Government backs down on hours plan

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The government has backed down on plans for automatic prosecution of operators whose drivers violate the new drivers’ hours rules.

Transport minister Dr Stephen Ladyman confirmed that any prosecution will be subject to an assessment by VOSA of its chances of success.

This has removed the threat of automatic prosecution for generally compliant operators who already have in place systems of control and briefing for drivers.

The move comes in response to pressure from the Freight Transport Association. Deputy chief executive James Hookham said: “This is a welcome and pragmatic move by the minister.

“The earlier rush by some groups to welcome the department’s change to what was an acceptable defence in the event of prosecution was premature and completely missed the point. Sure, the new defence was good news but you would still have had to go to court to use it. That may have been acceptable for some, but FTA’s concerns were that members with good compliance records should not have to go to court at all and we were determined to save them time and expense defending their reputation against ambiguous and unfair EU rule making.

“What we have now got the dxepartment to agree is that enforcers will need to decide whether a prosecution under these provisions will succeed before the liability provisions are applied. It means that traffic examiners in VOSA will have to be certain that the company involved is unlikely to have good control systems in place and has no valid defence before a prosecution goes ahead. In other words the burden of proof has shifted from the operator to the enforcer and that means reputable companies that invest in proper briefing and control systems for drivers’ hours should be left alone. They will of course need to follow up and challenge drivers over the original infringements, but the very act of doing so proves that they are on top of the problem.

“There is no way that this arrangement could be inferred or assumed from the original wording in the EU Regulation nor from the department’s original plans of how it should be implemented. FTA members were right to be concerned by this and I am glad we have delivered a substantial improvement on what others thought was acceptable.”

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