Grumpy has been stopped by VOSA again. During an extended trip to Liverpool to treat a lot of wet playing fields, Grumpy and two of his other staff were in convoy on the way back to their temporary base in Hale, when an officer in hi-viz directed them to a roadside check manned by VOSA and the local Police.
As I pulled over to a stop, I reached for my digital driver's card, diary and the other paraphernalia required by the tacho regs. I was ready, and very willing, to do battle!
The vehicle examiner tapped all the wheel nuts, checked all the tyres, the tow hitch, the brakeaway cable, load tie downs, springs, shockers etc etc. However, no check was made on the lights, indicators, washers, wipers or horn.
All was well until I was called over and asked to show him the trailer plate carrying load weight information. I wiped off a layer of grime and he read off the gross permitted weight of the trailer as 3500kg, and then said; "You do realise, sir, that your gross trailer weight means that your vehicle and trailer weigh more than three and a half tonnes?"
I played a little bit dumb and said; "Yes, I do realise that the train weight is over three and a half tonnes. However, as the machine I am carrying weighs 1200kg, and the trailer weighs 660kg, I am well within both the load capacity of the trailer, and the 2800kg towing capacity of the Navarra."
A triumphant gleam came over his face; "You do realise that vehicle and trailer combinations over 3500kg require a tachograph to be fitted and used."
I said not a word and just beckoned him forward, I opened the passenger door and pointed to the £1500 tachograph nestling in the sunshine that was falling on the middle console. This tachograph is as it came out of the box, one of the several million industry standard Siemens VDE electronic tachographs currently in use.
"Oh," he said, clearly vastly disappointed, "I thought that was a CD player." He cleared his throat, "Thank you sir, your vehicle has passed the inspection without faults."
"Hang on", I said, "You do not know whether that tachograph is sealed or calibrated, or if it has been tampered with in any way, or even if it is connected to the electrics? It could even be a completely fake front panel!"
"That is okay, sir."
This VOSA inspector then referred to the slightly damaged number plate on the trailer, and said that I should get a replacement ASAP, and helpfully added that Halfords was just down the road. I said that I would get it fixed but, that, courtesy of DVLC regulations, I now need my passport, the vehicle log book and a recent utility bill to be able to purchase a replacement number plate. I pointed out that I was about 250 miles away from all that paperwork. This was news to him as he had not realised these rules had been changed. DOH!!!
Over I go to another cluster of hi-viz jacketed people, where I am asked for the name, address and date of birth of both my passenger and I.
I give my details as required, but ask why they need the name of my passenger who, while licenced to drive this type of vehicle, has no digital driver card with him, is not insured to drive this vehicle and is, therefore, ineligible to drive? But, still the inspector insisted.
I let it go, and gave the passenger's name and got the passenger to give his address and date of birth. No identity check was made against either the photo licence of the passenger or my digital driver card.
Vehicle ownership, drivers' licences, tax, MOT status and insurance cover were all checked, courtesy of the police computer system, and all was found to be okay.
I asked if the inspector wished to see my digital driver card. A blank look came over his face until his young assistant chimed in broad Scouse; "Oh, dem are the digital thingies that produce dem till roll printouts."
I showed the inspector my digital thingy, and he said he had never dealt with them before! Where had he been hiding since these digital cards and digital tachos became mandatory in May 2006?
I also explained that I was not required to use the card on this trip, as I was carrying horticultural equipment back to base after having treated some school fields within a radius of less than 50km from my base in Hale, just ten minutes away. I even showed the work list of school addresses.
"Oh, you know about exemptions then."
"Yes, Officer I do."
I added that, "I am somewhat of a thorn in the side of VOSA's policy advisor for traffic enforcement, Ms Susan Traynor."
Mentioning that name and/or title had an amazing effect! The VOSA men went into a huddle, there was a hurried conversation and we were suddenly released.
The final word from the VOSA man was that it was a pleasant change to find a company who clearly takes the regulations seriously.
That enthusiasm for taking the regulations seriously should have been matched by these VOSA men, because they were failing to do their job thoroughly.
No check whatsoever was made of the data on my digital card, the current and past 28 days worth of tacho discs in my second analogue tacho equipped vehicle that was also stopped here, the required records of other duty work, 56 hour week and 90 hour fortnight driving hours limits, mandatory shift length, mandatory daily and weekly rest periods and 17 week rolling averages for the Transport Working Time directive.
All of these are the records that ensure that a driver will not be fatigued at the wheel, and are the very reason that tachographs are installed.
So much for SWMBO's claims that all VOSA inspectors are highly trained, highly motivated and kept up to date and fully aware of the regulations.
On the way out, we passed several vehicles with tyre fitters at work replacing duff tyres that had clearly failed the inspection and been prohibited from proceeding until new tyres were in place. Well done VOSA, at least those dangerous vehicles were being repaired and their drivers were being hit hard in the pocket, as they should be!