The Showman’s Exemption: Know Where You Stand – As most people in the road haulage industry are aware, there are numerous UK and EU laws that exist for the purposes of road safety and driver protection, namely to regulate drivers’ hours and ensure vehicle maintenance standards.

With this in mind, the majority of those operating heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will be required to have, among other things, an Operator’s Licence under Section 2(5) of the Goods Vehicle (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995.

Generally you will be required to hold an O-Licence if:

  1. You are using a goods vehicle of over 3.5 tonnes gross plated weight (or an unladen weight not exceeding 1,525kg). If the vehicle is towing a trailer and the combined weight is greater than this figure then an O-Licence will usually be required.
  2. The vehicle is being used to transport goods or any other load.
  3. The vehicle is being used for hire or reward, or in connection with a trade or business.

On the face of it, this appears relatively straightforward however the O-Licensing system is actually anything but! Schedule 3 of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Regulations 1995 specifies a list of exemptions which serve to muddy the waters and leave many uncertain as to whether they fall into any of these categories. The exemption categories were narrowed following consultation in 2018 to reflect the change in the haulage industry.

This is very risky business as, if mistaken about a possible exemption, driving without an O-Licence and not adhering to the relevant UK laws and EU Regulations could result in prosecution for numerous transport offences; for example, operating without a licence and failing to use tachograph equipment, both of which carry unlimited fines. It is always upon the driver and Operator to demonstrate that an exemption applies and only a Court, not DVSA, can give a binding opinion as each case would depend upon its particular merits.

There is one exemption in particular that evokes a great deal of uncertainty: that of the Showman’s Goods Vehicle. This exemption was considered for removal under the recent consultation however it remains valid within the legislation. The Operator Licence exemption (which differs from the tachograph use exemption) is defined in Section 62 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 as:-

‘A showman’s vehicle which –
(a) is a goods vehicle, and;
(b) is permanently fitted with a living van or some other special type of body or superstructure forming part of the equipment of the show of the person in whose name the vehicle is registered under this Act’.

A showman’s vehicle is defined as a vehicle:
(a) Registered under this Act in the name of a person following the business of a travelling showman, and (b) used solely by him for the purposes of his business and for no other purpose’.

The traditional work of a Showman has expanded dramatically in recent years and the Courts have reflected this in their decision making, for example, by including catering equipment as being capable of being part of the equipment of a show. The issue is that it is not always clear when this exemption would apply when relying upon the modification aspects, as opposed to the living/sleeping equipment. We see many examples of ordinary goods vehicles being modified and the Court must assess the extent of those modifications.

In the recent case of DVSA v Rowe [2017], the Defendant had bought a lorry for the purposes of towing a catering kiosk loaded onto a trailer. Had he only been using the vehicle to tow the kiosk, even if this is the lorry’s sole purpose, then he would likely have not fallen within the exemption. What set him apart was the fact that he had fitted inside the rear of the lorry a permanent generator, attached to the floor and the side, with an exhaust flute protruding out of the roof. Despite the unaltered appearance from the outside, it was held that this was a permanent and substantial modification that formed part of the equipment and was therefore classified as a Showman’s Goods Vehicle.

The Court must also be satisfied that the use of the vehicle is exclusively for the Showman’s work. Many Showmen will seek to simply rely upon membership of the Showmen’s Guild, which the Courts have made clear is not sufficient evidence that the exemption applies.

If you are in any doubt as to whether this exemption would apply to you then the possibility of prosecution is too great to take this risk! Call our specialist Transport Solicitors today on 0115 910 6239