Basic Horse Box Guidance

Basic Horse Box Guidance

In 2014 the old Driving Standards Agency and the Vehicle Standards Agency were merged into the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency. One of its many areas of responsibility is stated to be “carrying out roadside checks on commercial drivers and vehicles to make sure they follow safety rules and keep their vehicles safe to drive”.

The Agency issues a lot of information on a very regular basis, which is of interest to anyone engaged in all types of commercial transport. Recently, helpful guidance was issued for individuals and businesses involved in the transportation of horses and horse box vehicles and vehicle combinations with trailers.

We look at the main points of the guidance and consider some of the basics to bear in mind before setting off at a gallop.

The Driving Licence requirement

Needless to say that a driver or operator will need to make sure that those involved in the operation hold the correct driving entitlement. Broadly speaking, the correct driving licence category will relate to the size and maximum weight of the vehicle combination involved. For a long time now one’s driving record and the associated categories of vehicles one can drive are very accessible from the DVLA website. In a situation of doubt, a quick and comprehensive check of what sort of vehicles and their associated weights can be driven depending on your licence is available on the site.

A horsebox at a maximum authorised weight over 3.5 tonnes will require an HGV “vocational licence.” And with that will come a requirement to complete the drivers’ certificate of professional competence. Operators should bear in mind that is an offence to use a vehicle without the correct driving licence entitlement and we see drivers prosecuted in the summary courts about this sort of thing quite regularly with all the worry and expense that this involves.

What about a formal operator licence?

You do not need an operator licence if you’re only transporting horses or goods for non-commercial purposes (such as leisure activities). Beyond that the rules are both simple and important. In general the questions to ask are:

  • Am I paid directly or indirectly to transport horses?
  • Do I receive payment as a result of transporting horses?
  • Is my use of the horsebox for a “professional activity”?

If the answer is yes then you’re likely to have to have an Operator Licence issued to you or the business by the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland. While the authorities can take a view at the roadside, the risk is that to use a vehicle or vehicle combination without having an O licence in place is an offence. We occasionally see vehicles used out with the authority of an O licence being impounded by the DVSA where the vehicle is sold without further reference to the operator. In short, this can be a disaster.

The solution of course is to think about the nature of the use of the vehicle, ask yourself the questions set out, err on the side of caution, and make an application to the Traffic Commissioner to be absolutely certain that you aren’t breaking the law.

Which kind of O licence will I need?

You should think about the matter of ownership. Broadly speaking, if you are only transporting animals belonging to you within the UK you’re likely to need a Restricted O licence.

In most other cases where the animal doesn’t belong to you, you will need a standard O licence. The requirements for this type of licence will involve identifying a Transport Manager who can either be internal (employed directly) or engaged under a contract for their services to see to the management of the transport issues to do with your business.

International journeys will normally require a Standard International Licence.

What about Drivers’ hours rules?

There are rules on how many hours you can drive per day and the breaks that you need to take. If an exemption from the EU Rules applies, which itself can depend on the use to which the vehicle is being put and the length of the journey involved, then what are known as the Domestic Rules will apply.

The conventional wisdom is that if the journey is over 100km and not from market to farm / slaughterhouse then the EU rules will apply and if they don’t the Domestic Rules do. The rules themselves are beyond the scope of this article but the basic position is that you will be restricted to a total driving time of 9 or 10 hours with a requirement to take a break of no less than 45 minutes after a continuous period of driving for 4.5 hours.

If the vehicle or combination (i.e. vehicle and trailer) is used for commercial purposes and weighs in at over 3.5 tonnes or has a max authorised mass of 7.5 tonnes then the drivers’ hours rules will have to be observed.

If the vehicle weights apply then this is the trigger for a requirement to have a tachograph device fitted to the vehicle too.

Operators will be aware of the requirement to have an ‘animal transportation certificate of competence’ for transporting horses (and other animals) where the journey is categorised as for commercial reasons and on journeys of 65km and over.

Vehicle Maintenance

The guidance makes the point that horseboxes can often only be used seasonally which means that they are often idle and vigilance is required in respect of basic vehicle maintenance. An effective and regular inspection system is essential to ensure you keep within the law while at the same time ensuring the safety of your animal.

Any business using vehicles would be best advised to know the basics of a first use walk round check of a vehicle day and daily. For horse boxes in particular, attention will need to be paid to internal issues such as stalls, partitions, breast bars, and loading ramps.

A DVSA examiner is likely to look at these as well as the external features of the vehicle in question at a roadside stop. Prohibitions, a fixed penalty or worse a report to the Procurator Fiscal can result from poor standards or too little attention being applied.

Beyond the animal welfare rules, and of course having an MOT Test certificate annually where required,  operators are reminded that the basic documentation must be held namely equine passports, EU live animal transporter authorisation, cross border documentation, and where applicable trailer registration certificates for some EU countries.

Road safety and the safety of your animals is in all of our interests, so take care to ensure that you are doing what is necessary to keep on the right side of the law and regulations. It may be too late to take action after the horse has bolted!

If you have questions in relation to anything covered within this article our transport law specialist, Tom Docherty, will be more than happy to assist.

Legal disclaimer

Stay up to date with the latest news and insights

Sign up now