Detecting defects

Walk-around checks are essential for maintaining road safety but some drivers are cutting corners. Ben Spencer finds out how operators can ensure compliance every time

Finding a defect on a commercial vehicle could mean the difference between life and death, especially if a wheel were to fall off while en route due to a loose wheel nut that a driver should have found beforehand. The consequences of such an incident could also signal an end to the operator’s business.

To prevent such a scenario, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) offers guidance on walk-around checks in its Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness (www.is.gd/nofine). It states: “Daily defect checks are vital, and any defects found must be recorded as part of the maintenance system. It is important that enough time is allowed for the completion of walk-around checks and that staff are trained to carry them out thoroughly. Drivers should be made aware that daily defect reporting is one of the critical elements of any effective vehicle roadworthiness system.” (See also video via www.is.gd/fehozo.)

However, some drivers are failing to meet these standards. Sam Law, brand and project manager at Lloyd Morgan Group, refers to figures from the Office of the Traffic Commissioner which estimate that 85% of roadside fines for infringements could be avoided if the driver had performed an effective walk-around check before setting off. Law points out that checks can be improved with the right training, training materials and monitoring programme.

Vehicle supplier Fraikin provides training on the benefits of walk-round checks to its more than 10,000 customers. During these sessions, it asks these companies to carry out the procedure under its supervision to ensure accuracy.

But training is not enough on its own. Fraikin’s customer service director John Cunningham says the biggest challenge is ensuring customers carry out the checks. “We often find faults where the engine has blown, and we find that the fault has built up over six weeks and has not been spotted by the driver during walk-around checks.”

This can partly be caused by the pressure of work. “If a delivery driver has to make 18 drops between 5:00 pm and 11:00 pm, his natural reaction is to jump in the vehicle and go, unless he understands the importance of following the training.”


It is easier for the bigger operators to ensure drivers keep up good practice, as they have the resources to do so, states Eddie Cross, managing director at ProSolution Management Services. Furthermore, bigger operators offer bus drivers a longer induction process that can last several weeks, as opposed to a couple of days and issuance of a handbook at smaller firms.

Both bus and truck drivers take part in toolbox talks to demonstrate they have understood the training. This is also just one way that a company can foster a culture where reporting safety issues is accepted. Other options extend to placing safety messages on notice boards and promoting safety as a top priority.

“It also comes down to the integrity of the driver and the company,” Cross continues. “The biggest obstacle is complacency, which is why big companies usually will have at least one external audit per year from a trade or independent body to make sure they are carrying out the process correctly.”

More broadly, Lloyd Morgan’s Law adds that all PSV and HGV operators should have a transport compliance audit every two to three years to provide operational compliance peace of mind – so say the traffic commissioners.

Within companies, Cross recommends that disciplinary procedures – which could be anything from a verbal warning to a dismissal – are an effective method for making drivers accountable for their walk-around checks. At the end of the day the transport manager must be able to demonstrate that they have continuous and effective responsibility. The driver’s walk-around check is one of the tools used, he observes.

Law adds that DVSA inspectors and traffic commissioners expect to see evidence that operators are continually monitoring the performance of their drivers’ walk-round checks.

On top of these procedures, Cross notes that companies also need to investigate the origin of a defect. “For example, if a driver takes the vehicle out at 6:00am, was the defect there at 10:00pm the night before, when the vehicle was brought into the depot?”


Aside from these processes, how can operators ensure that drivers carry out the checks and do not using the time to dawdle? Both Cross and Cunningham point to two solutions: technology and managerial oversight.

Firstly, some bus companies require their staff to use a walk-around app to report their findings during the check. Cross explains: “The apps encourage the driver to carry out the checks in a sequence, giving them muscle memory on the process. Companies that do not use an electronic system can only watch drivers at a distance to see that they are not just using the time allocated for walk-around checks to have a cup of tea or a cigarette before going out.”

Additionally, Cross says some companies carry out gate checks on a sample of drivers as they drive out of the yard to make sure that checks were completed correctly, and to make sure they have their CPC card.

Meanwhile, Fraikin offers a solution called MySmartFleet that requires drivers to upload photographs of each tyre during the walk-around check. Cunningham says: “It will send an alert to the transport manager if the driver completes a 15-minute walk-around check too quickly.”

Can operators learn from the trends of previous walk-around checks? Cross confirms that this is easier for the bigger companies because they use an electronic system that contains the company’s data.

However, he does not feel that operators can develop the manual checklist any further. It is a basic check for a non-technical person. A technician-based preventative maintenance inspection (PMI), every six weeks or so, is the next level.

“You wouldn’t want to train the driver to have the level of technical knowledge that you would employ the technician for,” he concludes.

“The walk-around checks are based on observations, and a good driver would be able to notice issues like a worn tyre or an engine rattling more than it did on a previous shift.”


Martin Candish, head of compliance information at Logistics UK, points out that the owner/operator of the vehicle has different responsibilities than the driver in the view of the traffic commissioner. The operator oversees maintaining the vehicle and/or trailer in a roadworthy condition, whereas drivers must ensure that their vehicle (and/or trailer) is in a roadworthy condition. Operators are responsible for carrying out safety inspections, driver defect reporting, providing driver training and awareness courses, booking servicing and maintenance in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations, and ensuring the MOT is completed on time.

Drivers are responsible for checking the vehicle and load before using it on the road, then monitoring the in-use condition of their vehicle and any load carried, reporting any identified issues and/or defects and taking appropriate action when road conditions are poor.

Related content