Explaining the fall in DVSA prosecutions

Head of Road Transport Law | Rothera Dowson

It was recently revealed in a parliamentary question and answer session that DVSA prosecutions have fallen by almost a third over the last year.  But what are the reasons for the drop and why might it be a step in the right direction?

The notable reduction in DVSA prosecutions may be initially worrying, however, it really should come as no surprise given the enforcement agency’s transparency on its aims.

Transport Minister Andrew Jones MP described the fall as: “A drive to deal with all but the most serious offences by way of fixed penalty, freeing up court time and making more efficient use of enforcement resources in line with government policy.”

James Firth, the FTA head of licensing policy and compliance also responded: “I understand why this has happened.  Part of it was to provide a mechanism where sanctions are issued more effectively and more efficiently because, if a case has to go to court for prosecution, then often the DVSA officer has to attend and provide evidence, which takes them off the roadside.”

These reduced figures should not cause any great concern.  The DVSA is simply making the best use of the courts’ time and resources and since all infringements will still be reviewed by the Traffic Commissioner, any cases which merit further action will be dealt with accordingly.  That said, it is rare to see a fixed fine issued when a stricter penalty was obviously called for.  We should see this reduction not as the DVSA taking the easy route at the expense of necessary legal action but as the agency seeking to be more efficient.

The DVSA is spending more of its time and resources on targeting high-risk offenders who have previously committed a serious offence or repeatedly fall foul of the law.  This ensures that those most likely to offend can be closely monitored and dealt with whilst one-off cases by those with good reputations can be quickly resolved by means of a fixed fine.

The courts see many cases every day, meaning that some can take months to bring to an end, resulting in wasted time for drivers and operators.  The haulage industry should greet the successful attempts to reduce this by the DVSA as good news. A fine is far from ideal for any company, but it is preferable to a drawn out prosecution and allows for issues to be sorted out internally.

Another reason for the drop could also be the rise of technology.  Digital tachographs leave no excuses for drivers if they are caught not having taken appropriate breaks.  In the same period as the fall in DVSA prosecutions, the number of tachograph cases detected by the agency has almost doubled, up 47 per cent to 15,813.  Again, this should be viewed as a positive: better detection results in less driver exploitation and greater safety for all road users.

Before the introduction of digital tachographs, drivers would need to take driver records away to check before deciding on the correct penalty to issue.  Now, 28 days of records from a driver card can instantly be downloaded at the roadside and, if appropriate, officers can immediately impose sanctions for offences committed on that day.  This also allows DVSA officers to take better-informed decisions on how serious a penalty must be.  It may be right, for example, to issue a fixed fine to a one-time offender while a repeat offender may require a harsher punishment and further investigation into the operator.

Something that must be considered, however, is the lack of clarity surrounding tachograph offence sanctions.  Since such cases are not common in the courts, no clear sentencing guidelines are in place.  This means that sentences often vary across the courts and the penalty can depend on the instincts of the magistrates on the day.

The Traffic Commissioner, as a regulatory body, handles the cases more frequently and with greater consistency, using his industry knowledge to decide upon the best course of action to take.  Although the courts must be respected, there is clearly an insufficient understanding of the logistics industry.  Unfortunately, this is something that a lack of time and money may never allow to improve.

For more information or to speak to one of Rothera Dowson’s expert motor transport solicitors, visit: www.keepmeontheroad.co.uk or call: 0800 046 3066