THE JAILING OF A HAULAGE FIRM BOSS AND HIS MECHANIC FOR CAUSING THE DEATHS OF SIX PEOPLE FOLLOWING A TIPPER TRUCK CRASH IN BATH PUT THE SPOTLIGHT ON OPERATORS AND CAUSED QUESTIONS TO BE ASKED ABOUT SAFETY. THE FTA LOOKS AT THE CAUSE OF THE TRAGEDY AND DRIVER AND VEHICLE STANDARDS AGENCY (DVSA) PLANS TO RECOGNISE COMPLIANT FIRMS AND TARGET THE WORST OFFENDERS.
During the trial at Bristol Crown Court, the jury heard the firm operating the tipper truck had no transport manager – a requirement of every O Licence – and routine brake testing was not carried out. The truck’s brakes failed while it was travelling downhill, fully loaded with aggregate, and it careered into pedestrians. Shocking evidence was revealed of incompetence, negligence and a catalogue of errors. Jurors were shown photographs of botched repairs on the 11-year-old truck and maintenance records showed virtually no defects despite the vehicle having almost 450,000 miles on the clock.
Prosecutor Adam Vaitilingam QC said: “This was entirely predictable, the result of poor management and a disregard for the rules and a failure to comply with routine guidelines. It was, put simply, an accident waiting to happen.”
O Licencing is a complex business and not one that is easy for the public to understand, but the regulations are rigid and holding a licence places clear expectations on those to whom they are granted. “The safety standards expected of goods vehicle operators are unambiguous, demanding and robust,” says James Hookham, the FTA’s deputy chief executive. “If followed rigorously, they ensure the heaviest vehicles on our roads are maintained in a safe condition, driven competently and managed by reputable people.
“The vast majority of the individuals who hold an O Licence and their transport managers,” continues Hookham, “take these responsibilities extremely seriously and invest their professional careers, as well as their professional reputations, in ensuring this is so. It is the reason why tragic cases like Bath have been, and hopefully will remain, so rare.”
In the same week that the verdicts were delivered, the Traffic Commissioners published updated Directions and Guidance setting out in fine detail what is expected of an operator in discharging the undertakings of an O Licence – and of a Traffic Commissioner or deputy in deciding whether these have been achieved. This marked the culmination of a prodigious amount of work by the Traffic Commissioners to record their demands of operators. As a result, there can be no doubt that the expected standards are transparent and accessible to every operator.
The Directions and Guidance comprise many volumes and studying them is a daunting task, but its extent merely serves to confirm the weight of responsibility that comes with holding an O Licence. But is the current system fit for purpose – and what more can be done?
At the end of January, the DVSA revealed further details of its Earned Recognition scheme to identify highly compliant operators who will be managed on a different basis to others. This will allow the Agency to focus its resources on identifying, targeting and prosecuting the worst offending operators with no intent on obeying the rules. Precise details of how the scheme will work have yet to be announced, but the FTA believes strong enforcement of the existing legislation should be a priority.
“The Bath tragedy should be a stark reminder to DVSA that a successful outcome of Earned Recognition will be its ability to mobilise a dedicated enforcement team to track down and eliminate illegal operators through transferring resources from routine enforcement of the most compliant operators,” says Hookham. “The FTA believes this outcome is the sole justification for the Earned Recognition scheme.”