Brake testing: getting it right!

Posted 14/09/2017 : By: Tim Ridyard

An area where many operators of goods vehicles continue not to be non-compliant is in the area of brake testing. Of concern is the fact that some maintenance providers do not also fully understand these requirements.

As long ago as 2014, the DVSA published its Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness both for goods and passenger carrying vehicles. Its purpose is to set out industry good practice. It is not an offence in itself not to follow the Guide – however, a failure to follow guidance, such as that relating to brake testing, may lead an operator failing to have fit and serviceable vehicles in use which is a breach of operator’s licence undertaking. In the event of an accident on investigation, an operator may also find itself on the defensive, having to justify why the guidance was not being followed. After all, if you are a good and responsible operator, why would you not follow it?

Brake Testing

The guide sets out important guidelines: firstly, every safety inspection has to actually assess vehicle or trailer braking performance. However, it is still commonplace for service inspection sheets to be marked up with “brakes OK” or there is simply evidence of brake repair work but no testing. (This is a frequent area of criticism of operators by Traffic Commissioners.) Secondly, the Guide strongly advises a Roller Brake Tester (“RBT”) is used to assess the braking performance for each brake and for the vehicle/trailer overall. A decelerometer is regarded as acceptable for vehicles without trailers to measure overall efficiency. In reality, Traffic Commissioners regard sufficient RBT usage as mandatory.

The Guide recognises it may not always be practicable to get brake efficiency results at safety inspections and requires road tests. But, this is regarded as not sufficient for all safety inspections. Accordingly, the expectation is for at least three brake efficiency tests on each vehicle and trailer per annum in addition to annual test.

In practical terms, Traffic Commissioners expect to see fully completed service inspection forms, clear evidence of repair work and road testing, all RBT and decelerometer reports attached to inspection sheets and a clear program schedule for testing. An absence of evidence and annotations on service sheets such as “yard test OK” will be insufficient.

Roller Brake Testing

DVSA issued updated best practice in April 2016. This explains what operators and maintenance providers should be doing to prepare vehicles for testing. Ordinarily 65% of the vehicle’s Design Axle Weight (“DAW”) should be loaded either by the operator or by getting a test load or simulation. The Guide sets out when there is any exemption from presenting a vehicle or trailer laden. Some vehicles cannot be presented in a laden state because of their design or because of the type of goods they normally carry, e.g. livestock or perishable liquids or goods.


The issue of brake testing is one of the most commonplace issues raised at Traffic Commissioner Public Inquiry hearings. Failures to comply with the guidance above invariably stem from lack of knowledge as to the requirements on the part of operators (and nominated transport managers) but also on the part of maintenance providers, including self-employed fitters attending operator sites, upon whom operators rely (though should also themselves audit). 

In the worst cases, operators provide no evidence of any testing of brakes at service inspections at all, the very purpose of which is to check and test that vehicles and trailers are fit and serviceable. 

 The danger for operators, transport managers and maintenance staff is that negligence in this area of maintenance and testing leaves them exposed to certain consequences if something goes wrong; earlier this year the ‘Bath Tipper case’ culminated in long prison sentences for particularly appalling brake maintenance, but much lesser shortcomings can still lead to alarming consequences.

For further information or discussion about this or other related issues, please get in touch with us.  

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