The difficulty of returning heavy vehicle testing to normal in the wake of a temporary halt earlier this year has been underlined by a call from the Freight Transport Association (FTA) for a long-term “resilient solution”  that involves a one-year exemption for highly compliant operators.

FTA says that a backlog of up to 250,000 heavy vehicle tests will be caused by DVSA’s decision to temporarily remove its staff from Authorised Testing Facilities (ATFs) in March. Testing has since resumed, but at a reduced capacity.

As a result, FTA has written to Transport Minister Baroness Vere to request that highly compliant operators, such as those that are members of DVSA’s Earned Recognition scheme or those with a green OCRS score, can move from the current short exemption period to a one-year exemption. FTA has confirmed that its proposal for a one-year exemption captures PSVs.

“Demand can be relieved if the government says that under these extreme circumstances, the lowest risk operators – and particularly those that qualify for Earned Recognition – should be taken out of the system for 2020,” says Head of Road Freight Regulation Policy James Firth. “Otherwise, we fear that the testing system will not cope.”

One-year testing exemption avoids worst case scenario: FTA

Mr Firth adds that in a worst-case scenario, temporary exemptions may have to be issued for such a length of time that some high-risk operators’ vehicles could go without a test for 24 months.

An earlier communication from DVSA had indicated that it plans to continue issuing three-month temporary exemptions until March 2021.

Under those proposals, heavy vehicles that come due for test as part of their normal schedule until the end of March 2021 will be awarded one three-month extension. Of those that have already been issued exemptions, only those originally due for test in April 2020, and those due in March 2020 that were not tested, will receive two extensions, to October and September respectively.

The plans from DVSA show that from April 2021, no further exemptions will be awarded and that the testing schedule will return to normal from that point.

The ATF Operators Association (ATFOA) has repeatedly called into question whether DVSA will be able to supply enough testing capacity in months where exemptions mean that an inflated number of tests will fall due.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has previously suggested that testing capability will be constrained into the autumn. CPT has said that with steps in place to mitigate coronavirus COVID-19, testing capacity runs at around 75% of the norm.

DVSA has not confirmed that it shared with at least one trade association its proposals to continue issuing temporary exemptions until March 2021. But the Business and Planning Bill – introduced in late June – contains a clause that would simplify that process.

Support for legislative change to permit delegated testing

ATFOA has continued to advocate the introduction of delegated testing. Under that process, a suitably qualified technician employed by the ATF would carry out the task. It says that if adopted, delegated testing would help to return the backlog to normal by September.

Its efforts to secure delegated testing are being supported by Lord Attlee. He has tabled an amendment to the Business and Planning Bill that would permit the Secretary of State for Transport to designate individuals employed by ATFs to carry out testing on some heavy vehicles. That amendment is to be resubmitted to allow delegated testing for PSVs.

Speaking to routeone, Lord Attlee says that changes to compliance levels and vehicle standards within the road transport industry mean that there should be no issue with a competent person who is not a DVSA employee undertaking testing.

ATFOA Chairman Stephen Smith notes that the odds are against the legislation being changed to allow delegated testing. However, but he says that the Association will continue to highlight what it believes is DVSA’s “flawed logic” of allowing only its own staff to test heavy vehicles.