Vehicle Standards

Most motor vehicles and vehicle components require approval. There are common European Union standards in relation to standards for vehicles and vehicle parts and in relation to approval. The Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations set out the required standards.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) makes checks when registering vehicles for the first time in the UK. Among other things, it will check that environmental, safety and security standards have been complied with. The usual way of demonstrating this is to present a certificate showing that the vehicle meets the requirements of an approval scheme.

Goods Vehicle Licensing

A business which operates lorries, vans or other goods vehicles with a gross weight of over 3,500 kilograms or an unladen weight of more than 1,525 kilograms requires a good’s vehicle operator’s licence.  Great Britain is divided into eight traffic areas, with a Traffic Commissioner issuing licences for each area. The Traffic Commissioners are supported by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). If a business operates in more than one traffic area, it will need to apply for an operator’s licence in each one.

Most users of goods vehicles that weigh over 3.5 tonnes total weight when loaded, require an operator’s licence. There are a number of exemptions. A goods vehicle operator’s licence is not required if the vehicle:

  • was first used before 1977, has an unladen weight not exceeding 1,525 kilograms where the maximum gross weight shown on the plate fixed to the vehicle is no greater than 3,500 kilograms
  • is using public roads for less than a prescribed time whilst moving between private premises belonging to the same person where the vehicle is used for excavation or demolition
  • is a passenger carrying vehicle

The Traffic Commissioner for the local traffic area office must be satisfied that the business’s operating centre – where it keeps vehicles when they’re not in use – is, big enough to provide off-street parking for all its vehicles and trailers, safely accessible by its vehicles, in an environmentally acceptable location and that there is legal entitlement to use it.

Regulatory action may be taken against a licence holder if there is a breach of legislation or the terms and conditions of the operating licence. There are a range of penalties that may be imposed. It is possible to appeal against decisions.

Most commercial vehicles must pass annual tests to ensure that they are roadworthy and comply with all the relevant regulations. These tests can be carried out at Vehicle and Operator Services Agency test stations or at other private ‘designated premises’ approved by VOSA.

Specialist tests may be required if the vehicle travels abroad, qualifies for a reduced pollution certificate or carries dangerous or hazardous goods. There is a range of commercial vehicle tests – annual, specialist and voluntary. The annual test for lorries, trailers and buses is similar to the MOT test for cars, light goods vehicles and motorcycles. There are also specific tests for some passenger-carrying vehicles.

Dangerous Goods

Dangerous goods must conform with special regulations under the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (the ADR agreement). The ADR also applies to domestic dangerous goods transport operations wholly within EU member states including the United Kingdom.

Some heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) that carry explosives or dangerous goods in bulk must be built to special standards and pass the ADR vehicle test. Other vehicles carrying dangerous goods need to conform with other parts of the ADR agreement and may need special arrangements made with the Vehicle Operator Services Agency so that an HGV annual test can be carried out.

Once a vehicle has passed the ADR test it will be able to travel through any European or other ADR signatory country without having to meet any extra regulations on the safe transportation of dangerous goods.

Drivers’ Hours

Drivers of a lorry, van, bus or a coach, must follow rules on the number of hours they drive in a day, week or another period. These rules also cover the breaks from driving, and daily and weekly rest periods.

Drivers of larger vehicles – such as lorries, buses and coaches – are subject to  EU rules on drivers’ hours. These rules apply to domestic journeys in Great Britain and international journeys to other EU member states. The EU rules set limits for the number of hours that can be driven in a day, a week and a fortnight. They also set out minimum requirements for breaks from driving, and daily and weekly rest periods.

Tachographs are devices that record information about driving time, speed and distance. This information is used to monitor compliance with drivers’ hours’ rules. Buses, coaches, lorries or other vehicles under the EU drivers’ hours rules will almost always need to use a tachograph.

There are two types of tachograph: analogue and digital. Analogue tachographs record the driver’s periods of duty on a wax-coated paper disc, while digital tachographs store the information on an electronic ‘smart card’. All commercial vehicles first registered on or after 1 May 2006 must be fitted with digital tachographs.

Drivers Licensing

There are minimum age requirements for drivers of vehicles in different vehicle categories. To drive a bus, coach or lorry, it is generally necessary to have a vocational driving licence for that category of vehicle. This requires passing a theory and practical driving test. Full-time drivers of lorries, buses or coaches must pass qualification tests to gain a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC). These can be taken at the same time as the vocational theory and practical tests.

The Driver CPC is a new requirement for professional drivers that has been introduced across the European Union. It aims to maintain high standards of driving standards among professional drivers and improve road safety. Depending on when the vocational licence was obtained, the Driver CPC may be granted either through having ‘acquired rights’, or by passing initial qualification tests.

To keep up the Driver CPC, drivers must do at least 35 hours of periodic training in each five-year period. Periodic training involves attending courses on various aspects of professional driving.

Taxis and Hackneys

A licence is required from the local authority to drive a hackney carriage (taxi) or private hire vehicle. The licensing system ensures that drivers offer a safe and professional service to their passengers. In some areas, it is necessary to pass a practical assessment designed specifically for a taxi or private hire drivers to get this licence.


Roadside vehicle checks help to keep unsafe vehicles off the road. The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) provides enforcement services, including roadside checks, to improve the roadworthiness of vehicles, and to ensure operators and drivers follow safety regulations. VOSA also supports the independent Traffic Commissioners and takes part in multi-agency checks with other agencies, including HM Revenue & Customs, to maintain standards.

A commercial driver can be stopped by the police or VOSA enforcement officer if they have reason to believe an offence is being committed. Examples can include drivers’ hours’ rules, or driving an overloaded vehicle. In May 2009, two new initiatives were announced by VOSA – a graduated fixed penalty scheme, and a new procedure for immobilising vehicles when immediate prohibitions are issued.






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