Since receiving Royal Assent in January this year, little progress has been made in making Operator Licensing in Northern Ireland – to improve safety standards among commercial vehicle operators – a reality, warns the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
In response to a Parliamentary Question from Environment Committee Chair Cathal Boylan earlier this week, the Minister for the Environment, Edwin Poots, confirmed that "a programme was in place to implement the provisions of the Act". However, FTA remains unsatisfied with the absence of a definitive roadmap to O-Licensing being published, which will finally see the enactment of the long-awaited Goods Vehicle (Operator Licensing) Bill.
Tom Wilson, FTA’s Head of Policy for Northern Ireland, said:
"The momentum that we saw earlier in the year seems to have been lost. When it comes to improving the safety of our roads and applying the same standards that operators face in the rest of the UK, there is no room for complacency and there really ought to be a greater sense of urgency from government."
Earlier this year joint enforcement agencies, including the Driver & Vehicle Agency Northern Ireland (DVA), the Vehicle Operator Services Agency (VOSA), Road Safety Authority (RSA) and other European agencies, specifically targeted vehicles originating from Northern Ireland. An amazing 69 per cent of all vehicles examined were from Northern Ireland. This must surely underline the importance of pushing through the necessary legal changes which will lead to safer vehicles and drivers on the roads.
"O-licensing will improve the overall safety standards of all commercial vehicles on our roads by improving vehicle maintenance and driver behaviour. Given that it could take 12 months from the passage of secondary legislation to train the new licensing officers, it’s time for some real action now. Road safety just can’t wait."
VOSA is committed to taking a firm approach to tackling road safety and in cases where unsafe or illegally operated vehicles from Northern Ireland are detected, it issues a Fixed Penalty Notice fine as well as penalty points to the driver of that vehicle. Being a prime target for the enforcement agencies carries a significant business cost to Northern Ireland’s commercial vehicle operators, which is unfair on the vast majority who are safe and compliant. In this respect O-licensing will help to level the playing field.
"For the many high quality, safe and compliant Northern Ireland operators, it is incredibly unfair and costly to have their vehicles routinely targeted by enforcement officers simply by virtue of their country of origin. It often results in significant journey delays and missed ferry slots, which can have a major impact on valuable business contracts."