Question of compliance 06 November 2012

VOSA chief executive Alastair Peoples asked delegates at the IRTE conference 2012 to redouble their effots to keep first-time pass rates and vehicle standards improving. John Challen reports

"There is a real opportunity to work together and get the transport industry to improve its compliance and safety record." These were among words of encouragement and exhortation from Alastair Peoples, chief executive of VOSA (Vehicle and Operator and Services Agency) as he addressed the afternoon audience at the IRTE conference 2012.

Peoples' highlighted the considerable recent work done by VOSA to drive up first-time pass rates, citing the OCRS (Operator Compliance Risk Score) scheme, the provision of testing standards and manuals online, and simplification of the headlamp aim test. These and other measures, he asserted, have made a real difference.

"Between 2000 and 2008, our HGV annual test pass rate was more or less static, with only 2% variation [35.7% vs 33.4%]. But between 2008 and 2011 we saw a vast improvement in the condition of the heavy vehicle fleet presented for test," stated Peoples. And he professed himself hopeful that this will continue when the numbers for 2012 are available. However, he also warned of complacency, referring to disappointing roadworthiness figures still being uncovered after testing.

"Three months after passing their MoTs, 10% of the HGVs targeted by VOSA have reached a condition that is endangering other road users," revealed Peoples. "This level is unacceptable. We must work harder to ensure that the HGV fleet remains compliant throughout the year, and not just on the one day vehicles are brought to us for testing."

So, how? "We estimate that 80% of roadside prohibitions can be prevented by improving attention to the daily walk-around check – which is a major factor in finding defects before we do," stated Peoples. For him, drivers bear much of the responsibility for keeping vehicles in a suitable condition for road haulage.

And make no mistake, he said, statistics for foreign operators' vehicle compliance are now virtually on a par with those of their UK counterparts. "The picture at the roadside is changing, as are prohibition rates," stated Peoples. "Historically, compliance rates for British operators were better than those for non-UK operators. But the two are now not that dissimilar. Our prohibition rates have gone up, because we target much better, and, while it is good that first-time pass rates have improved, quality needs to be there throughout."

Beyond the walk-around check, though, Peoples urged operators to pay attention to all aspects of fleet operations, including drivers' hours and vehicle loading. "If we rest on our laurels it will be much more difficult to defend restrictions on foreign operations within the UK," he warned. "We can't afford to take our eyes off the ball."

Moving on to workshop maintenance, however, Peoples reiterated VOSA's support for the irtec technician licensing scheme, acknowledging that it has been instrumental in raising standards at source. "As I said at the awards ceremony for the IRTE Skills Challenge, operators that invest in good staff and good systems demonstrate to me that they want to be compliant," he said. "That sends me a very clear indication of the risk score they might end up with."

Finally, Peoples praised VOSA's move to ATFs (Authorised Testing Facilities), of which there are now more than 250. "Experience has shown that ATFs are helping to improve compliance rates. More people pass first time at ATFs than at other VOSA sites," he commented. Why? Partly it's because of the ATF owners' ability to test on identical equipment to that used by VOSA. But other benefits include the reduced opportunity for faults to occur between preparation and testing. "And there is the pride that ATF owners have in their operations," reasoned Peoples.

The bottom line, though: VOSA is keen to work with operators to raise standards, he said, but for those unwilling to listen, there is now the threat of a move 'straight to red' on OCRS and referral to the traffic commissioners.

John Challen

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Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)
Society of Operations Engineers

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