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Vehicle and Operator Services Agency: Enforcement of regulations on commercial vehicles

The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) has increased the number of dangerous commercial vehicles that it removes from the roads from 28,900 in 2007-08 to 36,500 in 2008-09, but the Agency could make better use of its resources and the effectiveness of its roadside checks is constrained according to a National Audit Office report released today.

The Agency is meeting its annual targets to remove dangerous commercial vehicles and drivers from the road, but performance against targets varies widely between regions. VOSA relies heavily on roadside checks to enforce regulations, carrying out around 252,000 checks in 2008-9. VOSA’s approach is more effective in targeting vehicles which do not comply with roadworthiness regulations but most accidents are caused by driver performance and driver behaviour. The police are responsible for enforcing road traffic laws and dealing with breaches but the Agency could use roadside checks and operator visits to educate drivers and operators about road safety. It does not have a comprehensive education programme for operators or drivers.

The effectiveness of VOSA’s roadside checks is constrained. Some stopping sites are no longer at strategically important locations owing to changes in the road network over time. Sites can also be rendered inoperable by local roadworks or diversions. The Agency’s delegated powers to stop vehicles are provided inconsistently across Britain. It has delegated powers in England and Wales but current accreditation arrangements are cumbersome and inefficient. In Scotland it does not have delegated powers yet for legislative reasons. The Department has plans for VOSA to be given direct powers to stop throughout Great Britain by October 2010.

The Agency’s ability to target risky commercial vehicles entering the UK is limited by a lack of access to ship manifest and other information held by Government and because VOSA cannot always inspect incoming vehicles at ports. Not all sanctions can be deployed effectively against foreign drivers and the Agency has no direct power to impose sanctions on foreign operators.

"It is reassuring that the number of commercial vehicles involved in road accidents is decreasing and that VOSA is removing more dangerous drivers and vehicles from the road, but my report raises a number of issues which will concern those who use Britain’s roads.   “VOSA needs to focus its resources on those activities and areas where it can have most impact: for example, by looking at where its staff and stopping sites are located around the country. It needs to help to educate commercial drivers and properly identify those vehicles which pose the greatest danger. It also needs to work with other organizations, at home and abroad, to ensure that drivers and vehicles from outside the UK are as safe as those from within the UK."

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  • The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency is a trading fund of the Department for Transport. It is responsible for ensuring compliance of commercial fleets with the relevant regulations for improving roadworthiness standards in Great Britain. The Agency does this by inspecting vehicles at the roadside to check their compliance with mechanical and traffic (loading and drivers’ hours) regulations; and inspections at operators’ premises to check compliance across their fleet and vehicle management systems.
  • The Agency spent £36.6 million on enforcement of commercial vehicle regulations in 2008-9.
  • Commercial vehicles make up 7 per cent of traffic on England’s motorways and trunk roads. The number of accidents involving commercial vehicles is decreasing, but 17,415 were involved in road traffic accidents in 2008. Nine per cent of vehicles involved in fatalities were HGVs.
  • Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 900 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 01/10