Preventing a Bridge Strike : 5 Steps to Meeting your Legal Responsibilities as a Transport Operator

A bridge strike involving one of your goods vehicles can be extremely damaging to your transport business. Operators and Transport Managers are expected to have effective policies and procedures in place to prevent bridge strikes occurring. The Senior Traffic Commissioner has made it clear that operators who fail to act to prevent bridge strikes place their operator’s licence at risk.

Consequences of a Bridge Strike

The consequences of a bridge strike involving one of your vehicles are severe, and can include:

  • Loss of life or serious injury
  • Severe delay to road and rail passengers
  • Liability for all costs associated with the incident
  • Damage to reputation
  • Revocation of your operator’s licence

Actions to take

Below we look at 5 of the most important steps that you as a transport company can take to prevent bridge strikes occurring:

  • Route Planning

You are expected to factor in the risk of bridge strikes when route planning. Routes should be carefully assessed in advance, and drivers should be provided with satellite navigation systems which include information on vehicle height limits. Drivers should also be provided with maps with bridge heights clearly marked.

  • Know the Law

All staff members must be aware of the relevant law applying to this area. Much of this is contained in the Construction and Use Regulations 1986. Under these regulations, vehicles with an overall travelling height of more than 3 meters must have the maximum height of the vehicle displayed in feet and inches on a notice in the cab. It is an offence to cause or permit a vehicle to be used in breach of this regulation.

  • Vehicle Height Checks

You should instruct your drivers to check the maximum height of the vehicle and load before commencing a journey. This should be cross referred with the height recorded on the headboard. Best practice is to also provide drivers with a route and vehicle check sheet to record height checks made. The maximum height should be checked again after loading and unloading if the trailer suspension characteristics could change the height of the vehicle.

  • Load Security

When did you last provide your drivers with training on load security? Insecure loading is one of the more common reasons for bridge strikes. Transport Managers and Operators must be able to show that their drivers have been properly trained and are aware of the Department for Transport code of practice on load security.

  • Communication En Route

If a road closure forces one of your drivers to follow an unplanned diversion en route, would you always know about it? Drivers should be instructed to stop in a safe place and inform you as soon as possible of any unplanned diversions that take place.  You can then assist them in checking the suitability of the new route, and reroute if necessary to avoid low bridges.

Detailed guidance documents with further information on the prevention of Bridge Strikes have been produced by Network Rail and can be found here.

Bridge Strike, Public Inquiries and the Traffic Commissioner

If one of your vehicles has been involved in a bridge strike your business is likely to face an investigation by the DVSA. This will typically involve an inspection of your operating centre, vehicles and transport records. The investigators will also want to know what policies, procedures and training regimes your business had in place to reduce the risk of bridge strikes occurring.

If problems are uncovered, your business is likely to be called to a Public Inquiry hearing with the Traffic Commissioner. This is a public court hearing at which the Traffic Commissioner will review the evidence, ask you questions, and if necessary take regulatory action your operator’s licence. This can include:

  • Revoking your Operator’s Licence
  • Suspending you licence for a period of time
  • Reducing the number of vehicles you can operate (a curtailment)
  • Attaching conditions to your licence.

In some cases, you or your driver can also face a criminal prosecution.

If a bridge strike incident occurs, it is important to seek advice from a road transport regulatory lawyer as soon as possible. They will be able to:

  • Guide you through the enforcement process
  • Represent you during any interview under caution
  • Help you to put in place effective policies and procedures to prevent future bridge strikes
  • Represent you at any Public Inquiry or court hearing

At Rothera Sharp, our specialist transport lawyers are experts in this field. Contact us today on 01159106218 or email transportlaw@rotherasharp.co.uk

More information:

Traffic Commissioner Public Inquiries

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