HELP! – The DVSA are coming to visit
There are some things that happen, even to the best run businesses, which are less than welcome. High up on that list must be the DVSA (formerly VOSA) announcing that they intend to visit your operating centre. However well-meaning, it is always a trial when your systems are put to the test – especially by an eye that misses nothing and is not afraid to tell you when you’ve got it wrong!
The DVSA don’t waste much of their time visiting compliant operators so it is almost certainly to do with something that you, or your employees/agents, have done or have failed to do. The triggers are legion, but common ones are where your vehicles are stopped and mechanical defects are found; or the vehicle is overloaded; or there are drivers’ hours infringements discovered…. and so on. Alternatively it could be that the visit has been requested by the Traffic Commissioner as a result of a requested variation you have submitted. It might even be that your MOT failure rate is higher than the national average, which always sets alarm bells ringing.
So What Happens Now?
The DVSA will attend, usually in the form of a Traffic Examiner (TE) or a Vehicle Examiner (VE). The Traffic Examiner is more interested in your documentation and the Vehicle Examiner in the actual nuts and bolts of your maintenance regime. It is said that the easy way to distinguish between a TE and a VE is that the VE will have dirty fingernails.
The important thing to remember is that most DVSA employees are decent people, trying to do a difficult job as well as they can. They are not actively seeking to close you down but they are attempting to assess whether you are compliant with the regulations and, if not, what can be done. Sometimes an operator will just require a little advice – others may require attention from the Traffic Commissioner.
It always helps if you are courteous and cooperative. Let them see what they need to see. If they point out a fault and suggest a remedy then take it up. Even when the worst comes to the worst and you are called into a Public Inquiry a Traffic Commissioner is going to be more easily disposed to an operator who was open and cooperative to the DVSA than to one who was rude and obstructive.
When the Party’s Over
When the DVSA leave you will feel as though a typhoon has struck. Do not think that you can relax once you have restored all your documentation to its proper place. Invariably the DVSA officer will have made some suggestions so ACT ON THEM. Do not stick your head in the sand because if the visit was not a happy one then the machinery will grind remorselessly on unless you have taken steps to stop it.
If you haven’t already done so, your first step should be a free initial consultation with a specialist transport lawyer . They will be able to advise on what needs to be done to give you the best chance of resolving matters before they go before the Traffic Commissioner.
The DVSA will probably send you a form PG13 which will detail the faults that they have found and will invite you to address them in writing before they consider reporting you to the Traffic Commissioner. Use this opportunity, it may not prevent you being called in for Public Inquiry but it will help demonstrate that you wish to be compliant and have taken or are going to take the necessary steps to do so. Your transport lawyer can assist you in preparing your responses, and can liaise with the DVSA on your behalf to try to put to rest any concerns they have. In many cases, a seemingly serious compliance failing can have a perfectly innocent explanation.
It is quite common for an unsatisfactory maintenance inspection to result in both you and your drivers being interviewed under caution by the DVSA. This is their opportunity to quiz you about any potential offences that may have come to light from an inspection of your records. These could include suspected tachograph offences, maintenance failings, use of unauthorised operating centres, and anything else they think they have identified. Your transport lawyer will be able to contact the DVSA to try to find out what their concerns are, assist you in preparing for your interview and be present with you throughout to advise and ensure your rights are protected.
What Can I Do?
The reality is that nobody’s business is perfectly compliant but some are better than others. In your heart you will know where on the scale your business lies. The worse it is the more that you need to do.
Before the visit check that you have your paperwork in the right places and ensure that it is up to date. If you know that compliance has slipped badly then be proactive. Start to take steps to fix it. If necessary engage a competent Transport Consultant to overhaul your systems and ensure that you are using the right paperwork. And don’t hide it from the DVSA!!
If you have an unsatisfactory visit from the DVSA then this is your wake-up call. Act on their recommendations. You will have a far better time in front of the Traffic Commissioner if you treat this as your wake-up call rather than the call-in letter 28 days before the Public Inquiry. Yes, it may be expensive but it might save your business.
Smith Bowyer Clarke have long experience in representing Operators, transport Managers and drivers in front of the Traffic Commissioner. Much of what we do involves helping to turn around Operators who are failing in their compliance. We have access to first rate consultants in a number of areas who can be trusted to give up to the minute advice. If you are worried why not give us a call.