Whilst in other respects it has been an extraordinary year, 2016 has not been one where there has been announcements of any great changes in the law relating to road transport operations. However, nothing stands still and when we look back at the legal updates we compiled during the year there were some important developments and an indication of future legal changes.
Health and Safety
At the end of 2016, we have already seen the big impact of the massive rise in fines for health and safety offences that started in February 2016. In the period 1975 to early 2016, 32 fines in excess of £1million were imposed – since February 2016 more than half that tally has already been exceeded. This means that all businesses must be even more alert to the dangers of workplace accidents and keep up-to-date with their compliance measures.
The fatal consequences of bad management and poor maintenance in the Bath Tipper case (defective braking systems) have now led to manslaughter convictions, and we have been advising businesses as to the employment law aspects of the Glasgow bin-lorry case where an employee driver failed to disclose correct medical information.
There is a clear trend on the part of the Government to toughen up sentences where drivers engage in avoidable risks. We now know that in early 2017, mobile phone offences will start to attract six penalty points, even if dealt with under the fixed penalty scheme.
The intention is to increase to life imprisonment fatal dangerous driving offences and possibly introduce a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
However, are more or fewer driving offences taking place or are fewer being detected in part due to a lack of policing resources? This was a question considered during the year by the Commons Transport Select Committee, and concluded that the lack of a reduction in the number of fatal offences on the roads was not indicative of a lack of any drop in non-fatal offences committed within the ‘Fatal 4 offences’, involving drink/drugs, speed, mobile phones and seatbelts.
The impact of technology
We were also reminded this year how as technology changes, then so too must the law to effect such changes. In July, the DfT published its first plans to deal with regulation relating to driverless vehicles that will affect both private and commercial operations on the roads. The intention is to require compulsory insurance to cover not only third parties but also the driver/ passenger of the automated vehicle against product liability following an accident. The new technology will require countless changes to the law, such as Construction and Use regulations.
On the subject of new trends, we await the appeal in the Uber case relating to the employment status of drivers. Uber has indicated it wishes to expand into the goods sector. Is this part of a general trend where the concept of traditional employer / employee may change over time?
January saw the issue of revised Statutory Directions and Guidance issued by the Senior Traffic Commissioner. Of particular assistance to operators are materials relating to Driver Conduct (including training aids) and Transport Managers (a detailed list of duties expected to be carried out). During the course of the year, the Senior TC confirmed that notifiable events affecting good repute extend to things such as the issue of improvement notices e.g. by the HSE.
The major event of 2016 with legal consequences was indeed the EU Referendum. The outcome of the EU Referendum has not been legally challenged but the mechanism to ‘trigger Article 50’ has come under the spotlight and the Supreme Court hearing appeal outcome will be announced early in 2017. It seems unlikely the Government appeal will succeed.
One consequence of the June 23 result was the impact on the Pound against the Euro, leading to a rise of 18% in the financial standing requirement for standard goods and passenger operators from 1 January 2017.
There is a large degree of consensus that the Referendum result will not ultimately lead to any significant change in the nature of regulatory regimes to which operators and drivers are subject, e.g. drivers’ hours rules, Driver CPC, operator licensing, etc. Much legislation does not derive from the EU in any event, but even that which does relates to road safety and licensing regimes that the UK would be unlikely to wish to dilute. This takes place against a backcloth of concern with regard to driver retention and recruitment, not least if drivers, and indeed non-driving staff working in the sector, cannot be sourced from outside the UK.
There is a clear desire for those engaged in international operations to continue to enjoy as little redtape, customs barriers and border controls as possible, according to research carried out by trade associations.
So, those are some highlights from 2016 with links to more detailed articles written by us. Please do get in touch with us in Cambridge (01223 411421) or Milton Keynes (01908 202150) if you require further assistance in any aspect of road transport law, as well as if you would like to find out more about our transport retainer scheme. This allows you access to advice and legal support through the payment of a monthly fixed fee. To find out more, please click here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
On behalf of the Woodfines Road Transport team, please accept our best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.