The new licence derogation for alternatively fuelled cars may be welcome, but does it create inequality of its own?
You may have seen the Department for Transport’s recent announcement that a standard Category B driving licence, which previously only allowed the driver to drive vehicles up to a weight of 3.5 tonnes, now includes alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles (AFCVs) up to a maximum gross vehicle weight of 4.25 tonnes.
This is, of course, welcome. Prior to the announcement, whether you were planning on buying or leasing a van, any attempt to benefit from hybrid technology would have come with more than a few hurdles, caused by the fact that the batteries in electric and hybrid vehicles weigh considerably more than a standard engine.
Your choice would have been between buying or leasing a 3.5 tonne van and not putting as much in it, or buying a larger van and passing a C1 licence test so you could drive it.
The DofT’s announcement restores parity. By raising the weight limit to 4.25 tonnes for AFCVs, they’ve ensuring that you can buy or lease the van of your choice, and not have to compromise on weight/load when you choose new technology.
The industry has welcomed the news. We welcome the news as it means, in theory at least, that as we move to more hybrids and alternative fuels within the fleet, our customers will still be able to carry loads equivalent to those in combustion engined vans.
But hang on a moment. Whilst this move has, on the face of it, prevented the AFCV driver from being at a disadvantage, has it not created disadvantages elsewhere in the industry?
The weight problem
Weight is weight. Whether it’s in the engine, the batteries or the load you’re carrying, the simple fact is that AFCV drivers will now be able to drive vehicles with heavier gross weights than non-AFCV drivers. A driver of a standard panel van might reasonably ask why carrying an additional 0.75 of a tonne makes them unsafe, when the same can’t be said for an AFCV driver.
The training problem
For any fleet wishing to take advantage of the licence derogation, there’s a 5 hour official training programme for drivers to pass. On the one hand, AFCV drivers may ask why they need training when a 3.5 tonne driver doesn’t. And on the other hand, van rental companies like TJS may point out that the training effectively rules most drivers out of hiring an alternatively fuelled 4.25 tonne van for short term hire, as few people will undertake 5 hours of training to rent a van for a day or two.
The derogation, therefore, effectively means the short term rental market for larger vans will remain tied to combustion engines – which as time moves on won’t be great for the van manufacturing or rental industries, or the environment.
So there are issues still to resolve, but for the time being, licence derogation does at least remove some of the disadvantages previously imposed on business owners wanting to adopt new vehicle technology.