Skip to main content

Are your operating centres putting your business at risk from the Traffic Commissioner?

Learn some of the common reasons operators, directors and transport managers can find themselves facing proceedings before the Traffic Commissioner.

Businesses which operate large goods vehicles or buses may only do so from authorised operating centres. These operating centres must be approved in advance by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner and the Commissioner will expect an operator to have robust systems and procedures in place to ensure the safe operation of vehicles from these sites at all times. Getting it wrong can have serious consequences and can result in regulatory proceedings and even prosecution.

This article will consider some of the more common reasons operators, directors and transport managers can find themselves facing public inquiry or preliminary hearing proceedings before the Traffic Commissioner for operating centre issues.

Transport managers: out of sight, out of mind

Whether your business keeps its vehicles all at a single operating centre, or spread across 50 separate sites, transport managers are subject to exactly the same statutory duty to “continuously and effectively manage the transport operations” of the business. There is no absolute definition of what constitutes continuous and effective management. However, the Traffic Commissioners’ statutory guidance lists some of the “determining factors” which the regulator will consider, including:

“The number of operating centres for which the transport manager is responsible both on that licence and any other operator’s licences. The geographical location of the transport manager in relation to the operator’s business and all operating centres on all licences. The number of times and length of period that the transport manager intends to visit each operating centre.”

A transport manager who seldom, if ever, attends an operating centre should expect to face difficult questions from the regulator, particularly should a serious incident occur. Operators with a widely dispersed fleet should therefore consider how the company’s systems and procedures support the transport manager in meeting the statutory duty. For example, does the transport manager have local support at each site? Do they have remote access to compliance reporting and monitoring? How far away do they live from the sites? Again, this is addressed in the official guidance:

“A transport manager should be able to show that, however infrequently vehicles return to the operating centre, he or she is able to and does exercise continuous and effective management of the vehicles on a day to day basis. The requirements of the legislation are unlikely to be satisfied by a transport manager who lives abroad or even at the opposite end of the country.”

We are increasingly seeing applications for operating centres and transport managers coming under intense scrutiny from the Traffic Commissioners, with a number of these even resulting in that application being called to a preliminary hearing or public inquiry. Very often this can be avoided with legal input and early-stage representations.

Workplace transport and worst case scenarios

Imagine the scenario: you are a logistics director and receive a call one day to say that one of your staff has been killed in an incident involving a reversing vehicle at one of the sites you share with another operator. Investigations determine that a workplace transport risk assessment had been conducted but only by the shared occupier and only taking into account its own operation. Worse still, the assessment had not been kept updated or enforced and staff had not received appropriate training. The new and increased operations at the sight constituted a material change to that assessment. An HSE investigation in under way and a prosecution is expected.

As the above example shows, additional safety challenges can arise when operating large commercial vehicles from shared sites, new sites or short term / high turnover sites. In these circumstances it is more important than ever that operators have robust procedures in place to assess and monitor risks and that they exercise continuous and effective management.

Operators should also remember that it is a condition of an operator’s licence to notify the Traffic Commissioner of any matter that could affect the company’s good repute, and this extends to certain HSE interventions. This is a condition that the Traffic Commissioners take very seriously: just recently we represented a national haulier at a public inquiry hearing for failing to notify the regulator of a workplace transport fatality. Legal advice should be sought in all such cases.

Security and terrorism

Operator licence holders are under a positive duty to have effective security systems in place to prevent acts of crime and terrorism, and to be familiar with the relevant Department for Transport guidance on countering the use of a vehicle as a weapon. These duties include, but are not limited to considerations of site security, access to vehicles, driver background checks, fostering a security culture etc.

In recent years, we have noticed an increased focus by DVSA on this issue. By way of example, the DVSA desk based assessment and audit process includes specific requirements on operators to demonstrate that they are meeting their site security obligations. Audit questions include:

  • What measures are in place at the operating centre site to ensure security?
  • Explain what measures you implement to safeguard vehicles against theft or unauthorised use.
  • What measures are in place to ensure vehicles are checked for potential concealed items or vehicle tampering during use?
  • Explain the company security plan, which may be in the form of a risk assessment.

Again, specific challenges arise when using shared, temporary, or undeveloped sites as operating centres.


Companies which hold operator licences are deemed to be familiar with the particular risks associated with operating large commercial vehicles from sites and are expected to have effective systems in place to mitigate those risks. Should something go wrong, the consequences for transport managers, directors and the wider company’s operator’s licence can be significant.

At Weightmans we have a specialist team of transport regulation solicitors, dedicated to transport regulatory and operator licensing support. In addition to supporting with regulatory interventions and hearings, we also focus on providing advice and compliance solutions to prevent regulatory issues arising. These include bespoke training and legal briefings, mock public inquiry delivery, compliance “health checks” and ongoing helpline support.

For further guidance on compliance with road transport rules, contact our transport regulation solicitors.

We also offer a dedicated product for transport managers, helping you to stay compliant. Learn more about Transport Manager Comply.

Sectors and Services featured in this article