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Brake Performance Testing – How Do You Do Yours?

The Traffic Commissioners and the DVSA have recently issued separate warnings to operators of the need to improve their approach to brake performance testing.

Brake performance testing is a key part of an operator’s maintenance regime and should happen at every safety inspection; however, the Traffic Commissioners have said that poor brake testing, or the complete absence of it, is appearing far too frequently during investigations by enforcement officers.

The latest edition of the DVSA’s Guide to Maintaining Roadworthiness (“the Guide”) makes it clear that a metered assessment of vehicle and trailer brake performance must take place at every safety inspection. The Guide strongly advises that a calibrated roller brake tester is used at every inspection to measure individual brake performance and overall braking efficiencies, but it is also acceptable to use an approved and calibrated decelerometer to test vehicles without trailers to measure overall brake efficiencies. It is also recommended best practice to test vehicles and trailers in a laden condition to get meaningful results.

The Guide adds that, if you can’t carry out a brake test during a safety inspection, the vehicle’s braking performance must be assessed using a road test. This needs to be carried out under controlled and safe conditions and the safety inspection record should state that the brake performance was assessed by a road test. The Guide does, however, state that a road test method to assess the brake performance for all planned safety inspections will usually be inadequate.

Where deficiencies in brake performance are identified, either during use of the vehicle or trailer or at the safety inspection, a measured brake efficiency test must be carried out. The efficiency test must confirm the brakes are performing satisfactorily before the vehicle or trailer can be considered as roadworthy.

The results of all brake performance tests must be recorded; however, the Traffic Commissioners and the DVSA have indicated that they are frequently dealing with cases where there is too little information recorded on safety inspection records in relation to brake performance testing to offer any meaningful assessment and, in other cases, no information in relation to brake performance testing is recorded at all.

Recent examples include:

• missing brake figures on safety inspection records.
• ‘not applicable’ written in the brake test section of the safety inspection record.
• the brake testing section of safety inspection records being left blank.

You should always try and obtain a printout of the brake test from either the roller brake tester or decelerometer and attach this to the corresponding safety inspection record. If you are unable to obtain a printout, the results should be recorded on the safety inspection record instead.

Failure to carry out and/or document periodic brake testing correctly, or at all, will result in an unsatisfactory DVSA maintenance investigation, which is likely to lead a public inquiry at which the Traffic Commissioner will consider taking regulatory action again the Operator’s Licence. The operator and driver could also face criminal prosecution if a vehicle is driven with brakes that are not in good and efficient working order.

The consequences of not meeting the minimum standards for brake performance can be even more devastating if this results in a collision, a tragic example of which occurred in 2015 when a 32-tonne tipper vehicle killed four people when its brakes failed on a steep hill. The DVSA’s investigation found that on five out of thirteen safety inspection records, the brake test section had been left blank and, on the other records, the comments were too limited for anyone to understand what they meant. The company director and mechanic both received prison sentences of over seven years and five years respectively and the Traffic Commissioner revoked the Operator’s Licence and disqualified the company’s directors for two years.

Operators are therefore urged to carry out an urgent review of their brake testing regime. This should include an analysis of safety inspection records over the last 15 months to ensure that the type of brake test being carried out and the information being recorded in relation to brake performance testing is sufficient.

If you would like further information or any advice, please contact a member of the regulatory team on 01254 828300.

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