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Are heavy vans heading towards an operator licence requirement?

There have been rumblings for some time in the transport industry about the possibility of heavy vans falling into the category requiring an operator licence.

Currently in the UK any Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) with a maximum gross weight of up to 3,500 kg falls under the same regulatory framework as a car, so nothing other than a full UK driving licence is required for an operator. While this is a benefit to many entrepreneurs and small business owners, this state of affairs could soon change.

What do we mean by a heavy van?

At the moment, any vehicle with a gross weight over 3.5 tonnes is a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) and therefore requires an operator licence, also known as an O-licence. Existing classifications are:

  • Category N1: goods vehicles up to and including 3.5 tonnes;
  • Category N2: goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes and under 12 tonnes;
  • Category N3: goods vehicles over 12 tonnes.

So where do heavy vans fit into these categories? Current concerns are focused on Class 7 vehicles, which are at the higher end of the N1 range, between 3 and 3.5 tonnes. Any changes to the requirements for a goods vehicle operating licence are likely to fall into this category. This will not affect smaller LCVs such as the Renault Trafic, which is classed as a medium van. It would however affect many large panel vans by placing them into a new category of heavy vans. For example, the Renault Master comes in gross vehicle weights of 2.8, 3.3, 3.5 and 4.5 tonnes.

LCV or HGV? That is the question
LCV or HGV? That is the question

Why should heavy vans need an operator licence requirement?

Advocates for the new category of regulation focus their arguments in favour on the safety record of heavy vans and the dangers of unregulated activity. They will point to higher MOT failure rates for these vehicles relative to other categories, and to the greater number of issues revealed during roadside checks, including overloading.

The lack of regulation over driver hours is another factor. Those in favour of an operator licence requirement for heavy vans argue that a new category encompassing 3- to 4.5-tonne vans would bring about improvements.

How should small enterprises with a business van prepare?

If your business needs include a vehicle that is likely to come within the new category of heavy vans, there are a number of steps you can take to be prepared, and to minimise the impact on your business overheads if this does happen. First steps obviously include self-regulation. This means making sure that you maintain an adequate vehicle maintenance schedule, and follow it religiously; that you and your operators work with loads that are within the allowable maximum mass of the vehicle, and you implement a structured driver schedule that allows frequent breaks. Implementing these processes will help mitigate the risk if the regulations do change, but also allow your company to follow best practice in terms of vehicle maintenance and health and safety of your employees.

Another attractive idea could be to look at your options for financing your van through a form of leasing. Some deals, such as Renault’s Contract Hire, include the option for the financing company to take responsibility for servicing, maintenance and road tax. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether self-regulation or government regulation is the way forward.