Bridge strikes will lead to regulator taking action

After a number of high-profile bridge strikes in recent weeks – oversize vehicles hitting railway bridges – the Traffic Commissioners have warned that action will always be taken against those involved, which could involve the loss of the Operators’ Licence (O-Licence).

Drivers will also lose their licence to drive a HGV or bus/coach, and could also face prosecution by the police and points on their car licence.

This is on top of the costs of the accident, including damage to the bridge, penalties from Network Rail for delays to trains (an average of £13,000) and insurance costs.

In 2019 there were 1,787 bridge strikes with 328 bridges suffering multiple strikes.

The Traffic Commissioners (TC) – the statutory body that regulates the road transport, bus and coach industry – issue O-Licences and have a wide range of powers, including against drivers’ ‘vocational licence’ (their personal HGV or PSV licence).

Drivers whose vehicles hit a bridge will be called to a driver conduct hearing in front of a TC and if they are found to have acted carelessly, ignored signs or instructions, the minimum penalty is revocation of their vocational driving licence, plus six-months disqualification.

After six months, they can apply to be considered for a provisional vocational licence and will have to pass the current theory and practical HGV/PSV driving tests.

Where an operator is found to be at fault, penalties can include a reduction in the number of vehicles they are allowed to operate, or in the most serious cases, revocation of their O-Licence, meaning their business will be closed.

At a Public Inquiry last month a TC in the North West heard how the operator’s vehicle had struck a railway bridge located close to its operating centre in April 2021. A similar incident involving the same vehicle and bridge had occurred in 2019.

The TC concluded that the primary cause of the incident was the driver’s failure to carry out his responsibilities in a professional manner.  His HGV licence was revoked, and he was disqualified from holding an HGV licence for six months.

The TC also ruled that the operator could have done more to prevent the most recent incident, especially following the 2019 incident. For this reason, the operator’s licence was indefinitely curtailed – reducing the number of vehicles they are allowed to operate.

The OTC said that this case demonstrates the impact on an operator failing to take reasonable steps to prevent bridge strikes from happening. All operators are encouraged to understand the steps they can take to prevent bridge strikes and are reminded of

Some of the common causes of bridge strikes are:

  • Drivers taking short cuts whilst engaged on “not in service” journeys
  • Staff with insufficient route knowledge returning a vehicle to depot
  • Drivers taking a double-deck vehicle on a single-deck route
  • Drivers relying on SatNav instead of planning thoroughly
  • Misunderstanding of road signs

To minimise the risk of bridge strikes, always:

  • Know your vehicle height and width
  • Know your route in and out of service
  • Understand and obey traffic signs
  • Carry out adequate risk-based assessments
  • Provide drivers with route conversion charts

The Guidance on preventing Bridge Strikes written by Network Rail is an invaluable tool for operators, transport managers and drivers. This information in this document should be thoroughly understood and readily available.  It can be found here.

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