Rebecca Kite, climate change policy manager, FCA

Licence changes for alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles

On 26 July 2017, the government published a consultation on Category B Driving Licence derogation for alternatively fuelled Commercial Vehicles. The consultation consists of three proposals, with its main objective to increase the uptake of cleaner and more efficient vans

The additional weight of an electric battery cell has resulted in a trade-off for operators between a reduction in payload, or exceeding the 3.5t limit which requires a driver to hold a category C1 licence instead of a category B ‘car’ licence.

The first proposal looks to remove this barrier by increasing the weight limit of alternatively-fuelled vans that can be driven on a category B licence in the UK from 3.5 tonnes to 4.25 tonnes. Under the derogation, drivers will not be permitted to use a trailer of any size.

The second part looks to modify an earlier proposal from 2014 to remove the general exemption for some vehicles, including electric vehicles, from the goods vehicle operator licensing requirements in Great Britain. If these proposals come into place, the government’s intention is to modify them so that all alternatively fuelled vehicles up to 4.25 tonnes will be exempt from goods vehicle operator licensing and would not require the associated time and cost that comes with an operator licence regime.

This would only apply to restricted licence holders where the government is already free to amend the requirements without the agreement of Brussels.

The consultation does recognise that the current weight rules exist for a reason, but goes on to identify why the proposals are not considered to compromise road safety: it suggests that the extra weight in alternatively‑fuelled vehicles would be centred around the chassis or underneath the cab, this positioning therefore should keep any negative impacts on handling to a minimum.

There could be a potential for these vehicles to be more damaging if involved in a collision due to the additional weight, so a full impact assessment will be carried out to determine the full extent of any potential safety impacts.

The nature of these vehicles and the way in which they are used is not thought to pose any immediate safety threats; drivers would largely be undertaking urban drive cycles which tend to be shorter and slower journeys.

However, this may need to be re-evaluated in the long term as they become more common place.

The final part of the consultation looks to include electric vehicles in statutory roadworthiness testing – an MOT for vehicles 3.5t and below, HGV annual testing for those greater – and would therefore raise the safety requirements for electric vehicles and address many of the concerns.

The proposed changes could increase the uptake of these vehicles, and with their obvious environmental benefits, FTA agrees that there is potential for industry to achieve a significant reduction in emissions.

The jury is out until results of the safety impact assessment are released. If no or negligible impacts are found then FTA would support the proposals.

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