Reforming commercial vehicle testing

27704904_l eolas summarises how reforms are making goods vehicles more roadworthy.

The 2007 review of commercial vehicle standards was commissioned by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) following a number of serious incidents, including the Kenstown and Clara school bus collisions.

Its recommendations were approved by the then Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, and included transferring responsibility for the commercial vehicle testing system from local authorities to the RSA and a three-strand approach to improving roadworthiness: commercial vehicle testing; operator obligations; and roadside enforcement.

All three aspects are underpinned by the bespoke Commercial Vehicle Information System (CoVIS). An implementation plan was approved by the Minister in early 2010 and the transfer took effect in March last year.

Tests are conducted by 148 privately owned testing centres throughout the State. The quality of testing and equipment previously varied widely, making it almost impossible to achieve a standardised test. To ensure consistency, RSA has contracted Bureau Veritas – a leading multi-national testing, inspection and certification company – to monitor centres, confirm whether standards are maintained, and resolve disputes raised through the appeals process.

Commercial vehicle owners have always been legally obliged to test a vehicle annually, and the certificate of roadworthiness (CRW) issuing system has been changed to align the expiry date with the expiry date of current or last CRW – for vehicles already tested – and the anniversary of the date of first registration – for new vehicles.

CRWs are now issued centrally rather than through motor tax offices. Data for last October, shortly after the reforms took effect, showed that 48 per cent of vehicles had been tested within one month of the due date with just 16 per cent being tested early or on time. Eleven per cent of vehicles were over one year late.

A gradual improvement has since been taking place and in May, 57 per cent of vehicles were tested within one month of the test due date. All test centres and testers are required to hold an authorisation to conduct tests and checks are carried out on the suitability of persons, premises and equipment, financial standing and tax clearance. In terms of efficiency, CoVIS provides real-time updates of tests and results, CCTV monitoring, and a portal to help centres manage their business more efficiently.

Obligations now require heavy commercial vehicle and public service vehicle operators to ensure that any vehicle that they own or operate is consistently maintained in a roadworthy condition and tested annually. Vehicle owners are required to maintain accurate records of all regular inspections (to be kept for 12 months and made available for regular inspection).

The format of records can vary according to the operator’s business but must be clear, legible and accurate. The nominated competent person – for ensuring compliance – must have obtained an accepted qualification or be proficient by experience. Roadworthiness obligations also extend to vehicles which are hired or used temporarily, including overseas-registered trailers used to offload goods at ports.

“The importance of the driver is pivotal to the success of the reforms,” an RSA spokesman said. “All drivers are required to conduct a pre-shift vehicle walk-around check, which takes only a few minutes. The pre-shift check helps to identify obvious defects which should be reported to the designated competent person, who will then take the appropriate action to resolve the issue. Drivers should be made clearly aware of their obligations under the reforms and should be conscious of the fact that they are also liable for breaching roadworthiness regulations.”

Operators are also scored by using the new Commercial Vehicle Operator Risk Indicator (CVORI) system.

“While some operators may view the changes as somewhat daunting, the RSA has been willing to help anyone who chooses to comply,” the spokesman added. This includes a voluntary (non-enforcement) inspection of the company’s maintenance and recording systems to assess any room for improvement.

Over time, automatic number place recognition and weigh-in motion systems will be used for targeted enforcement. The over-riding aim is to increase road safety for all road users, and the CVR reforms are just one element in the campaign to achieve that objective. Roadworthy vehicles are safer on the road, save fuel, break down less frequently, and are therefore more efficient to operate.

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