Fleets urged to check vehicle safety recalls or face £20,000 fine and prison

Fleets have been urged to check vehicles for outstanding safety recalls or risk a £20,000 fine and/or up to three months in prison.

Additionally, for fleet owners, operators and businesses that provide fleet services, a vehicle with an outstanding recall could see insurance voided.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), together with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), has called on UK fleet operators to join the millions of consumers who have checked if their vehicles have an outstanding safety recall.

To ensure every vehicle on a company’s books is compliant, the SMMT has launched a fleet-dedicated version of its Vehicle Safety Recall Service. The service provides a bulk automated look-up tool, allowing companies to check any size fleet and up to 100,000 or more in a single batch. The service is fully automated with results usually returned within the hour.

In the first three months of this year, SMMT’s online Vehicle Safety Recalls Service was used 2,334,385 times by drivers to check their car was safe.

Manufacturers work closely with the DVSA to ensure the UK has one of the world’s most successful vehicle safety recall processes.

However, recalls can be missed when a vehicle transfers between keepers so, in 2015, SMMT and its members developed a consumer-facing online look-up service to make it easier for individual drivers to check for themselves.

The service has now been rolled out to meet specific commercial needs for fleet owners, operators and businesses that provide fleet services.

Further, the DVSA has the power to prosecute businesses that sell vehicles to consumers with an outstanding safety recall. Failure to check a car for an outstanding safety recall could lead to a fine of up to £20,000 and/or up to three months imprisonment.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The UK vehicle recall process is one of the most robust in the world, and manufacturers are committed to ensuring vehicles remain safe throughout their lifecycles, constantly striving to make the process even better. Our vehicle safety recall tool has already given peace of mind to millions of consumers and now it is supporting businesses, helping to keep fleets and retailers compliant, and vehicles safe on the road by enabling entire fleets to be checked quickly and regularly.”

Safety recalls are issued by vehicle manufacturers, which are responsible for contacting owners to notify them that their car may have a problem that needs to be rectified by an authorised repairer. The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 say that dealers must get vehicles with outstanding recalls fixed before selling on to a consumer. If they do not, they can be prosecuted by Trading Standards.

All recall repair work linked to safety issues is free of charge for customers and scheduled as a matter of urgency. A recall notice remains open indefinitely to ensure as many cars as possible are sent back to dealerships to be fixed.

The SMMT says its Vehicle Safety Recall Service is an easy way for fleet owners to check, all at once, if their vehicles are subject to a safety recall that they may have missed.

Fitness to drive: don’t hide a medical condition

Drivers could be fined a maximum of £1,000 and prosecuted if they are involved in a crash for failing to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) about any medical condition they have been diagnosed with.

Furthermore, a failure to disclose a notifiable medical condition, or eyesight failing to meet the minimum standard of being able to read a number plate from 20 metres, could invalidate any insurance claim.

Health conditions have the potential to impair driving in a range of different ways and it is the responsibility of a driver to inform the DVLA – Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland – of any such medical condition which may affect their ability to drive safely.

A person’s fitness to drive was thrown into sharp focus as a result of the Glasgow bin lorry crash in December 2014 in which six people died and a further 15 people were injured. During the resulting legal action and inquiry, it was revealed that driver Harry Clarke repeatedly lied about his fitness to drive to retain jobs and his licence.

It is the responsibility of doctors to advise patients that medical conditions and drugs may affect their ability to drive and for which conditions patients should inform the DVLA/DVA. As a result, the licensing authorities require drivers to surrender their licence voluntarily when they have been advised not to drive.

Employers should pay close attention to reports about the health of employees who drive for a living and in the wake of the bin lorry crash, a litigation expert at leading law firm Pinsent Masons said on the organisation’s Out-Law.com website: “Information suggesting that a driver, or potential driver – as this will extend beyond those who drive for a living to most or at least many employees who may drive at some point in their duties – may be unfit or at risk could come to light in many ways, such as following an incident, in the course of routine health checks, when investigating absence. It may also arise when considering what reference to give, or what references to ask for; and how to follow up information included there.

“This will require careful consideration in light of existing rules, patient confidentiality and the expertise – or otherwise – of those likely to get the information. The one thing which cannot safely be done is to ignore the issue.”

The DVLA website lists almost 200 medical conditions in alphabetical order for which drivers may need to notify – https://www.gov.uk/health-conditions-and-driving

The most common types of medical conditions suffered by drivers in England and Wales are: Heart conditions, strokes or mini strokes, diabetes, physical disability, brain condition or severe head injury, visual impairment and epilepsy.

Analysis by Direct Line Car Insurance revealed that in 2015 an estimated 3.4 million drivers in England and Wales failed to disclose relevant medical conditions to the DVLA.

The DVLA says that drivers must give up their licence if:

  • A doctor advises a patient to stop driving for three months or more
  • People do not meet the required standards for driving because of a medical condition.

There are different forms for different conditions and disabilities that need to be completed to notify the DVLA, all are available on the organisation’s website.

Having informed the DVLA, it will make a decision within six weeks and might contact a driver’s doctor/consultant; arrange for an examination; ask for a driver to take a driving assessment, or an eyesight or driving test. People, said the DVLA, can “usually keep driving”, while the notification was being considered.

The DVLA will assess the medical condition or disability and decide if: A new driving licence is required; a shorter driving licence for one, two, three or five years should be issued; a vehicle needs to be adapted with special controls; a person needs to stop driving and give up their licence. In the latter case a driver will be given a medical reason why they must stop driving and be told if and when they can reapply for a licence.

Drivers do have the right of appeal if they disagree with the DVLA’s decision and must check with their doctor that they are fit to drive before reapplying for their licence, if it was taken away because of a medical condition.

Rise in digital car theft techniques signals update of security by manufacturers and new advice to drivers

Security assessments for all new cars are being tightened to bring in fresh measures to address the challenges presented by digital theft techniques, Thatcham Research has announced.

The motor insurers’ automotive research centre is updating the New Vehicle Security Assessment (NVSA) programme, centred on securing cars against the growing threat presented by digital compromise.

Simultaneously, Thatcham Research has issued advice to drivers to help them combat digital car theft. Drivers, says the organisation, should:

  • Understand the digital functions of their car: does it have a keyless entry system? If so, can the fob be switched off overnight? Speak to the dealer about software updates and whether new key fobs with added security are available.
  • Store keys away from household entry points: a keyless fob should be stored as far into a home as is possible, hampering a criminal’s ability to detect and relay its signal.
  • Make sure shielding devices work: Faraday pouches and containers will block the signal from a keyless entry fob – but test this to make sure it is effective.
  • Be vigilant: choose well-lit areas to park in, observe that the car has locked correctly and report any suspicious behaviour to the police

The NVSA is the security standard against which all new cars are assessed as part of the insurance Group Rating and will be updated in 2019 giving carmakers the opportunity to bring in fresh measures.

The new criteria will be designed to shut down the keyless entry vulnerability, while anticipating other potential methods of digital and cyber-compromise.

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer, Thatcham Research, said: “Car crime is on the increase, with intelligence suggesting that electronic compromise is a factor in as many as one in four vehicle thefts.

“In the 1990s, the NVSA effectively brought an end to a car crime epidemic by introducing alarms and double-locking door functions, amongst other measures. Initiated in 1992, a year which saw 620,000 car thefts, this approach was instrumental in driving theft levels down by 80% up to 2016.

“In the same way, collaborative and concerted action from Thatcham Research, carmakers, police and insurers will close the digital vulnerabilities exploited by today’s criminal gangs.”

Thatcham Research has identified vulnerabilities in on-board electronic systems and criteria covering those areas will be included in the new standards.

In addition, police authorities have drawn attention to the increase in ‘chop shops’ – illicit garages where cars are dismantled to be sold on the spare parts market – and therefore criteria related to parts identification will also be carefully reviewed.

Mr Billyeald continued: “CCTV footage of criminal gangs exploiting a vulnerability in keyless entry systems has been highly visible in recent months. However, we estimate that only 1% of cars on the road have this technology. Carmakers are already introducing keys with motion sensors which deactivate when stored, and new secure signal transmission technologies. In the short term, while these counter-measures come into the market, concerned drivers should contact their dealer to discuss the digital functionality of their cars.

“The online availability of tools which criminals can plug into vehicles to programme a false key is also a concern. We support recent calls from the police for closer regulation of the sale of these devices, which have no use outside of a licensed bodyshop or garage.”

Current digital theft technique highlighted by Thatcham Research are:

  • The on-board diagnostic (OBD) port hack: The port gives licenced garages access to a car so that service fault lights can be reset, and a new key programmed if the owner requires one. Because of European Union fair-trading legislation, the OBD port must be easily accessible and uniform – allowing non-franchised garages to access using on-board diagnostic tools. The tools can be expensive – up to £5,000 – but kits which allow a blank key to be reprogrammed can cost as little as £50.
  • The Relay Attack: This exploits a vulnerability in passive keyless entry systems, which allow drivers to open and start their cars without removing the key fob from their pocket. Usually operating in pairs, one criminal will hold a device up against the front wall or porch of a home, searching for a signal from the keyless fob. The device then relays the key’s signal to an accomplice, who is holding another device against the car door. The car is effectively fooled into believing that the owner is within a defined range – usually two metres – and is approaching the car with the key. The door opens, and the signal is relayed to the accomplice a second time, allowing the car to start. Once started the engine will not restart without the key present.
  • Jamming: This relies on driver inattentiveness. A criminal will hide a signal blocking device in a residential street or car park – preventing the locking signal from standard remote fobs from reaching the car. The car thief will then return to the location and test all the car doors within range of the device. Once opened the car can be stolen using an OBD device or the car’s contents taken. Drivers can protect against this technique by observing for visual confirmation that their car has locked successfully – audible locking sound, flashing indicators or folding wing mirrors.

FTA fights back against mandatory fitment of tachographs in vans threat

A call by Brussels bureaucrats for vans weighing 2.4 tonnes and above in the UK to be fitted with a tachograph was an “unfair and excessive exercise in red tape”, which would make it even harder for British business people to make a daily living, according to the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

The FTA, which has more than 17,000 member organisations operating vans and HGVs, as well as moving freight by air, sea and rail, has reacted angrily to proposals from members of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee to introduce tachograph readers to the cabs of vans currently operating on Britain’s roads.

The measure is outlined in the latest draft of the Committee’s ‘Mobility Package’ due to be implemented before the UK leaves the European Union in 2019. If adopted it would mean that the UK would have to accept the plan.

The ‘Mobility Package’, called ‘Europe on the Move was first presented in May 2017. It included a wide-ranging set of initiatives aimed at making traffic safer; encourage smart road charging; reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, air pollution and congestion; cut red-tape for businesses; fight illicit employment and ensure proper conditions and rest times for workers.

The first batch of eight measures have subsequently been added to with a range of other proposals, including on post-2020 emissions standards for cars and vans as well as the first-ever emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles. The Transport Committee said the proposals would further drive innovation; improve competitiveness, reduce CO2 emissions, improve air quality and public health and increase the safety of transport.

In the latest draft of the ‘Mobility Package’, currently making its way through the European Parliament, operators of vans between 2.4 and 3.5 tonnes would be required to fit and operate a tachograph, as HGVs are required to do at present.

However, according to James Hookham, deputy CEO of the FTA, the van tachograph proposal would have a serious impact on the working lives of those using Britain’s four million vans in their daily business.

He said: “Forgetting the cost implications of tachograph installation for so many hard-working British businesses, the introduction of this equipment in the van sector would be pointless and time consuming.

“Will small business really have the time and ability to analyse the necessary data and plan their work around so many new working time rules?  Would governments have the resources to enforce the move? The proposal is simply unenforceable, and a case of MEPs making bad decisions on the fly.”

The FTA said that van operators were already facing increasing pressure due to the introduction of Clean Air Zones around the country in the next couple of years, which could penalise operators with all but the very newest vehicles, and rising inflationary pressure and the continued high price of fuel duty payable on diesel.

Mr Hookham said: “Vans are now central to our daily lives, with next day deliveries a given for households and business. Introducing a pointless measure like tachographs for van operators will not benefit our small and medium sized businesses but strangle them with red tape, at a time when they should be being encouraged to flourish and expand.”

New campaign to improve fleet tyre safety: Related deaths and injuries preventable

A new campaign designed to educate company car and commercial vehicle drivers on the signs and symptoms of unhealthy tyres and encourage them to commit to the habit of checking their tyres once a month has been launched by Goodyear Tyres.

Simultaneously, new research unveiled by Highways England and tyre company Bridgestone has suggested that almost three quarters of motorway incidents related to tyre failure could be prevented if drivers carried out simple checks.

The research revealed that almost 75% of tyre failure samples analysed by Bridgestone involved poor inflation or debris penetration issues – problems which could be potentially avoided with better tyre husbandry.

The Goodyear Tyres campaign – ‘Donut Ignore the Signs’ – is designed to overcome what the tyre manufacturer claimed was confusion over what to look and feel for when drivers routinely check tyres.

When company cars and commercial vehicles are off-road, it directly impacts on service levels and bottom lines, so minimising vehicle downtime should be a business priority. As a result, committing to regular tyre checks, for drivers and fleet managers, helps ensure vehicles remain safe, with a reduced risk of breakdowns and accidents.

Poor tyre maintenance was the most common reason for car crashes in the UK in 2016, according to Department for Transport figures, and whilst it’s natural for tyres to change over time, there was a clear unease when it came to checking their health, said Goodyear Tyres.

New research from Goodyear Tyres with a survey of 1,870 people also revealed that more than a quarter (27%) did not know what the legal minimum tread depth limit was for their tyres – 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tyre and around the entire circumference – while a further 28% hadn’t a clue as to the purpose of a European Union tyre label.

The six donut metaphors (pictured) presented the most common unhealthy tyre conditions in a clear, visual way, helping with the difficulties of at-home tyre checks, said Goodyear Tyres.

David Morris, business account manager – fleet and public sector, Goodyear Tyres, said: “Ultimately, it is down to the motorist to ensure that their tyres are in good health, but many drivers struggle to easily identify dangerous tyre conditions.

“By presenting potential tyre conditions in a playful image, our hope is that drivers will become more in-tune with their rubber and feel confident to complete at-home or at-work checks”.

Meanwhile more than 30 people were killed or seriously injured in motorway crashes in 2016 due to illegal or faulty tyres.

But the 18-month study by Highways England and Bridgestone suggested that commuters, commercial drivers and other road users could do a lot more to help reduce crashes through regular tyre checking.

Richard Leonard, Highways England’s head of road safety, said: “England’s motorways are the safest in the world but we’re determined to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on them.

“This important research confirms our view that road users must play a bigger role and get into the habit of checking tyre pressures and tread depths and looking out for nails and other debris stuck in tyres before setting out on journeys. These simple checks could save lives.”

During the project, staff working for Highways England at depots across the West Midlands provided more than 1,000 pieces of tyre debris from motorways to a technical engineering team from Bridgestone to analyse.

The findings from 1,035 tyre segments retrieved from the M1, M6, M40, M5 and M42 revealed:

  • 56% of tyres failed due to road/yard debris penetration
  • 18% failed due to poor inflation
  • 8% failed due to poor vehicle maintenance
  • 1% of tyres failed due to manufacturing defects
  • 1% of tyres failed due to excessive heat
  • 16% of the tyres couldn’t be specified to one particular problem

The tyre debris was taken from cars, vans, commercial vehicles and motorbikes, with under-inflation of tyres a key theme, along with poor vehicle maintenance, both of which accounted for 26% of the entire sample. When considering that 32 people were killed or seriously injured in motorway road traffic accidents in 2016 due to ‘illegal, defective or underinflated tyres’ Bridgestone and Highways England say simple tyre checks save lives.

In addition, the cost to the economy from a two-hour delay on a busy stretch of motorway following a two-lane closure stands at £135,360 and a massive £1,488,960 for a three-lane closure lasting up to four hours.

Some of the samples were particularly alarming, said the organisations, with a temporary ‘space-saver’ spare tyre being run to destruction, while a number of potentially lethal and illegal ‘string’ repairs were also found on car tyres, which are completely unsuitable at any speed, let alone 70 mph speeds on motorways.

Bridgestone technical manager Gary Powell, who oversaw the analysis of the debris with field engineer Peter Moulding and the rest of the firm’s technical department, said: “Some simple tyre checks can save lives, not to mention reduce the risk of a stressful breakdown on a motorway.

“With proper vehicle inspection and maintenance programs, many of the failure methods noted should be detectable and preventable.”