It is now a little over a year since Graduated Fixed Penalty Notices (“Notices”) were introduced in the UK and they have brought with them some notable advantages - including removing the competitive disadvantage that UK drivers previously suffered against non-UK drivers. Unsurprisingly though, there have also been some downsides including the fact that many drivers are willing to accept a fixed penalty (even where its issue may actually be defensible) rather than to attend Court where the costs may increase. There can be no doubt that the scheme has made it easier for the authorities to ensure that vehicles are compliant with legal Construction and Use requirements from the mere fact that, in its first year, VOSA issued some 33,000 Notices.
The powers were previously only exercisable by the Police but are now also vested in VOSA Enforcement Officers. These powers have been used, in 66% of all cases, in respect of non-UK drivers. Nonetheless, there were still some 11,500 penalties issued to UK drivers in the first year of operation and the most common transgressions were excess weight and braking system defects.
It does not end with Fixed Penalty Notices – in the event of more serious breaches, VOSA also has the power to prosecute and is likely to do so. One operator has been prosecuted for overloading a vehicle in circumstances where the weight of the driver himself was not factored into the load calculation.
Although operators (unless they are drivers too) will not receive the Notices themselves, the issue of Notices can seriously impact on their operator’s licence because the Notices are recorded against the operator and this will detrimentally affect their Operator Compliance Risk Score (“OCRS”). So, in order to ensure that operators are able to defend any criticism of them, they should have in place systems and controls to ensure that their drivers either do not pick up Notices or, if they do, that it is not because of a demonstrable lack of due diligence and training on the part of the operator. Without such properly audited systems, it may be difficult in the face of the ensuing Public Inquiry before a Traffic Commissioner (which is much like a Court) to justify how, and why, its drivers have received Notices and, with the Traffic Commissioner’s powers extending to suspension, revocation or curtailment of the operator’s licence, this could spell disaster for the business as a whole.
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