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How technology is transforming driver defect checks

Once upon a time, a driver noted down every fault he found in a defect report book; if there was anything to record during his daily walkaround check, he would do so, hand the piece of paper to the transport manager, and keep a copy for himself; if there were no defects, he would record this, or he would not write anything at all.

In many companies, this method bred a culture of laxity which led to drivers underreporting or not reporting defects. In some cases, a Transport Manager would only find out about a defect once the vehicle had been pulled over, or he received a call from the driver when the lorry was broken-down in a lay-by.

Under DVSA scrutiny an analogue defect reporting system will be severely audited. Because Roadworthiness represents one half of the OCRS, the method by which an operator ensures their vehicles are roadworthy is of primary interest to the DVSA. Paper defect sheets, no matter how properly ordered, are prone to being damaged, destroyed and lost. Even when kept in pristine condition, defect records, as with any handwritten documentation, are open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Further, if company policy does not enforce the reporting of nil-defects, whole days of walkaround checks may not be accounted for. When records are missing, a DVSA agent may take the same dim view as they would of records being intentionally destroyed. As with all things pertaining to the operating licence, a transport team must make every effort to ensure a full picture of the defect checking and rectification procedures is obtainable.

Large fleets were the first to implement digital defect reporting facilities. This is no surprise, given the inconvenience of storing high volumes of paperwork; as time goes on, smaller fleets and even one-man-bands are beginning to see the advantage of ‘going paperless’.

There are various systems on the market, but the functionality is uniform across all platforms; the method involves two key components: an app and an online dashboard. The app is to be downloaded to the drivers’ smartphones or tablets. This then provides a checklist; each item on the list must be addressed before the driver moves on to the next. Defects can be photographed and the images uploaded as part of the report. The Transport Manager, Operator and appropriate staff in the transport department may then log in to the dashboard via the browser, and view all walkaround reports from that day. Reports can be archived or kept open until the defects are rectified.

Another advantage of the digital system is that a manager can see precisely how long a driver took to carry out a check. We know the DVSA recommends a walkaround check should last no fewer than fifteen minutes; because the start and finish times of each check are uploaded by default, a manager is supplied with concrete evidence if and when a driver has conducted an inadequate check. 

Further, the checklists useable on the app can be customised; this has the benefit of allowing a manager to tailor each check to a particular vehicle – even vans and cars; such specific prompts save time, both for the driver and the admin staff, as each report can be uploaded and sent directly to the maintenance provider, without need for explication.

There is no danger of reports going missing or being modified, as every one is archived in the cloud and can be accessed regardless of the date it was submitted. Each report can be categorised by status – that is, New, Awaiting Rectification, Rectified, and so on. 

The dangers presented by a defective vehicle, to the driver and to other road users, are foremost in the mind of responsible Transport Manager; further, due to the legal liabilities and the potential financial penalties that may be shouldered by the company as a consequence of an accident, especially one involving a vehicle that is found with one or more defects, it is imperative that the highest level of the pay scale takes an active interest in ensuring that the the culture of defect reporting is accommodated by the most robust and effective system the market provides.

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