Commercial Vehicle Law

Commercial Vehicle Laws are changing and there are a number of common aspects within today’s legislation that concern drivers of light commercial vehicles. While we cannot provide information on every law we have tried to give you enough to cover the basics including van speed limits. For more detailed information on legislation concerning the use of commercial vehicles please consult the Department for Transport website.

Speed Limits

Here is a good example of being caught out by commercial vehicle law. Did you know that a van cannot travel over 60mph on a dual carriageway? Most people think that van speed limits are the same for vans as they are for cars. Wrong!

You MUST NOT exceed the maximum van speed limits for the road and for your vehicle (see table below). Street lights usually mean that there is a 30 mph speed limit unless there are signs showing another limit.

Please Note – The 30 mph limit applies to all traffic on all roads in England and Wales (only Class C and unclassified roads in Scotland) with street lighting unless signs show otherwise.

Type of VehicleBuilt-up AreasSingle CarriagewaysDual CarriagewaysMotorways
Cars (including car derived vans up to 2 tonnes maximum laden weight)30607070
Cars towing caravans or trailers (including car delivery vans)30506060
Buses and coaches (not exceeding 12 metres in overall length)30506070
Goods vehicles (not exceeding 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)30506070 (60 if articulated or towing a trailer)
Goods vehicles (exceeding 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight)30405060

These are the national speed limits and apply to all roads unless signs show otherwise.

The speed limit is the absolute maximum and does not mean it is safe to drive at that speed irrespective of conditions. Driving at speeds too fast for the road and traffic conditions can be dangerous and applies even more for van speed limits when the van may be laden with goods. You should always reduce your speed when:

  • The road layout or condition presents hazards, such as bends
  • Sharing the road with pedestrians and cyclists, particularly children, and motorcyclists
  • Weather conditions make it safer to do so
  • Driving at night as it is harder to see other road users

Rest of Europe

You should check for individual limits for each country you may visit.

Last year four million British motorists were caught offending on the other side of the Channel and this figure is likely to grow as the French authorities plan to introduce cameras to catch red-light runners at traffic light-controlled junctions. They will also be launching an offence against ‘tailgaters’ – those who drive too close to the vehicles in front of them.

French speed/traffic violation camera sites are now linked to a fully-automated system for sending out fine notices. When a vehicle is caught speeding by an automatic speed camera, the picture is immediately sent, via a broadband internet connection, to a dedicated police centre where the registration of the car is taken. A fine is then sent to the owner of the car when the address is known. Also, foreign cars that are recorded by speed cameras will be logged into a national database.

Although procedures that allow European Traffic authorities to chase up fines from offenders in the UK, via the DVLA, this does not come into force until later this year. British drivers found guilty of traffic offences in France who don’t or can’t pay on the spot fines face having their cars impounded.

Penalties will rise ‘significantly’ the longer a car is impounded. In the worst cases, drivers will not be able to recover their cars until a French judge says they can.

Those thinking they have avoided fines by getting back to the UK could find themselves stopped for outstanding violations if they return to France. This stringent move is part of a dramatic new onslaught by the French authorities, who complain that foreign drivers think they can get away with speeding and reckless driving.

Whilst the French want to ensure equality between French road users and foreigners, it is hoped that the new procedure which covers fines only, (points will not be applicable for the foreseeable future) will be equitable and apply to all EU Citizens as the UK suffers a similar problem with foreign drivers not paying penalties for traffic violations.

Weight Limits

The Problem

An overloaded vehicle not only causes damage to roads and to your vehicle but it also puts you and other road users at risk. Vehicles react differently when the maximum weights which they are designed to carry are exceeded and the consequences can be fatal. Overloading puts a massive strain on vehicle tyres and makes the vehicle less stable, difficult to steer and longer to stop. It is also illegal. Therefore the authorities carry out random checks at the roadside to enforce overloading regulations.

Vehicle Load Responsibility

Ensuring the vehicle is not overloaded is the moral and legal responsibility of the driver and his employer. In addition to this, if anyone else causes or permits an overloaded vehicle to be used they may also be charged with committing an offence.

Health and Safety at Work Act

All companies have a ‘duty of care’ under the Health and Safety at Work Act for the safety of employees at work. This means that an employer must do all it can to ensure the safety of its driver, including having policies in place to ensure that their vehicles are not overloaded.


Requires that vehicle users ensure that vehicles are not overloaded. If a vehicle is found to be overloaded both the driver and operator could be prosecuted or cautioned. The legislation imposes fines for each offence. That’s each overloaded axle plus any overloading on the total weight. Also, if a vehicle is dangerously overloaded, the driver could face a charge of Dangerous Driving which carries a prison sentence. Other offences within the Road Traffic Act include refusal to allow the vehicle to be weighed and obstruction of an officer, which also carry a heavy fine. If a vehicle is overloaded and results in someone being killed, both you and your employer could face going to jail for Manslaughter or Death by Dangerous Driving.

Overload Penalties

If your vehicle is found to be overloaded by an enforcement officer it can result in a prohibition notice which will prevent you from continuing your journey until the weight is corrected. This may mean the goods being unloaded to bring the weight down or being redistributed (in axle overload cases). You will then be issued with a ‘removal of prohibition notice’ to continue your journey. You may alternatively be issued with a ‘direction to drive notice’ which allows you to drive to a specified place to off-load.


Towing a trailer puts greater demand on the vehicle and the driver. Information on acceptable trailer towing weights can be found in the vehicle’s handbook. You should ensure that:

  • Any vehicle with a chassis plate which is towing a trailer has the maximum GTW added to its chassis plate. Otherwise, if the vehicle is weighed at a checkpoint, the total weight could appear to exceed the maximum gross weight
  • Any load being carried in the trailer is kept as low as possible and near to the axle.

Van Drivers

Vans have the highest prohibition rate of overloaded vehicles and to ensure that your vehicle is not overloaded you should:

  • Know the weight and load weight of your vehicle. The maximum permitted axle weight and Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) can be found in your driver handbook or sometimes on a plate located by the bulkhead or by the driver or passenger door
  • Be careful not to mix up the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) with the Gross Train Weight (GTW). The GVW is the maximum permitted weight of the vehicle (plus any load it is carrying), while the GTW is the maximum permitted weight of the vehicle plus any trailer being towed (plus any load being carried in the vehicle and trailer)
  • Remember that the GVW includes the weight of the vehicle, driver load and any passengers. Also, allow for the weights of any pallets or packing cases and anything on a roof rack
  • Ensure the load is distributed evenly. After any drop-offs, re-check the distribution of the remaining load

Seat Belts

Adult Restraint – CAR

  • Drivers and adult front seat passengers must wear a seat belt unless they have a medical exemption certificate
  • Adults travelling in the rear of a car must also use seat belts if they are fitted. It is the responsibility of the adult passenger (not the driver) to ensure that they are using the seat belt

Delivery Drivers

  • Delivery drivers used to have an exemption from wearing a seat belt when conducting ‘local’ deliveries although prior to this amendment there was no maximum distance specified for ‘local’ deliveries.
  • The law for van drivers and passengers changed on the 1st March 2005 and seat belt exemption for delivery drivers now only applies when travelling 50 metres or less between deliveries or collections. It is hoped that this amendment will raise the wearing rate of seat belts in vans.

Minibuses and Coaches

  • All minibuses and coaches registered on or after 1 October 2001, (whether they carry a child or adult passengers) must have forward-facing or rearward-facing seat belts
  • Minibuses and coaches registered before 1 October 2001, when the main purpose of the trip is to transport three or more children, must have a forward-facing seat for each child, fitted with either a three-point seat belt or a lap belt.

Minibuses – Front Seats

Passengers sitting in the front seats, and any exposed seat, MUST use the seat belts that are provided. If children are sitting in these seats, it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that children:

  • Under 3 years of age use an appropriate child restraint
  • Aged between 3 and 11 years, and under 1.5 metres tall use an appropriate child restraint if available, or if not available, wear the seat belt
  • Aged 12 and 13 years (and younger children who are 1.5 metres or taller) use the seat belt
  • Aged 14 years or more travelling in the front seats, or any exposed seat, MUST wear a seat belt and are personally responsible for doing so

Rear Seats in Small Minibuses

Passengers sitting in the rear of minibuses that have an unladen weight of 2,540 kg or less must wear the seat belts that are provided. It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that children:

  • Less than 3 years of age use an appropriate child restraint if available
  • Aged between 3 and 11 years, less than 1.5 metres tall, use an appropriate child restraint if available, or if not available, wear the seat belt, if available
  • Aged 12 and 13 years (and younger children who are 1.5 metres or taller) use the seat belt, if available
  • Aged 14 years in smaller minibuses are legally responsible for wearing a seat belt themselves

Mobile Phones

Penalty Increase

With effect from 27 February 2007, there has been an increase in the penalty for using a hand-held phone or device for sending or receiving data, i.e. a PDA, Blackberry or similar device whilst driving.


  • The fine was increased from £30 to £60
  • Three penalty points on your licence
    • o If you get six points within two years of passing your test, your license will be revoked and you will need to re-sit the test
    • o If the case goes to court, you could risk a maximum fine of £1,000, which rises to £2,500 for the driver of a bus, coach or heavy goods vehicle

Other Penalties

  • A driver can also be prosecuted for using a hands-free device if he/she is not in proper control of the vehicle when using the device. The penalties are the same – £60 fine and three points on your licence
  • Employers can be prosecuted if they require employees to make or receive mobile calls while driving. It is an offence to cause or permit the use of a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving. It is also an offence to cause or permit a driver not to have proper control of a vehicle


  • In a genuine emergency, a driver may call 999 or 112
  • Two-way radios are not covered by this offence


Minibus Seating Capacity

It is an offence for a person to drive, cause or permit to be driven, a Public Service Vehicle on a road if the number of seated passengers exceeds the number of seats available. Where a seat is designed to accommodate more than 1 adult passenger, each part of the seat designed for one adult shall be regarded as a separate seat.

Where a minibus is not required by law to be fitted with seatbelts and no seatbelts are fitted, 3 children under 14 will count as 2 passengers. For the purposes of the law, a child is regarded as being under 14 until the last day of August after their fourteenth birthday, after which time they will be subject to the same rules as adult passengers.

Minibus Seatbelt Requirements

The seatbelt requirements for minibuses vary according to the age of the vehicle. Passenger-carrying capacity, types of passenger (e.g. children and wheelchair users) and type of seat fitted. These requirements apply regardless of licence class and type of permit held. The requirements should be observed carefully, noting that regular inspection and maintenance of the seatbelt fitments is essential. Seatbelt fitments and their installation standards are checked during the annual MOT test. The vehicle will fail its test if they are inadequate or poorly maintained. In addition, failure to fit seatbelts in accordance with the regulations could result in criminal prosecution. Both operators and drivers may be open to a prosecution of this nature.

When arranging the inspection or fitting of seatbelts, it is important to remember that the seatbelt operates as part of a system which often includes the belt itself, the seat, the anchorage, the reel mechanism and the floor or vehicle wall. If all these elements are not compatible and properly maintained the whole system may fail and as a result could cause serious injury or fatality, not to mention repercussions for operator or driver.

Minibus Driver Licence Requirements

When driving any given vehicle on a public road, the driver is obliged to hold the relevant licence for the particular vehicle that he/she is driving. Minibuses are no different and failure to be able to produce the correct licence will be classed as an offence with legal repercussions for both driver and operator. It is vital therefore that checks are in place to ensure that each driver is licensed to drive a particular vehicle and that any endorsements are reported to the insurer.

The operator will have an overall responsibility to ensure that the people driving the vehicles are adequately trained and licenced to do so. Note that the permit scheme and its exemptions for volunteer drivers does not exist outside of the UK, so any driver of a minibus being used outside the UK ‘for hire or reward’ will need a full PCV 1 licence.

Tachograph Requirements

If a minibus is also being used for commercial purposes it will require a tachograph if the Gross Vehicle Weight (and trailer if fitted) exceeds 3.5 tonnes. NB – this provision does not apply if the goods being carried belong to the passengers.

MOT Testing for Minibuses

A minibus is defined as a motor vehicle that is constructed or adapted to carry not more than 16 seated passengers in addition to the driver. It may be in purely private use, in community use, often under a Voluntary Group Permit or a Community Bus Permit, or in commercial use, in which case it will be a Public Service Vehicle for which an operator’s licence will be needed.

Like cars and light goods vehicles, minibuses with up to 8 passenger seats (i.e. excluding the driver) require a first MOT inspection 3 years after the date of their first registration and every year thereafter. Those with 9-16 passenger seats excluding the driver require their first MOT test one year after the date of first registration and every year thereafter.

Certificate of Initial Fitness (CIF or COIF)

This certificate shows the vehicle was designed or adapted to PSV standards and is only required where commercial service is involved. A vehicle intended for community use does not need such a certificate but obtaining one anyway may open up the possibility of selling the vehicle in due course to a commercial operator.

Smoking Ban

The anti-smoking legislation which came into effect from 1st July 2007 in England and Wales applies to work vehicles (including company cars), as well as other workplaces.

Those Affected

All company vehicles are affected by the legislation if they are used by more than one person. In effect, pool cars or vans that are used by a number of employees will be required to be smoke-free.

If a car is provided to an employee for work purposes and is solely for that employee’s own use, and the employee does not transport others it would not be covered by the legislation. But if the employee uses the vehicle to transport clients or colleagues, even if only occasionally, then the vehicle will have to be smoke-free as it will be considered a work vehicle. This is meant to protect people who use the vehicle from second-hand smoke, regardless of when they use the vehicle.

Consequently, in the majority of cases, company cars and vans will need to display the appropriate signage.

The Penalties

The authorities are likely to take the ban seriously and employers that fail to comply with the law can expect the following penalties:

  • For smoking in smoke-free premises or vehicle: fixed penalty notice of £50, fine of up to £200
  • For failing to display no smoking signs in smoke-free premises and vehicles as required by the legislation: fixed penalty notice of £200, fine of up to £1,000
  • For failing to prevent smoking in smoke-free premises or vehicle: fine of up to £2,500

Company Policy

Under the legislation, employers, managers and those in charge of smoke-free premises and vehicles will need to:

  • If not already in place it is now essential for employers to introduce a smoking policy. This should be implemented following consultation with the workforce and should comply with the new legislation
  • Generate awareness of the new law and new company policy to employees via posters, emails and through the existing management structure
  • Update staff policy handbook and ensure all staff sign for a copy
  • Give notice of when the policy is to come into force
  • Ensure offenders are treated consistently
  • Make it clear what will happen to offenders
  • Display no-smoking signs in shared cars
  • Provide staff with support to quit smoking
  • Ensure staff know where they can smoke if they want to
  • Identify areas where smoking will constitute an offence and display ‘no smoking’ signs
  • Take reasonable steps to ensure that staff, customers/members and visitors are aware that premises and vehicles are legally required to be smoke-free and ensure that no-one smokes in smoke-free premises or vehicles
  • Companies and drivers need to get smarter to avoid congestion which causes further stress to smokers

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