Senior Traffic Commissioner revises guidance to commercial vehicle operators on multiple convictions
Senior Traffic Commissioner Beverley Bell has warned operators in specialist industries who use commercial vehicles they could lose their repute or fitness to hold a licence as a result of multiple convictions.
At a recent public inquiry, Mrs Bell, who is also Traffic Commissioner for the North West of England, said the case had “shone a spotlight” on the issues that arise when a business is regularly prosecuted by an enforcement agency.
She concluded that it was no longer acceptable for operators to tell their local traffic commissioner they have been convicted and to “say nothing more”.
Guidance issued by the previous Senior Traffic Commissioner - that convictions of this nature would not lead to loss of repute - sent out the wrong message to the industry, she added.
The public inquiry, which dealt with the operator’s licence held by United Utilities Water Plc, was called to consider numerous prosecutions by the Environment Agency and Cumbria County Council between October 2009 and March 2013, with fines totalling over £600,000.
The company had notified the offences to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner, in line with requirements, but on many occasions did not provide details of the circumstances. The company had identified some offences as being of strict liability.
During the inquiry, Mrs Bell was told that operators and organisations such as United Utilities will always attract convictions as this is the nature of their business.
In a written decision issued after the hearing, Mrs Bell noted that the convictions did not fall within the list of relevant convictions under Schedule 2, paragraph 5 of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995.
However, she added that Schedule 3, paragraph 1(2) requires a traffic commissioner, when considering repute, to have regard to all material evidence including, in particular, any other information in their possession as to the previous conduct of any of the operators, officers, servants or agents, or any of its directors, in whatever capacity – if that conduct appears to them to relate to the company’s fitness to hold a licence.
Mrs Bell added that it would now be “incumbent” on operators in these industries to not only notify the conviction itself but to also provide a “full and detailed explanation” of the circumstances of the offence(s) and of the subsequent remedial action.
“It is no longer sufficient to merely notify the commissioner and to say that the offence is one of strict liability,” she concluded.
Ruling that it would be manifestly unfair to reach a decision of loss of repute for United Utilities Water Plc, in view of previous STC’s policy,
Mrs Bell offered further guidance to operators in specialist industries who require a commercial vehicle licence.
“It also occurs to me that operators in this situation would be well advised to make contingency plans in the event of a loss of repute but that will be a matter for each individual operator.
“In an attempt to give guidance to this industry, I make it clear that if United Utilities wishes to form a separate subsidiary company that has as its sole purpose the provision of transport for United Utilities in connection with its trade or business then that would be an acceptable solution.
“The benefit of such an approach would be to separate the transport activities of the subsidiary company from the main company which would allow the transport operating company to focus solely on its transport activities and thereby achieve proper compliance.”
This could, she remarked, have the desired effect of addressing the varying needs of different regulatory regimes.
The Traffic Commissioner also issued a formal warning to United Utilities Water Plc and asked the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to conduct further investigations in due course.
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