The abolition of the paper counterpart of the photocard driving licence is just a matter of months away.
Another target of the Government’s ‘red tape challenge’, it will eventually be consigned to the history books, like the tax disc before it, deemed surplus to requirements in a digital age.
However, the paper counterpart’s demise presents fleets with a duty-of-care quandary; how will they check employees are legally entitled to drive?
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is developing an online platform to provide fleets, who currently rely on checking the paper counterpart, with a viable solution.
Called Share Driving Licence (SDL), it is in the final phase of testing with fleets feeding back to the DVLA on how it might be improved before it goes live.
“By accessing our service, individual drivers will be able to generate a PDF document,” says a DVLA spokesman.
“This will include a unique access code which third parties can use to verify the details on the document.
“Third parties can choose to accept the PDF or they may verify its information by visiting www.gov.uk and entering the access code and last eight digits of the driving licence number.”
The authentication code will be time bound to ensure that the information is current at the time of issuing the PDF document.
The third party will be presented with a limited view of the driver’s entitlement and endorsement information direct from DVLA’s driver database.
DVLA has confirmed that its online driver licence service will ‘initially’ be free to fleets, but it has abandoned its original plan to abolish the paper counterpart on January 1, 2015.
“The driving licence counterpart will be abolished in early 2015,” says the spokesman.
“An appropriate date is currently under consideration and will be announced in due course.”
The eight million drivers who have only a paper licence will see no change – DVLA has “no plans” to recall these. In this case points will still be added to the paper licence.
However, the 33 million with both photocard and paper counterpart will be able to discard the counterpart – it will have no legal status; all updates will occur online.
The clock is ticking and fleets will have to get to grips with the new platform to complete in-house checks or outsource the checking of licences to a third-party provider.
Checks take time and resource
Malcolm Maycock, managing director of compliance company Licence Bureau, says whatever fleets decide to do, it is going to cost them money.
“Checking driving licences, whether you do it yourself or you use a third party, is a cost exercise,” he says.
Maycock argues that fleets which perform licence-checking in-house will have to dedicate resource and time, even with the new web-based platform at their disposal.
Research suggests that licence checking is becoming an increasing focus for fleet operators.
A Company Car Trends report from GE Capital Fleet claims licence checking heads the shopping list of new management information systems fleets are planning to adopt.
According to the research, 30% of fleets that do not already have a solution in place are planning to adopt a licence checking system in the next 12 months. More than three-quarters (76%) have outsourced the service.
Steve Pope, fleet services manager at Morrison Plant & Fleet Services, currently outsources to a third-party.
He says: “It provides an accurate assessment, removing the need for an in-house check, which can sometimes be flawed.”
Having experienced manual checking in previous roles, Pope has seen the issues that can occur, from drivers holding multiple copies of their licence to the difficulties involved in foreign licence checks.
He says utilising a third-party provider brings a number of benefits, including advice from industry experts, bespoke reporting and alerts when problems occur.
Pope told Fleet News he had no plans to use the new DVLA system and bring the process back in-house.
It is a similar story for Tony Leigh, head of car fleet services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who currently uses a third-party provider.
He says: “As far as I can see at the moment, we wouldn’t get such a full service by using the new DVLA system.
“We get alerts if a driver has had a licence revoked or loses their licence, we get consolidated reports about what points drivers have on their licence and we have a number of other reports, such as when photocard licences expire.
“In the short term we will not be changing, but once the DVLA system has bedded in and we see what it can do, then we would obviously review our arrangements.
“But I don’t want to end up with a system where I have to have more input than I currently do. I have enough to do without taking on the job of licence checking.”
There are a number of established third-party providers through DVLA’s Electronic Driver Entitlement Checking Service (EDECS).
Many have joined the newly-formed trade body, Association for Driving Licence Verification (ADLV), which was launched, in part, as a response to the upcoming abolition of the paper counterpart.
Maycock, ADLV chairman, said: “There is a willingness by all the main groups involved to support the formation of a trade association that delivers a best practice approach to driving licence verification for fleets.
“ADLV addresses these needs fully and has recruited the most experienced and professional organisations in the business to deliver the service.”
ADLV member organisations include Licence Check, Drivercheck, Licence Bureau, DrivingMonitor, AA DriveTech; Jaama, Fleet Partnership Solutions and Interactive Driving Systems.
ADLV is working closely with DVLA on a new digital service for fleet customers to check licence data in real-time.
Subject to licence holder consent, the new technology will enable ADLV members and other organisations meeting DVLA requirements who sign up to the service to perform 24/7 real-time licence checks for the first time.
The new system, which is scheduled for launch early next year, will also enable faster batch processing of licence data.
Ultimately, it is intended that the new service will replace the EDECS system.
Kevin Curtis, technical director at ADLV, says: “By working closely with DVLA on this new platform, ADLV members can deliver 24/7 real-time checking and faster batch processing for fleet users.
“This will be a major advance over the current service and, as such, the new system will redefine best practice across the sector.”
As a batch service for fleets, ADLV’s system will also be in contrast to DVLA’s SDL platform, a single-query service that requires each driver to register their consent every time their employer wishes to access their driver record from DVLA.
“SDL is for individual one-at-a time enquiries,” says the DVLA spokesman.
“For bulk enquiries we are developing a business-to-business interface via an Application Protocol Interface – API – that will be available as a beta version early 2015.”
Concerns over data security
Fleet operators’ association ACFO has given its seal of approval to the SDL service, but says that database security remains an issue.
“Fleets will be able to get live data which is as accurate as DVLA holds,” says John Pryor, ACFO chairman.
“But there is still confusion on how you can get access and what information is required.
“Will people be able to check without the consent of the driver?”
Using the service to check on colleagues’ or employees’ records may constitute a breach of privacy unless they have been given permission by the employee to carry this out.
Jim Kirkwood, managing director of AA DriveTech, says: “No-one wants to run the risk of exposing extremely sensitive and personal driver data to all-comers.”
ADLV, he argues, can protect against those privacy issues. “It ensures appropriate data access governed by strict compliance and protected by effective security, in line with DVLA’s data assurance standards,” says Kirkwood.
“In this respect it meets the operational demands of both the fleet and insurance industries.”
Why licence checking matters
More than one in every 200 company car, van and truck drivers does not hold a valid licence to legally drive their company vehicle, according to Licence Bureau checks.
While there is no specific legislation that requires an employer to check an employee’s driving licence, it is an offence if a company allows an employee to drive a vehicle for work without a valid licence.
The Health and Safety Executive’s guide Driving at Work says employers should satisfy themselves that drivers are competent and capable, and asks the question: do you check the validity of the driving licence on recruitment and periodically?
Dave Ashford, KBC Logistics transport and compliance manager, received a visit from the police after previously checking driving licences and counterparts every six months.
One of KBC’s drivers had been involved in an accident in his private car and the Essex-based haulier was subsequently notified that the driver was disqualified.
The driver’s licence had been manually checked in November 2012, but Ashford was not aware he had been subsequently disqualified in March 2013. Fortunately the driver was being used on shunting duties and not driving a truck on public roads.
Ashford could have faced notable penalties for both himself and the company if the accident had happened at the wheel of a KBC truck.
Ashford says: “Even though on this occasion I had fulfilled my obligation, it was a scary prospect to think that this could have been any one of my operational drivers. It identified a flaw in my systems.”
Fleets need to be sure the details provided are accurate, a licence hasn’t been revoked or endorsed without the employer realising it and what limitations there may be on its use.
Licence Bureau analysed more than a quarter of a million licence checks it made during 2013 and discovered an initial failure rate of around one in 200.
Provisional licence holders accounted for the top two spots, with revoked, expired and disqualified making up the top five.
At the licence recheck stage, the potential rate of failure fall to just over one per 500 and the reasons are very different from initial checks. Drivers with expired licences are top of the list followed by disqualified drivers.
Without a licence recheck, both these issues would not have been picked up by the employer, potentially causing huge duty-of-care issues as those categories of driver aren’t insured in the event of an accident.
The provisional licence issue disappears at the recheck stage as these drivers have been immediately dealt with after the initial check.
It also appears to be a growing problem. Richard Brown, managing director of Licence Check, says: “In October 2014 alone, we have seen the highest number of unlicensed, disqualified and/or revoked drivers through our service.”