The government must put its hand in its pocket.

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Lorry safety is in the news again. Last month the BBC took a look at roadside enforcement of lorry safety regulations and drivers’ hours.

Bearing in mind that these days VOSA – the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency – quite rightly concentrates on targeted enforcement efforts, that is to say it uses automatic number plate recognition to stop vehicles where they think they might get a result, then none of us should be surprised when they actually score. If you go looking for trouble in a trouble spot, then you will find trouble!

But the latest flurry of news in this area has led to two key conclusions – firstly that foreign lorries operating in the UK really are more likely to be guilty of drivers’ hours offences, in fact by a radio of almost four to one. And, secondly, that VOSA’s limited budget means the likelihood of being stopped is around 100 to one. Foreign drivers taking a chance are therefore not taking much of a chance. They can consider themselves very unlucky if they get stopped. Which, in turn, means that they feel fairly comfortable in taking that chance and may well be tempted to break the rules.

Picture the scene – a foreign vehicle and driver arrives in the UK with a 1500 litre tank full of cheap continental duty-paid diesel and a load bound for a local destination. Having tipped, he is now in shape to offer himself for cut price work. And, because he is in a foreign country and has not much else to do but work, then that is exactly what he does. In fact that is what he overdoes. He busts his hours allocation and gets away with it. In so doing he creates a UK road safety hazard and complicates the economics of the UK domestic transport industry.

What to do about it?

Responsible operators who stick by the rules are increasingly unhappy that, as it is presently financed, VOSA simply does not have the resources to catch sufficient numbers of rule breakers to fundamentally change this unacceptable pattern of behaviour.

The Freight Transport Association says that there must be no place for lorry operators and drivers who flout the law in this way and no place for them to hide on the road. VOSA’s funding stream, primarily made up of licensing and test fees, is not providing sufficient resources to enable the right level of enforcement to be carried out. This is absolutely not good enough and FTA says that the Government must act and give them the tools to do the job. Or, in this case, the cash.

VOSA are very smart operators. They have the history of every single vehicle available immediately they read a registration number. And, as soon as they’ve pulled him, the lowdown on the driver as well. But only if the vehicle is British. And only if the driver is British. No such information is available for non-British vehicles and drivers. So, does this mean that VOSA is less likely to pull a foreign vehicle, knowing they have less information and that fines and prohibitions are going to float off into the night, never to be paid or served? If VOSA find foreign vehicles are at fault four times more often then the UK vehicles they stop, then you would think that they might stop more foreign vehicles. But without the details, it may be difficult.

UK road safety and the creation of a level playing field demand a substantial increase in investment in roadside enforcement.

And so does the FTA and every honest lorry operator in the country.

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