Updated: Feb 27, 2020
by guest blogger Chris Butterfield
Bus expert Chris was and still is a bus driver who became a transport solicitor and lecturer before his retirement
For well over 50 years Wilkinson’s Road Traffic Offences has been a standard work of reference for any transport lawyer and for any magistrates’ court. It is highly regarded by all courts, and the opinions of its editors are treated with respect by them. So for those editors to overlook a change in the law is unusual, and perhaps an indication of how insignificant that change must be. But there was such an oversight a few years ago, and although it concerned an area of law applying to few drivers, for those few the change was actually very significant.
What if the bus is empty?
Until 1 April 1991, when UK driving licence categories came to be aligned with those of the EU, a PSV licence was needed to drive a PSV. So what was a PSV? It was – and still is – a vehicle with over 8 seats carrying passengers for hire or reward, or a vehicle with less than 9 seats carrying passengers at separate fares. So a large bus running empty is not a PSV (and therefore does not need an Operator’s Licence issued by the Traffic Commissioners). And under UK law it could until 1991 be driven on a car licence; a PSV licence was not required.
With that alignment with EU law, all this changed. What we called a PSV licence became a PCV licence, meaning a licence to drive a bus with over 8 seats – full or empty. So when empty it could not be driven any longer on a car licence. (Conversely, the bus with under 9 seats carrying passengers at separate fares no longer required a special licence and can now be driven on a car licence.) However, there was an exception of particular value to mechanics working on buses.
What about my mechanic?
The snappily-entitled Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999 contained (at Regulation 7(1)) under the heading ‘special cases’) a provision for someone who had held an HGV licence for 2 years to drive a PSV if it was being driven to or from repair or for road testing after repair. There were probably more mechanics holding a HGV licence than holding a PSV licence, so this could be very useful for many workshop staff.
However, with effect from the end of 2014, that provision was removed. No reason was given. The regulation which made that change was said to be after consultation with relevant organisations. But the Secretary of State is required to consult only ‘such representative organisations as he thinks fit’. Such consultation must have been very low key to elude the editors of Wilkinson’s.
It must be a matter of concern that those learned editors knew nothing of the change, so those consulting their book would find out of date law. Drivers would in total ignorance and innocence have been driving buses they are no longer licensed to drive. And being unlicensed they will also have been uninsured. Such a change in the law should have been much better publicised.