency. After that the licence must be exchanged for a GB licence.

Vocational entitlement holders are not able to drive a medium or large vehicle until they hold a GB entitlement gained through a test. These same rules apply to holders of licences issued in Gibraltar. The exception is that holders of a vocational entitlement can drive for up to 12 months from becoming resident, and may exchange their full valid vocational licence for a GB equivalent Drivers whose licences were issued in Jersey, Guernsey, or the Isle of Man can drive any category of vehicle shown on their licence for up to 12 months from becoming resident, after which they can exchange the licence for a GB equivalent.For those who hold licences issued in any country other than EU, EAA and those mentioned above, the driver may drive small vehicles for up to 12 months from becoming resident. Then they must obtain a GB licence through a test. Vocational licence holders are not allowed to drive medium or large vehicles until a GB entitlement has been gained through a test.

For holders of EU licences and EEA, the process is a little easier. Drivers with the correct entitlements, who become resident in GB, may drive small vehicles until the age of 70, or for three years, whichever is the longer period.

Those drivers, who hold vocational entitlements, must register with DVLA within 12 months of becoming resident in GB. This will enable the driver to continue driving in GB while the EU/EEA licence is valid until the age of 70 or three years, whichever is longer: or until a medical renewal is required for vocational drivers under GB law. At this point, a vocational entitlement holder must apply for a GB licence. The DVA in Northern Ireland will introduce an online driver licence-checking service in April 2016.

DRIVER HEALTH CHECKS CAUSE HEADACHES FOR TRANSPORT OPERATORS

A number of cases have hit the headlines in recent months which have put drivers’ medical fitness under the spotlight.

Checking an employee’s mental and physical fitness to drive is a serious responsibility for transport operators. And it’s made more difficult by their inability to access medical records to check information declared by staff members.

New draft guidelines just announced by the British Medical Association (BMA) go some way to address the problem. But the Freight Transport Association says more needs to be done.

Es Shepherd, Head of Compliance Information at FTA’s Member Advice Centre, said: “It’s ridiculous that an employer has to jump through hoops to check whether a driver is physically or mentally capable of carrying out the role.

“The law needs to be changed to give employers limited access to informational about medical conditions that could impact on road safety. Currently, they have no legal right to that information – and have to rely on the honesty of employees to declare anything that might prevent them from driving.”

The BMA’s new guidelines encourage a more proactive approach. They suggest doctors should report patients to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if they continue to drive despite being advised against it for medical reasons – if doctors believe it ‘might leave someone at risk of death or serious harm’. But this relies on the GP knowing that the patient is driving against advice.

The existing law means drivers in England, Scotland, and Wales are themselves responsible for notifying the DVLA of any relevant medical condition. Drivers in Northern Ireland must tell the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA). Penalties for not doing so include fines of up to £1,000.

But there is no requirement within the law for those whose occupation includes driving to inform their employer. This means it is down to employers themselves – to put measures in place in an effort to capture this information. That itself can be difficult.

Drivers in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, who have applied to renew their licence can continue to drive while by the DVLA or DVA process it. But this is on the condition that they have not or would not be refused a licence for medical reasons.

Mr Shepherd said: “In this case it would be reasonable for the employer to ask the employee to be assessed by an occupational health practitioner, or their own doctor. Yet the physician can only advise on fitness to work – he can’t share the full medical details without the individual’s consent.”

Alternatively, an employer can ask for a doctor’s letter from an employee, but even then there are limitations. Under the Access to Medical Reports Act, 1988, the individual has a right to ask to see the doctor’s report before it is sent. He or she can then ask for it to be amended. If the doctor refuses, a note must be attached to explain why it has not been changed – but, ultimately, the employee has the right to stop the letter being sent altogether.

FTA believes the law needs to be changed to make the process more straightforward. Transport operators should be confident that their employees are mentally and physically fit to drive.

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