Commercial drivers (i.e. lorry, bus and coach drivers) must take frequent rest breaks by law. The rules on rest breaks vary between what drivers' hours regulatory framework a commercial operator operate in. Regrettably the rules on rest breaks are not always followed by operators which can lead to serious and fatal accidents.
In an attempt to deter drivers from breaking existing drivers' hours rules, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency ("DVSA") will be granted new powers for traffic examiners to issue on the spot fines to lorry and bus drivers for drivers hours' offences including failure to rest for offences committed in the last 28 days.
The DVSA will be able to fine drivers up to £300 if they are caught breaking the rules. In a single roadside check, DVSA traffic examiners will be able to issue fines for up to five drivers' hours offences which mean drivers could be fined up to £1,500 in a single check. The new rules will apply regardless of whether the offences took place in Great Britain or elsewhere and the fines are payable immediately. If the fines are not paid, the vehicle is immobilised which will be a headache for commercial operators.
From 1 November 2017, DVSA will start to fine drivers up to £300 if they spend their full weekly rest break in their vehicle in places where it causes a problem; for example if a lorry driver spends their full break in the cab of their lorry in a layby. In doing this, the DVSA have recognised the common practice of drivers resting in the cab of their vehicle, which leads to inadequate rest and often leads to lorries being parked illegally.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), driving while tired may be responsible for one in five of all accidents, and up to a quarter of serious and fatal crashes. The DVSA also states that about 40% of sleep-related accidents involve commercial vehicles.
Health and safety law applies to work activities on the road in the same way as it does to all work activities and operators need to manage the risk to drivers as part of their health and safety arrangements. An operator will need to consider whether their drivers are competent and capable of performing their duties, and, if a driver appears fatigued, an operator needs to consider taking action. A successful operator should ensure that they are checking vehicle tachograph and driver data to ensure that drivers are complying with drivers' hours legislation, particularly the rules relating to rest breaks due to the established correlation between driver fatigue and serious accidents.
It is not entirely clear when the changes will come into effect but the DVSA state the changes will be well-publicised so drivers and vehicle operators are 'fully aware of the penalties'. Updated guidance on drivers' hours rules will also be published in due course.