The strong arm of the law adopts a looser grip for van drivers than their HGV counterparts, but there are still rules to follow – and penalties to pay if you don’t – as Steve Banner reports
Van owners are not hemmed in by the draconian legislation that governs the activities of heavy truck operators. However, there are laws they must obey, and they can face substantial fines plus licence endorsements if they breach them.
The phrase ‘light commercial vehicle’ describes a goods vehicle – and that includes a pick-up or a bodied vehicle such as a dropside or tipper – grossing at up to 3.5 tonnes. Opt for something heavier – a 4.0- or 5.0-tonner, say – and in the majority of cases you will have to obtain a heavy truck Operator's Licence. You will also have to have a tachograph fitted and obey the European Union's heavy truck Drivers Hours rules.
Furthermore, you will have to ensure you hold the appropriate driving licence entitlement before you get behind the wheel. If you passed your car driving test after 1 January 1997 then you will have to take an additional test if you wish to drive a rigid goods vehicle grossing at above 3.5 tonnes.
If you passed your car test prior to that date then you can avail yourself of so-called ‘grandfather rights’, which permit you to drive a rigid goods vehicle grossing at up to 7.5 tonnes. You can be fined up to £1,000 and receive three to six penalty points for driving without the correct licence entitlement.
In addition to the right licence you will have to hold a driver's Certificate of Professional Competence, which means completing 35 hours of training every five years.
Always remember that gross weight describes the total weight of the vehicle including any cargo it may be carrying, the driver and fuel. It does not refer to the vehicle’s maximum permitted payload. Confuse the two and you run the risk of seriously overloading whatever you happen to be driving.
Overloading is an offence that attracts a fine of up to £300. If you are more than 30% overweight, however, then you will be on the receiving end of a court summons and the fine could be substantially more on conviction depending on the gravity of the offence.
There are only two defences to an overloading charge.
One is that the vehicle was being driven to a weighbridge to be weighed or was being driven away from a weighbridge to have excess weight off-loaded.
The other is that the load was legal at the point of departure but increased in weight by up to 5% while the vehicle was being driven without any additional cargo being added. That can occur if a load of sand or timber has absorbed a lot of water during a heavy shower.
If the overload is so serious as to affect the brakes or steering to such an extent that the vehicle presents a danger to other road users then the charge could be the more serious one of using a vehicle in a dangerous condition. If that charge is brought then the two defences outlined above will not apply. Penalties on conviction include a fine of up to £2,500 and three penalty points on your driving licence, warns the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
Delivering goods in town centres can be an obstacle course because of the loading and unloading restrictions that apply. Yellow vertical lines on the kerb show where you are not allowed to load or unload or if restrictions apply. Any restrictions will be displayed on a nearby sign.
Some roads have loading/unloading bays. They are shown as a white box marked ‘loading’ and again any restrictions will be set out on an adjacent sign.
All LCVs must undergo an MoT test annually once they are three years old. They are subjected to a Class 4 test if they gross at up to 3.0 tonnes and to a Class 7 test if they gross at between 3.0 and 3.5 tonnes. The DVSA states that driving a vehicle that requires a current MoT certificate but does not have one can attract a fine of up to £1,000. Drive without insurance and you risk an unlimited fine plus six to eight penalty points on your licence, the agency warns. Fail to tax your van and a fine of up to £1,000 could be on its way.
Most light commercials are subject to lower speed limits than cars, says the DVSA. While the 70mph motorway limit and the 30mph limit in built-up areas are the same, for LCVs the dual-carriageway limit is 60mph and the single-carriageway limit is 50mph. All these limits apply unless lower limits are posted.
However, car-derived vans with a gross weight not exceeding 2.0 tonnes are subject to higher single- and dual-carriageway limits of 60mph and 70mph respectively, again unless lower limits are posted. Speeding can result in a fine of up to £1,000 rising to £2,500 if the offence is committed on a motorway, says the DVSA. To these penalties can be added three to six licence penalty points.
While rigid vehicles grossing at up to 3.5 tonnes do not have to be equipped with a tachograph, the driver is nonetheless still subject to Drivers’ Hours rules. In this case, however, we are talking about the UK's domestic Drivers’ Hours rules (and not the EU’s), which apply if you drive on business for more than four hours a day.
They restrict you to a total daily driving time of 11 hours – more than enough for any van driver – and you can be fined up to £300 for exceeding the limit.
Never, ever drink and drive. It is totally irresponsible and the penalties if you are found to be over the limit can be severe. You are over the drink/drive limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland if you have alcohol levels of 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath, 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood or 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine. In Scotland the limits are stricter, at 22µg, 50mg and 67mg respectively. Breach them and you will face a driving ban of at least a year plus a hefty fine.