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Keeping vehicles safe: A DVSA perspective

By Neil Barlow, Head of Vehicle Policy and Engineering at Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) 

DVSA has just published its strategy and vision to 2030, which begins to explore the prospect of the huge change that technology can bring for all of us.

This includes the tools to help us look after our vehicles and how they function as we move towards greater automation. It could also bring changes to how we regulate. We saw hints towards that in the recent calls for evidence on the MOT (which, while aimed more at light vehicles, has much relevance to this sector) and on potential options for heavy vehicle testing of Earned Recognition vehicles. However, we still need continue to get the ‘basic’ things right.   

Vehicle inspection  

One of the key principles in vehicle operation is that of planned and preventative maintenance. A lynchpin of this is an established set of vehicle inspections at a set interval. Those inspections must be at a standard above that of the annual test (the MOT) to ensure that a vehicle never drops below that in normal service.   

From our roadside work, we see vehicles tend to deteriorate the longer it has been since their annual test. This indicates that they got up to that standard for the test, rather than are generally consistently above.  

While we know many operators will be doing the right thing, it is clear that not all do. The Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness sets out all the requirements in quite some detail and is applicable to all sectors. A few pointers are highlighted below.  

Inspection intervals  

One of the most important elements of good vehicle maintenance is appropriate inspection intervals. They will vary depending on the type of vehicle and how it is being used. For example, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) with lightweight loads operating under easy conditions may only need inspecting every 10 to 13 weeks. Those used for general haulage may need inspecting more regularly – every six to 10 weeks.  Heavily used vehicles and/or trailers may need inspecting more often to make sure they are in a safe condition to be used.  

Key to any decision-making process on inspection intervals is to make sure that thinking is logical. If you are unsure, it is always sensible to err on the side of caution and choose shorter interval inspections.   

Risk-based approach  

DVSA looks at risk when considering the likelihood of issues occurring with HGVs and buses. Factors we use include:  

  • age of the vehicle  

  • usage   

  • driver reported defects  

  • previous safety inspection results  

These can provide useful indicators that help you work out your inspection regime. Older vehicles, a harsh operating environment and a track record of things being imperfect are all good reasons for an inspection interval being short.  

Operators on the Earned Recognition scheme are seen to be exemplary operators and are able to prove this when they bid for contracts. They are also less likely to have their vehicles stopped at the roadside for inspections.   

New operators which have held an operator licence for less than six months join the Road to Earned Recognition.  

Driver walkaround checks  

Most operators and drivers are aware of the basics of doing a walkaround check, but sometimes the overall system doesn’t work. For the process to be worthwhile, there needs to be a follow-up process where reported defects get rectified, and a way of handling situations where a reported defect means a vehicle should not be used. We often hear the blame for things going wrong directed to drivers for not doing checks right – and while that sometimes is the case, often the issue may be that the operator doesn’t listen to what is reported!  

It is also worth noting that there is a real culture issue here – drivers should not be put under pressure to say a vehicle is okay when it is not.   

A large proportion of vehicle defects found at the roadside should have been picked up during drivers’ walkaround checks. Therefore, it seems clear that making sure these systems function could be a quick win for many operators.   

External maintenance providers  

Many larger operators use maintenance providers to make sure their vehicles are safe and roadworthy. Unfortunately, at annual test and roadside, DVSA vehicle services assessors still find too many issues where HGVs are not at the right standard. This can also reflect badly on the operator, as this could call into question whether regular maintenance is being carried out between annual tests.   

Don’t let this happen in your organisation. The operator will still end up with a vehicle that has been prohibited, with all the usual inconvenience associated with a vehicle off the road. You should make sure that:  

  • they have suitable facilities and access to the correct tools  

  • there are enough staff, and they are competent   

You should consider how you can check the quality of work carried out, and also ensure your contractual arrangements with them cover all that is needed.  

Operators need to make sure they make vehicles available to providers and that there are arrangements for both inspection and repair. We have seen situations where the maintenance provider is blamed for roadworthiness issues when actually, all they were contracted to do was inspect (and not repair). 

Common defects  

The most common defects found either at the roadside or at annual test are:  

  • wheel maintenance and tyre condition  

  • brake systems and components   

  • suspension  

  • spray suppression, wings and wheel arches  

All systems should be checked as part of maintenance. The fact we find most problems with these may help give some focus on where to put more effort.  


Many operators take their maintenance regimes seriously and have strict maintenance regimes in place. But it’s clear that there’s much more room for improvement throughout the industry – our statistics on annual test and roadside performance show that. There needs to be much more emphasis on ensuring the annual test standard is seen as a minimum service specification, and not a once-a year highlight. This should be achieved through appropriate service contracts with maintenance providers, the right service intervals for the right vehicles and circumstances, not to mention meaningful driver daily walkaround checks.  

Be prepared  

DVSA sends regular email alerts to operators via their managers. Useful articles are also found on the Moving On blog which tackles wide-ranging subjects on vehicle safety and compliance.   

Operators can keep up to date with changes by signing up to receive optional email alerts from DVSA.   



Published On: 28/09/2023 14:00:00


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