6.9.2022 | Compliance

Fleet maintenance: trailers – traction only services

What is the difference in legal maintenance standards required of a business pulling its own trailers compared to when it is drawing those of third parties? 

The simple answer is, that there is none.

This issue has been flagged in the most recent Traffic Commissioner Annual Report 2021/2022. It is a topic that is being given significant prominence – operators need to be aware of the expected standards and policies to be put in place. The report notes:

“In several high-profile cases this year, it has been suggested that some trailer suppliers (including those based offshore) are avoiding responsibilities to ensure safe operation of trailers on GB roads. The lack of adequate arrangements regarding regular and frequent brake testing has been a prominent failing. The potential impact on British roads is significant, and the traffic commissioners have felt the need to issue several warnings regarding this to companies involved in this type of third-party trailer operation.”

As a matter of law, the user of the vehicle (the operator) and the driver are responsible for the condition of the goods vehicle on a public road – that includes any trailer drawn by it, whether it is being used temporarily by the operator or not. Any proceedings for related offences will be taken against the operator/driver, just as actions taken by DVSA e.g. prohibitions, will be recorded against the operator’s licence, regardless of ownership or length of time, a trailer is in possession. The Report highlights this:

“For the avoidance of doubt, operators providing traction-only services to third-party trailers are responsible in law for the condition of that trailer when in use. Transport managers are also required by law to manage transport operations continuously and effectively. The operator’s licence requires “satisfactory facilities and arrangements for maintaining the vehicles used under the licence in a fit and serviceable condition”. In that context, “vehicles” includes any trailer (including those from abroad) being drawn.”

Traffic Commissioners will wish to see evidence of operators having formal policies and statements in place, confirming the respective positions of, and the relationship between, operators and trailer owners. If not already in place, this needs actioning. For an operator, such a statement and policy would contain the following:

  • confirmation that the operator and driver understand that they have full legal responsibility for any trailer drawn by its vehicle
  • a declaration that the operator is satisfied with the arrangements in place for trailers being kept fit and serviceable
  • confirmation that drivers have received dedicated walk-around check training for trailers, to include MOT expiry checks, as well as safety inspection check and brake testing within the date stated; and that if not MOT’d or outside those dates, the trailer will not be used
  • the ability under the arrangements to decline a trailer that has a safety defect
  • confirmation that documentation setting out the above will be carried within the vehicle.

A trailer owner does not have its own operator’s licence (unless it is operating goods vehicles in its own right) and hence is not under the jurisdiction of the regulator, i.e. the Traffic Commissioner. Nevertheless, there should be a statement of its responsibilities, confirming the following:

  • assessment of the trailer inspection frequency and confirmation of the service interval
  • confirmation arrangements are in place to maintain trailers in a fit and serviceable condition
  • arrangements to display information on trailer headboard or by chassis Ministry plate: MOT expiry date, dates of last PMI, date of last roller brake test, defect report contact details
  • confirmation of no commercial impact or consequence where an operator refuses to operate a trailer because there is a safety defect.

If you require any advice regarding fleet maintenance and compliance, DVSA investigations, correspondence with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner or preliminary hearing/public inquiry guidance, please call Tim Ridyard on 0330 404 7949.

Ashtons Legal

Tim Ridyard, Ashtons Legal