Car licence holders to drive heavier vehicles – but only if low emission technology used

Posted 01/08/2017 : By: Tim Ridyard

The Department for Transport has announced proposals that may benefit businesses that operate van fleets as well as private individuals. Those operating vans commercially need to monitor this development as it will be relevant to driver recruitment, driver licensing and vehicle / fleet acquisition.

As part of the overall plan to address the need for reduced CO2 emissions and nitrogen dioxide pollution the Government wishes to encourage a greater uptake of more environmentally friendly vehicles, including vans most of which are diesel-fuelled. However, the cleaner power onboard hardware may increase a vehicle's weight that in turn reduces goods carrying capacity (payload).

To incentivise the use of alternatively-fuelled vehicles and remove the advantage of using traditional fuel (i.e. the gain of a greater payload) the proposal is to raise the threshold for a Category B licence that is currently set at 3.5 tonnes maximum authorised mass or ‘mam’.

In short the intention is that drivers with Category B driving licences will be able to drive vehicles up to 4.25 tonnes – but only if they are alternatively-fuelled

Category B is the licence that permits the driving of vehicles including cars and small goods vehicles such as vans up to 3.5 tonnes. This is a weight threshold that is significant for driver licensing: above this Category C1 licence is required for medium-sized vehicles between 3.5 tonnes and 7.5 tonnes - a full Category C covers all weights above 3.5 tonnes - in addition rules relating to operator’s licences and drivers’ hours rules may engage above 3.5 tonnes, unless exemptions apply.

To put this into effect the UK would need to seek a temporary derogation (relaxation) from the EU Third Driving Licence Directive – some EU States have already done this for electric light commercial vehicles (Germany and France) and Germany has this for other alternative fuels.

This relaxation would only apply to the following fuels / vehicles:

  • electricity: (for use by Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), Range Extended Vehicle (REV), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV))
  • hydrogen: for use by Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV)
  • natural gas: Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and bio-methane
  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) / bioLPG.

Further, drivers with a Category B licence would not be permitted to use any trailer under this relaxation beyond their current entitlement. 

The rules on drawing trailers on car licences are often misunderstood and misapplied. A driver who has a Category B entitlement may drive a 3500 kilogram vehicle carrying no more than eight passengers plus a driver with a trailer of up to 750 kilograms, i.e. a combination of up to 4250 kilograms. They can also drive a combined weight of car and trailer up to 3500 kilograms, i.e. 2000 kilogram vehicle and 1500 kilogram trailer. (Sometimes drivers unwittingly exceed the threshold by drawing too large a trailer behind a larger vehicle breaking through the 3.5 tonne limit). In addition, drivers who passed their test before 1 January 1997 and have “C1E (107)” on their licence may drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to a maximum authorised mass of 8250 kilograms.

Operator's licence

How will this fit in with operator's licence requirements? After all, to use a vehicle over 3.5 tonnes you need an operator's licence, if it is used commercially – either to carry your own goods (requiring a Restricted licence); or to carry third party goods under a Standard licence (referred to as ‘hire or reward’ operations).

Electric vehicles are currently exempt but the Government proposed removing this exemption in 2014. No final decision was made about this.

The proposal is to amend the exemption, raising the threshold to 4.25 tonnes for all alternatively-fuelled vehicles. However, this would only apply to businesses carrying their own goods (which requires a ‘Restricted’ operator’s licence) and not those that carry third party goods for ’hire or reward’. This means that vehicle operations by, say, trades persons would be exempt but those conducted by courier drivers would not be exempt. Private individuals would not be affected as they simply do not need an operator’s licence for the non-commercial use of goods vehicles.

Annual roadworthiness test

Electrically-powered vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are exempt from annual roadworthiness testing. (This was also the subject of a consultation in 2014.) The Government wishes to remove this exemption whilst the number of such vehicles is still quite low. Lighter goods vehicles are tested like cars (from three years old) and electric vans are exempt just as larger electric goods vehicles. The Government intends to remove the exemption save for electric goods vehicles first registered before 1st March 2015 - and for traditional milk floats!

Driver CPC

Drivers of vehicles above 3.5 tonnes used commercially require a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) unless otherwise exempt. Commercial drivers must accrue 35 hours’ training in five year training cycles to retain their Driver Qualification Card. However, the DCPC rules do not apply to Category B licences – so, if the Category B weight threshold is increased to 4.25 tonnes for the car licence the driver will not need the DCPC qualification.

These proposals are the subject of the Department for Transport consultation closing on 18 October 2017 entitled: Regulatory changes to support the take-up of alternatively-fuelled light commercial vehicles.

The above is intended as a summary of the proposals published by the Department for Transport and is not intended as legal advice.

Please contact Tim Ridyard and Tim Norris in our Regulatory Team for advice. 

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