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How do you share the responsibility of vehicle maintenance?

February 28, 2019


As many of you will be aware, the principle of shared responsibility calls on parties in the road transport supply chain to ensure their compliance with transport law and to facilitate the compliance of others.

But when it comes to the duty to maintain and repair vehicles, how can this be shared?

To identify the scope of your vehicle maintenance responsibilities, it can be helpful to consider the maintenance requirements under the HVNL as falling into two categories:

1. Express and specific duties

These are the ‘central’ maintenance duties. Largely, they apply to operators and drivers of heavy vehicles.

For example, a specific maintenance duty for an operator holding a heavy vehicle accreditation is to comply with any conditions set by the regulator and the relevant standards and business rules, such as the requirements for operators to conduct a daily inspection of each vehicle’s wheels, lights, the windows, structure and brakes.

2. General duties

Examples of general duties are:

  • the duty primary of each CoR party to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the safety of their transport activities, including business practices and decision making associated with contracting, directing, or employing a person to carry out maintenance or repairs on a heavy vehicle; and
  • the requirement that a person must not use, or permit to be used, on a road a heavy vehicle that is unsafe.

As general duties do not isolate “who” in the CoR is responsible “for what”, nor expressly state the method of achieving compliance, they can present challenges to CoR parties that are trying to define the scope of their maintenance responsibilities.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that parties need revert to the general assumption that the responsibility to actually maintain vehicles applies to all.

By considering CoR parties’ duties as falling into the categories of “express and specific duties” and “general duties”, it is clear that the HVNL does not require all parties to take on such an onerous responsibility.

For example, a consignee or consignor who contracts another party to transport goods to or from their premises would not be expected to have the same duties to inspect and maintain a heavy vehicle to ensure its safety and roadworthiness as the vehicle’s owner/operator.

First, consignees and consignors are not the subject to the same express and specific duties as owners/operators. Secondly, to apply the same degree of responsibility would fail to appreciate the different functions of the parties, as well as their respective capacities to control risks in respect of the heavy vehicle.

However, a consignee or consignor is likely to have general duties:

  • to ensure the owner/operator has the relevant systems in place to comply with its maintenance obligations;
  • not to permit a heavy vehicle to be used where it is aware the vehicle is not maintained or is unsafe; and
  • to ensure so far as reasonably practicable that they do not cause or encourage the owner/operator to contravene its maintenance duties.

In conclusion, ‘shared responsibility’ should not be confused with ‘same responsibility’.

While the principle orients CoR parties to achieve the shared objective of public safety in their transport duties, it can lead some parties to assume they have responsibilities that are more onerous than they need be.

The Chain of Responsibility (CoR) affects YOU

If your business has any involvement in the use of heavy vehicles moving freight, even if it is indirect, you have an obligation to comply with the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

If you’re not sure exactly what you must do to comply, you need to subscribe to CoR Adviser.

Written in plain English by the transport lawyers at Holding Redlich, CoR Adviser provides essential information and support you won’t find for free online, including exclusive access to the lawyers at the CoR Adviser Helpdesk.

Learn more.